This is an excerpt from my piece that was originally published on Atlas Obscura on March 12th.
On a bright morning in August, 1965, a young man named Gurumurthy ushered his parents and sisters out of their home in the Burmese capital of Rangoon. They shut the wooden gate behind them, glanced at the stark-white façade of their house for a final time, and began to carry their modest belongings to the nearby port.
As ethnic Indians, Gurumurthy and his family were fleeing a military dictatorship that had stoked the flames of xenophobia in Burma. That morning, they joined thousands on the SS Mohammadia. Several families were fleeing after living in Burma for four or five generations. Together, they sailed past the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and into the Bay of Bengal.
Three days later, the ship dropped anchor in Madras, a major port city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The site of the first major English settlement in India, Madras was renamed Chennai in 1996.
Gurumurthy is one of many thousands of Burmese Indians who settled in Chennai. “When we arrived, we were met with a rousing reception and a feast,” he recalls. “And then we were promptly sent to transit camps on the outskirts of the city.”
Click here to read the rest of the article.
(Image: Public Domain)