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Ram: Countries Of Origin

Taken in 2010 by Kesha Ram
The gates of the Wagha Border between India and Pakistan close at sundown. Lahore, which Sir Ganga Ram helped build at the turn of the century, is now a city of 11 million people that sits 10 miles beyond the border.

For many Americans, where we came from is both a source of great pride and pain. My own family fled the city of Lahore in 1949 with just the clothes on their backs, leaving behind the land that my great great grandfather helped build. During the Partition of India, the border moved ten miles past Lahore, making it a part of the new Muslim nation of Pakistan.With my Hindu family, I've been to that border, but never past it. And I grew up believing his legacy and his good works had been destroyed. Then someone sent me a link to a tweet they thought I should see.

I've never been a big Twitter user, so I almost dismissed the message as spam or something that would send me down the digital rabbit hole, but curiosity won out and what I found was a tweet honoring the legacy of my great great grandfather, Sir Ganga Ram, on the occasion of the 92nd anniversary of his death.

It told how he read by lamplight in the streets as a boy because his family couldn't afford to send him to school; how he became one of India's greatest early engineers and a celebrated philanthropist; how he helped build the city of Lahore - now with a population of more than 11 million.

The tweet had thousands of likes - and I myself retweeted it, expressing gratitude for recognition of my ancestor.

What followed were pictures of a hospital he'd built – now named for him; schools and irrigation systems that had brought prosperity to an entire region; and doctors who'd attended the medical school he initially funded. There were nearly 150 comments, 250 retweets, and 1,700 likes from people mostly halfway around the world in Pakistan. Most remarkable to me were that almost all of them were Muslim. And they invited me - a Hindu - to visit.

So when I hear that people who look like me should go back to our countries of family origin, it reminds me that up until now, this American always felt like I couldn't. Now, perhaps I can - at least to visit - and to bring back to this country a renewed dedication to building, leading and doing, inspired by a man from whom I am descended.

Kesha Ram is a former state legislator and the interim director of the Center for Whole Communities in Burlington. She will study in the Master of Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government this fall.
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