Two men, near-identical names, and their intertwined lives. On one side is Bhagwan Singh, an itinerant religious preacher, a rebel on the run, poet, writer, and even a self-help guru. On the other is Bhogwan Singh, turban-wrapper, occasional actor, and one of the first Indians in Hollywood. When one appears on historical records, the other goes off the radar. This is a story of their journeys, intersecting, meshed, and melded mysteriously with each other.
Anuradha Kumar plays armchair detective as she courses through books, newspapers, pamphlets and films to uncover the trajectories of these two lives and the times they inhabited. As much as it is about Bhagwan and Bhogwan Singh, this book tells the larger and more remarkable story of how the first South Asians adapted, adjusted and remade themselves to a life in the New World.
The knowns led me to the unknowns. Fascinating blanks emerged as I navigated the knowns. I tried to fill them in by delving into other alternate histories that linked both the men I shadowed: for example, the rise of the film industry in Hollywood; the growth of the city of Los Angeles; why South Asians came to the West Coast and thrived in south California; the convoluted and complex rulings on citizenship and immigration that affected the lives of these new outsiders from Asia; and even aspects of psychology and forensics as I tried to compare faces and appearances—in old photographs and films—and tracked movements to establish their presence at a certain point in time.
This story, with all the other stories embedded in it, tries to answer one crucial question: at what moment/s did this shift, alternating of identities happen, and why? It presented an opportunity to ask the great speculative question of history, what if? It was also a way to dip into the complex, convoluted and conjoined lives of South Asian lives in America.
Anuradha Kumar, who wears many hats, has written for all age groups, across genre, country, and time. Aside from her work on Juggernaut, Scroll.in and other platforms, she has written children's books as well as authored historical fiction under the name Adity Kay. A two-time recipient of the Commonwealth Foundation award, she has also been felicitated by The Little Magazine and Hindu-goodbooks.in. When she is not working, she enjoys hiking, walking, and, of course, reading.
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