Bengali by ancestry, Costa Rican by nationality, and in search for her roots

He was named Abdul Rezak in  Hooghly where he was born. He came to Costa Rica in the late 1940s with a British passport. He  was studying medicine at Oxford . Since India was fighting for its independence at that time his parents thought it was good for him to leave the UK in case something happened to him and his family. He decided to look for another country and not to return to India .
So they thought of starting a new life. They were looking for a place where there was an Indian community. Initially they thought of Jamaica . He went to Jamaica with his wife and four other Indians. On the way his wife died. They didn’t feel comfortable in Jamaica .  So they went to Panama . Panama has a big Indian community over there. But they did not like Panama either and crossed the border and went to Costa Rica . They settled there.

Cut to 2014. Marissia Obando Razak, the grand daughter of Abdul Rezak, has been in Kolkata in search of her roots. Marissia elaborates,“ My grandfather  came to Costa Rica with only one bag, a pair of pants and some shoes. He had no money and didn’t  get any financial help. He choose to begin all over again from zero. He made a store and it was the only store which was selling everything- rice, bean, sugar, fabric, and shoe.  He died in Costa Rica and was buried there.”
What was their family’s initial experience in Costa Rica ? 
Marissia feels, “It was like a new world for them. They were Muslim and practised a religion whish was different there. They were from India so they ate a different kind of food. They would speak another language at home. After my grandfather died my mom became a Christian and married my dad who was a Costa Rican. She didn’t speak Bengali after that. It was a very emotional decision she made. .My mom had to face a crossroad. She was a Muslim and  there was no mosque there those days. She didn’t have anyone with her to read the Quran or pray five times. For her the easiest thing was to look for another faith that would make it easier for her to fit in that country This is because she was all the time with my grandfather. So when he passed away she was left alone in a dark place not knowing what to do next.”
There are around 40 Indian families and about 200 Indian people staying in Costa Rica . They celebrate almost all the festivals there.

How was her experience?  “From childhood we knew we were different. Once my mom asked me why my friends from school didn’t come and study with me in our home. When I told my friends one of my good friends she said to me, ‘I didn’t like your house. It smells funny’."

She continued, “We used to burn incense in our house and she was referring it to that smell. In our house We had pictures of my grandparents and we used to burn incense. My mom used to talk about Indian culture and Indian history. We started to develop deep feelings for India . She was a high school principal and on Sundays she used to cook parathas, kheer, rice with cashews and peanuts and very spicy food  flavoured with chilly. In our house we ate with our hands. It was different for everybody else but for us it was natural.”

What motivated Marissia to choose such a  journey?  She explains,” Last year I was here in India for four months to attend a course at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.  I think that was the beginning of this journey. I decided to visit Kolkata and see myself how my grand father’s homeland was. One year later here am I. I don’t have enough information. I don’t think I have any relatives here. But it is great to be here and sharing my story. It is the beginning of a journey which will push me to look for may be answers or experiences that will bring me closer to my roots. I actually feel like being at home here. I consider myself more Indian than Costa Rican.”

Talking about her country she says, “The UN has quoted the Costa Ricans as the happiest people in the world. Costa Rica is one of the leading countries in Central Latin America . Unemployment is less than 2% over there. The growth is over 4% yearly. Our main activity in Costa Rica is tourism. Earlier it used to be agriculture. We were known all over the world for our bananas and coffee and sugar. Now the country’s  main activity involves major sectors. This is because tourism involves a lot of sectors. The official language is Spanish but all of us can speak English. Our economy is growing. Education is free all the way up to University.

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