Of Rome, Roma and Romania

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania

Castle_Peleș_SinaiaI seemed to have caused more than a flurry of comments when I mentioned in my last post about the seminal date of July the 31st that  I had spent time in my youth “traveling to such out of the way spots as Gaucho habitats on the pampas of Argentina, and Gypsies encampments in the wilds of Romania.”

Then just the other day the New York Times had as its lead International news item Elisabetta Povoledo’s Rome Journal about the ‘Gipsy Queens’ of the Italian capital. The group she writes about comprise of Roma women, who mainly live in overcrowded camps, and who originated mainly from Romania

Having had a fair share in meeting up with the far-flung Roma, from their original – disputed by some! – homeland in India (Rajasthan) to Europe (including England, Wales and Scotland in the UK, Spain in Western Europe and Romania and Hungary in Eastern Europe) to the Americas (USA and Argentina) I felt it incumbent on me to join in the foray of combating the misguided and sometimes unfettered hostile attitude by those who should know better toward these much-maligned people.

For starters, I prefer to dwell on the positive starting with my reminiscences of Romania.

I recorded in February 1959 in an Indian (Calcutta) publication, The Cable, an unusual fortnight’s holiday that I had spent down in the capital Bucharest followed by a weekend visit up north in the Carpathians, first to Sinaia (at an elevation of 2,600 feet where I regaled in the splendor of Peles Castle) and then to the lower slopes of the 8,000 feet Bucegi Mountains. Midway, I chanced upon a Gypsy encampment, and was invited to join a small company of resident musicians; the atmosphere was made more welcoming by their laudable efforts to entertain their Indian guest and his companions with the haunting sentimental melodies of Transylvania.

borrowMany moons earlier, I had been drawn to the Gypsies by reading the works of George Borrow, whose books I’d acquired in my teens for their romance with the derring-dos of whom he called The Romany Rye. [Origin of the Roma: The Romani (also spelled Romany), or Roma, are  – as I strongly believe – of Indian origin, now living mostly in Europe and the Americas. Romani are widely known among English-speaking people by the exonym “Gypsies” (or Gipsies)].

Turning to the more modern era, there are famous people who are/were Roma or have had Romany ancestry. For example, taking only those born to Romanichal families in the United Kingdom – the word “Romanichal” is derived from Romani chal, where chal is Angloromani for “fellow” – here’s a short list comprising of two actors and an orchestra conductor. Some, if not all three, names will surprise you!

ChaplinSir Charles Chaplin

It’s known that his mother, Hannah Smith, was Romanichal, and also his father belonged to the Romany Smith family. Charles Chaplin was born in a Gypsy caravan in the West Midlands. He was knighted in 1975

Sir Michael Caine
Born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, it was a tradition of his Romanichal family to call Maurice the firstborn son. As an actor, he was awarded twice with the Oscar (1986 and 1999). He was knighted in the year 2000 for his contribution to the performing arts.

woodSir Henry Joseph Wood belonged to a traditional Romanichal family and made his mark in his hometown of London by founding the Promenade Concerts there.
He was also a composer, whose most celebrated work is “Fantasia on British Sea Songs.” Part One of the work is hotlinked to the rousing YouTube recording by the BBC Orchestra and BBC Choir at the Last Night Proms 2012.
Henry Wood was knighted in 1911 for his services to music.

References: Wikipedia; Romany Rye by George Borrow; The Gypsies by Jan Yoors

Postscript: My late twin sister, Tehrim, was nicknamed Gypsie, because of her ruddy complexion at birth, by one of the nurses who delivered her at the Evelyn Nursing Home situated in Mussoorie, which is known as the Queen of the Hills and is nestled 6000 feet up in the Himalayas as an escape from the heat of the plains each summer.

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Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas



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