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Exploring “The Story Untold” : in Conversation with Kumud Merani

April 8, 2014

In recent years Indians have become the largest source of permanent migration to Australia. An analysis of the historical movement of the Indians to Australia points to the early 19th century when few Indians were sent as convicts by the British colonial government in India, few others also arrived as labourers and servants. But according to a recent DNA research, the connection of the Indians with Australia seem to have a much longer association that dates back to more than 4000 years ago.

In his news report Park (2013) mentions, “the German study, genetically sampled populations from across the region and concluded that there was a “substantial gene flow between Indian and Australia populations”, occurring 141 generations ago or about 4,230 years ago”. Kumud Merani, the executive producer of SBS Hindi, was so intrigued by the story of this new finding that connected Indians with the Australian aborigines that
she decided to work on a radio documentary titled “The Story Untold” and explore some of the key issues associated with the findings. Her aim was to bring these academic findings into the mainstream discussion, especially among the Indian community.

In an interview with Vikrant Kishore, Kumud Merani discusses about her work and her latest radio documentary “The Story untold”. She provides an overview of the various issues related to the research findings:

Vikrant Kishore: How did you get into radio production?

Kumud Merani: I had a flair for writing and elocution since my early childhood and have participated in All India Radio dramas and children’s programs since I was 8 years old. This propensity further developed towards Youth programs and when TV started in Mumbai in 1972 I became one of the first TV News Readers at Mumbai Doordarshan.

After immigrating to Australia I went on to become the first Indian lady to present the World News on SBS TV. Subsequently, I have found my niche as the Executive Producer of Hindi Programs on SBS Radio. I have also been trained at BBC London.

Theatre is another of my passions and I have written acted and directed several popular stage plays.

Vikrant Kishore: What interested you towards making documentaries?

Kumud Merani: While I enjoy producing and broadcasting the regular reports and Current Affairs kind of segments,I have a craving to produce something even more complex and stimulating, so I guess that lead to a natural step towards producing documentaries. It satisfies my creative instinct to create an entire landscape and imagery merely through audio.

Vikrant Kishore: Can you tell us about some of the radio projects that you have undertaken?

Kumud Merani: Having done my Masters with Ancient Indian Culture and History I find that I involuntarily gravitate towards related topics of people and their history for my documentaries. Some of my documentaries include: “Sweet Sorrow”’ which was based on the History of indentured Indian Labourers sent to Fiji. This documentary went on to receive the International ABU Award. Another documentary was about the Anglo-Indians and was titled, ‘Jumping the Fence”’. This was highly appreciated by the community world- wide as it included Anglo-Indian speakers from across the world. This received a British Asian Radio Award.

Some of the Radio plays I have produced include Gautam Buddha, Registan Ke Sine’ Se, Neelakshi and an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s, Kabuliwalla.

I have received Premier Kristina Kenelly’s Award for my contribution to Culture and Art and in 2013 two of my Radio reports were awarded Premier Barry O’Farrell’s Multicultural media award for best Radio Reports.

Vikrant Kishore: Your latest radio documentary is an interesting take on the connection between the Australian aborigines and the Indian tribes, can you tell us what prompted you to cover this story?

Kumud Merani: Before immigrating to Australia, I had never met any Indigenous Australians and when I met a young boy of Aboriginal descent I well and truly thought he was from South India! I was then advised about his origin and was most fascinated by some of the physical similarities. Subsequently, I found that many places that bear names from Indigenous Australian languages sounded quite Indian to my ears. My interest had been kindled!

Vikrant Kishore: It is quite interesting and at the same time a bit unbelievable about the connections between the Australian aborigines and the Indian tribes, can you tell us about the research that has been taken on this issue, and how has this connection been proved?

