An odyssey into history

Romesh Ranganathan attempts to get in touch with his Sri Lankan heritage with a bit of stilt fishing
Romesh Ranganathan attempts to get in touch with his Sri Lankan heritage with a bit of stilt fishing

“Zipping up my boots,” sang soul-funkers Odyssey, once upon a Top of the Pops, “going back to my roots”.

These days, it’s not just the pop bands of my youth who are looking for some connection to the past, to family, to roots.

Perhaps it’s to do with the modern world, with decades of mass migration, the ease of modern communication, the dislocation we feel as we are surrounded by technology, rather than real people.

Two celebs were going back to their roots this week, Countryfile presenter Anita Rani on Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1, Thursdays, 9pm) and comedian Romesh Ranganathan in his new series Asian Provocateur (BBC3, Wednesdays, 10pm).

Both were looking to connect with their Asian heritage – Anita trying to find information about her grandfather’s first family, Romesh attempting to get in touch with his Sri Lankan background – and both visited the sub-continent.

That’s where the similarities ended.

Romesh, born and bred in Crawley, West Sussex, had no idea what Sri Lanka was like, or about his roots , he was basically going because his mum told him to – even she called him “a coconut”.

With his deadpan style, he faced the culture shock with commendable stoicism, even when a shaman was breathing fire at him.

What you didn’t get, however, was any sense Romesh was getting a deeper understanding of his family and his heritage – maybe that was point, his heritage is totally Western, not Sri Lankan.

Anita, however – also seen shaking her sequins on Strictly – did make discoveries, both about herself and her family.

She found that her grandfather’s first wife, son and daughter were all butchered during the Partition of India in 1947.

This was a time which saw the biggest forced migration of people ever, in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus were murdered, and in which women were degraded physically and mentally.

The tragic tale made for compelling TV. History is just the story of where we come from – our roots.