NEW DELHI: Eighty-four-years after it was released, a blockbuster black and white film has got a minor resurrection, virtually, due to the link between its ingenue heroine and India’s biggest diplomatic summit in decades. The India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) has led to not just sprucing up of Delhi’s roads, but also to the evacuation of rare nuggets from history to demonstrate India’s historical linkages with Africa.
The first-ever Indian talkie made in 1931, Alam Ara is a historical romance based on a Parsi play. Ironically, the female lead was played by a Sidi princess named Zubeida, whose father was the Nawab of Sachin State in Gujarat. He was of African origin, descended from a diaspora of the Dark Continent to India around the 15th century.
On Facebook and Twitter, the coy smile of 20-year-old Zubeida is repeated every other day on the pages of Ministry of External Affairs to promote the summit.
The royal Sidis are the elite among the African diaspora, who drifted to India as slaves, warriors and traders. Unlike in other countries, India is the only place where Africans rose to positions of power.
Zubeida’s mother, Fatima Begum, who reportedly married Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan III of Sachin, was the first female director of the Indian film industry.
Sachin royalty traced their link to the Africans, but they were not the only major Sidi state of the time. Another strand of Abyssinian Sidis were settled in Murud, where they built the powerful coastal state of Janjira in Maharashtra. In its heyday, the Mughal empire gave a big stipend to Sidis of Janjir to maintain their navy.
In Gujarat, another unique example of the privileged role of Sidis was revealed through the tweet “#IndiaAfrica Shared Heritage Sidi Bashir Mosque or Jhulta Minar in Ahmedabad was built by Sidi Bashir in 1452”, which was one of the most popular posts on the Twitter account of the IAFS.
The swinging minarets are part of the mosque in Ahmedabad Railway Station, whose provenance is attributed to Sidi Bashir, an African slave of Sultan Ahmed Shah. Almost 563 years later, the mystery behind the mechanism that powers the swinging towers is yet to be unraveled.
The iconic painting of Malik Ambar is by now familiar to the digital followers of the IAFS. Born in Ethiopia in 1558, he became the Chief Minister of Ahmadnagar and later a regent.
Similarly, Abyssinian Ikhlas Khan, who was a slave in 17th century Bijapur, later became the governor of a province in Golconda.