The birth certificate says Karachi, India—habit or disbelief, honest mistake or denial, nobody knows.
So was documented Reeta Gidwani’s confusing entry to a world where home became a concept.
She hailed from a long line of Sindhi zamindars. Her father, Krishna Gidwani, crossed the border first into an India that would outlaw such tax collection. He set up a home in Bombay and sent a chartered plane for the rest of his family.
On 17 September 1947, he waited at the airport, only to be informed eventually that the family wouldn’t be coming. A baby girl had arrived a month early at five o’clock that morning—Reeta.
“You were my gift,” he said later, erasing Reeta’s fears that she would forever be linked to the times that went from plenty to none.
A few months earlier and another era, when two countries were still one, Uday Karmarkar was born on 2 February 1947, in Bombay. His mother similarly laboured alone, as his father had been sent to China with the Indian Navy.
Unlike the Gidwanis, the Karmarkars did not begin anew, but the realities and repercussions of independence shaped their years to come. Young Uday became “very aware of the terrible state in which the British left India in terms of health, education and welfare”.
He was educated at the Lawrence School in Sanawar and then the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in his native Bombay. But opportunities thereafter dimmed drastically. Uday Karmarkar recalls companies testing en masse to winnow down all the unemployed engineers. He left for the US to pursue a master’s degree at Dartmouth College.
On her first journey, Reeta, her two sisters, brother, and their mother arrived via boat to Krishna Gidwani, waiting on the docks. He drew on his engineering background and worked to help build the new country, dams to bridges. On his last project, he helped set up a nuclear power plant.
Reeta’s mother became a teacher, and the family had a house in Sanawar, where the children were educated. But Reeta wouldn’t meet Uday until years later, in 1964, when he was at IIT Bombay, the best friend of her sister’s fiancé.
Inspired by the museums her mother took her to as a girl—“we went through them minutely”—Reeta enrolled in the Laureata at the Academia di Belle Arti in Rome.
Six decades later, they don’t think it’s a coincidence that the longest they have lived anywhere is 15 years. After Reeta’s graduation, Uday sent her a ticket and a marriage proposal. US immigration laws relaxed in 1965 to admit more Indians; fittingly, that was the same year that many of midnight’s children turned 18.
After Dartmouth, Uday received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. Reeta became a painter and then a muralist. The latter was by chance; someone asked her if she did murals and she said yes.
“I was given such a tremendous amount of self-confidence,” she says now. “My parents had to deal with such adversity so suddenly that they wanted us to believe in ourselves.”
“I think I am most at home in an academic environment, no matter where I go in the world,” says Uday, a professor of information systems,operations research and manufacturing at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.
To welcome Indian newcomers, who represent the largest source of international students, the Karmarkars host Diwali parties. Living away, in many ways, has strengthened what it means to be Indian. Their eldest daughter Uma was born in another significant year, 1976—as the US turned 200. Harsh was born in 1981.
“We stayed Indian citizens till just a few years ago, when it became pretty obvious that our children were not Indian,” Uday says, “and our lives were now outside India.” But on 15 August, an Indian flag will go up outside their house in Los Angeles. Interestingly, Reeta can’t bring herself to fly its American counterpart. “I think my soul is Indian,” she says, adding gratitude for what independent India has given her: “The freedom to work big and to feel sort of unstoppable.”