My friend Sara commented ‘I feel like I’m on holiday’ as we walked through the city centre. She had travelled from Olst, near Deventer to Breda, and I from Oegstgeest. She’d never been to Breda and I once before.’ But you’ve lived your whole life in the Netherlands!’ I said. To which she and her partner Joek gently reminded me that there are places in the Netherlands that they are still discovering (obviously, I thought in response). I, after almost twenty years of living on Dutch soil still cannot wrap my head around to the Netherlands as a place with undiscovered parts. After all, you can get from one end to another in a matter of a few hours. It sometimes took me longer to get to my workplace within the city of Mumbai than it took to get to Breda from Oegstgeest. And this on a day when the trains did not ride out of Leiden Station and I had to take two busses and then one train to make the journey. Such experiences make for perspectives that apparently cling despite years and thousands of kilometres of distance.
‘We came from far’.
To see a film with this title.
It was a documentary made by filmmaker Bob Entrop who greeted us at the door. On Saturday the 6th of April, Oeder drom (original title of the film) premiered at Filmhuis Breda. The smell of curry filled the theatre space and Bob was dressed in fine silk. Beyond him, ladies in sarees and glittering gharaaras, with bindis, bejewelled, hair down to the waist or put up in a bun flitted around gracefully. And blue-eyed gents in kurtas passed by. And a sense of mismatch as the senses took in the information – spoken Dutch, visions from afar and appetite awakening to comfort food. On a spring day in the city centre of Breda. First the film, then the feast.
No, Oedoer drom is no Indian language and it’s also not Dutch, but the language of the Sinti, otherwise known as gypsies. The film follows a group of them who visit Rajasthan, in search of their roots. Conversations between Rajasthanis and the Sinti reveal that the words for different parts of the face – kaan, naak, jeeb, moo are the same in Hindi as in the Sinti language. This fact, and the connection the Sinti make to parallel views on family bonds and respect for elders convince them that they came ‘from far’ – from India to the Netherlands hundreds of years ago.
‘The whole street is like caravan’ remarks Kleine as he gestures around him in Jodhpur. ‘They, like us, seek proximity, like to cluster and feel cozy together’. Other common ground they find is the connection to music and dance, to horses, to flowing skirts and colourful scarves and last but not least, matching physical features, the colour of hair and skin.
Indeed, some of the Sinti I see before me do certainly look like they could be my family!
‘We came from far’.
Trailer of ‘Oedoer Drom’
Article from the Guardian on Latcho Drom another documentary on the subject
Article on dance form from Rajasthan
Article on gypsy identity and connection to Rajasthan