Fatima Shaik, American writer traces her Bengal roots, says India existed as the bright star

Asha Bajaj
5 min readFeb 6, 2023

IBNS: Fatima Shaik, award-winning American writer, was till recently teaching in a college in New York. In search of her roots, a few years back she came to Kolkata, from where her grandfather had migrated to the US. This forms the core of a documentary The Bengali. In a tete- a- tete with Ranjita Biswas, Shaik talks about her work and her journey to India

Excerpts from an interview

Please talk a little about yourself

I grew up in New Orleans and live in New York. I am interested in historical legacies and culture, particularly the way people related to one another in the past across ethnic, geographic, and colour boundaries.

You are the protagonist of the documentary The Bengali directed by Kavery Kaul where it narrates your journey to find your roots by the river Hooghly. What triggered it?

My quest was not so much triggered as it was made more urgent and possible with meeting Kavery. You see, the story of my grandfather’s immigration to America had been passed down in my family since the 19th century. It was a frequent topic of conversation over the family dinner tables in my house and those of my aunts. They had a longing to see Mohamed Musa’s native land in order to know him better. He had died in 1919 during their early childhood and there was no way any of his children could go back to India in those years. My father became a pilot from a desire to eventually fly to India. My aunt Haleemon Shaik Felton wrote a poem named India that appeared in 1941 in a book published by Xavier University of Louisiana. My aunt Noyemon Shaik Tio finished her novel called The Bengali in 1986 based on the courtship and marriage of her parents. It was only copyrighted and not published though. And after Hurricane Katrina in 2006, my father, the last of this generation, died. So when I met Kavery and told her these stories and she offered to take me to India for her film, I jumped at the chance to be the first in my family to transform this inherited longing into reality.

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Asha Bajaj

I write on national and international Health, Politics, Business, Education, Environment, Biodiversity, Science, First Nations, Humanitarian, gender, women