Kumud Merani: Thus far this subject has not been widely touched upon. If at all, it was limited to some academic Research papers. The physical similarities between some Dravidian tribes and Indigenous Australians have been speculated upon since 1870’s. During that time scholars like Alan Red had raised the anthropomorphic similarities based on the measurements of the head and body. The latest evidence that rocked the scientific world came from DNA analysis by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. The main researcher Irina Pugach under the leadership of Mark Stoneking, succeeded in analysing
large-scale genotyping data from Aboriginal Australians, New Guineans, and Southeast Asians. They then released a paper saying that these genetic links have been proved beyond a doubt.

Vikrant Kishore: So when did the migration of these Indian tribes take place to Australia?

Kumud Merani: According to this paper released by Max Planck institute Indian tribes came to Australia about 4,300 years ago. However, based on the out of Africa theory, other scholars are of the opinion that this movement would have been ongoing about 40,000 or 50,000 years ago!

Vikrant Kishore: What was the reason for their migration?

Kumud Merani: The search for food and environment could have been the imperatives that compelled them to travel. Perhaps they were even propelled by a natural curiosity to explore what lay beyond the next beach or mountain range!

Vikrant Kishore: Was there any particular Indian tribe/s that migrated to Australia?

Kumud Merani: The common belief is that they were the Dravidian tribes from Central and Southern India. It is difficult to name actual tribes because of the mingling and mixing over tens of thousands of years.

Vikrant Kishore: Were the Indian tribes were the only people migrating to Australia at that point of time, or were there others as well?

Kumud Merani: The Indigenous Aboriginals are a very heterogeneous people and besides the Indians there is a definite admixture of Papua New Guinean, other South East Asian and Mamanwa tribes of the Philippines.

Vikrant Kishore: Did these tribe/s bring something special with them to Australia?

Kumud Merani: A lot of experts are of the opinion that the sudden appearance of Micro lithic tools about 4,500 years ago, is a clear indication that the new comers brought these with them. The bigger surprise and one that all scholars almost unanimously agree upon, is the arrival of the Dingo! The iconic Australian
Dingo’s DNA proves that the Indian Pariah dogs and little Chinese wolf were its progenitors! Indeed the Dingoes look like our Indian Pariah street dogs!

Vikrant Kishore: Does the move of these tribal groups reflect in the kind of flor and fauna that we find in Australia?

Kumud Merani: No, we have no fossil remnants of those to reflect the movement.

Vikrant Kishore: Who are the key researchers in this area?

Kumud Merani: The key researchers are Mark Stoneking and Irina Pugach of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. On the Indian side too there has been a wider research by the Anthropological Survey of India. Their lead researcher has been Dr Raghvendra Rao.

Vikrant Kishore: Are there differing opinion amongst the researchers about the Indian tribe/s movement to Australia?

Kumud Merani: Absolutely, scholars differ on the dates of this migration. While some feel it was as recent as 4,300 years ago others are of the opinion that Indigenous peoples came here from India as far back as 40,000 years ago. Not just that based on the Rock Art patterns they feel that there was some cross migration as well because we see the symbol of the Southern Cross among the Indian Dravidian tribes. The Southern Cross is obviously visible only from the Southern Continent.

Vikrant Kishore: What are the latest findings of their research is the research being endorsed by either the Indian government or the Australian government?

Kumud Merani: In India the Anthropological Survey of India has certainly endorsed the gene- typing of Dr Raghvendra Rao but a lot more remains to be done by both the Governments, to understand the movements of our ancient tribes.

Vikrant Kishore: Do you think the Indian and the Australian community should give attention to this particular finding and look at developing a relationship between the Indians and the Australian aborigines?

Kumud Merani: That truly would be ideal! These proven links will help cultivate a greater understanding and bonding between the peoples from both sides.

Vikrant Kishore: Any other thing that you want to tell about this project?

Kumud Merani: The documentary is a first ‘’composite’’ work on these links. There have been papers on Anthropological links, DNA sampling, a bit of research on the origin of the Dingo, linguistic similarities have sometimes received some attention. However, this is the first piece, which has been intensely researched and brought together the views of experts from various fields of Science, Genetics, Archaeology, Art, Linguistics and Spirituality.

Apart from the research and fascinating subject, the treatment of the documentary and creation of visuals and atmosphere with a whole lot of sounds keep the listener gripped to the subject. One feels like they are walking on the beaches and through the rainforests and living through that era. These touches relievethe documentary from what some may consider a bit heavy and dry.The singing and fusion of Didgeridoo and Tabla is a metaphor for the entire documentary. They seem to tell a parallel story all their own!

Here are the links for the radio documentary “The Story Untold” by Kumud Merani:

The Story Untold Part 1: https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/hindi/highlight/page/id/324848/t/The-Story-Untold-Part-1-Links-between-Australian-Aboriginal-and-Indian-tribes/in/english

The Story Untold Part 2: https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/hindi/highlight/page/id/325052/t/The-Story-Untold-Part-2-Aboriginal-Australian-Indian-Links/in/english

About Kumud Merani:

Kumud Merani Australia Day Ambassador 2014, is Executive Producer Hindi Programs with SBS Radio. A position held for the last 29 years. She is a well-known journalist and radio producer and public figure in the Indian community and the mainstream society. She is also a distinguished public speaker, dramatist/actor and has also covered various important international events as Master of Ceremonies. Kumud has a Master of Arts from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India and a diploma in Journalism with Distinctions. She has alos taught Indian History at University of Mumbai. She was India’s first TV News Presenter and anchor in Mumbai. In Australia she was the first Asian lady to become a World News presenter on SBS Television before moving onto Radio. She is also the Producer/Director and actor of several Indian Theatrical shows in Sydney. The most notable are: ‘Lafda,’ ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and ‘Jis Lahore NayeeDekhya.’ An English musical ‘The Nautch Girls’ based on the life of Indian courtesans intricately woven in with the story of an Australian girl was written and enacted by Kumud. She is a recipient of FIAV Award for Community Service 2013, Premier Barry O’Farrell’s Award for Best Radio Reporting 2013; PECOSA Award for being a Community Idol 2013; and NSW Premier Kristina Keneally’s Award 2011 for contribution to Arts & Culture in NSW. Kumud is also the winner of many prestigious community awards in recognition of her contribution and maintenance of Indian Art and Culture in Australia.

About Dr Vikrant Kishore:

Dr Kishore is a Lecturer for Communication & Media Production at the University of Newcastle, Australia; he has more than 25 documentaries and corporate films to his credit. His documentaries on ‘Chhau Dance’ have been screened in various international film festivals. He has been actively working for the safeguard and preservation of the “intangible cultural heritage” of East India. He has led the Chhau dance group in various international folklore festivals. A recipient of prestigious IPRS Scholarship (Australia), Dr Kishore was a short-term fellow at the “ KJC Cluster of Excellence”, Heidelberg University, Germany. He has been a jury member of various international film festivals such as ATOM Awards, Doordarshan National Awards, ‘Mise en Scene’ and JIMS Film Festival. Dr. Kishore’s areas of research are Bollywood films, Indian folk and popular culture, reality television and the issues of caste politics in India.

Indian Community in Australia. (2012). Retrieved 3rd April, 2014, from https://www.hcindia-au.org/indian_in_australia.html

History of immigration from India. Retrieved 2nd April 2014, 2014, from https://museumvictoria.com.au/origins/history.aspx?pid=26

Park, A. (2013). DNA confirms recent Indian influx. Retrieved 3rd April, 2014, from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/01/15/dna-confirms-recent-indian-influx

Australian Aboriginals, 1894- /photographer G.W. Wilson
Wilson, George Washington, 1823-1893, Hardie, Fred
from the collections of the State Library of NSW

Group of Aboriginals and Kanakas – Geraldton, Qld
At Work and Play

Australian Aboriginals, 1894- / photographer G.W. Wilson
Wilson, George Washington, 1823-1893 ,Hardie, Fred. From the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Dingo by Sam Fraser Smith

Indigenous Rock Art Fvanrenterghem.

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