Perpetrators of the recent violent attack, with overt shades of racism, on three African students at a Delhi Metro Station would perhaps find themselves as befuddled as David, a student from Congo, should they pay a visit to 'Africans in India: A Rediscovery' exhibition here.
"As I look at these fascinating images, I cannot but admit that I am pleasantly surprised by the fact that we share such a long story, going back centuries. Maybe those attacks and ridicule stem from a complete lack of historical awareness," says David, who is pursuing engineering from a private university here.
While today they are seen through the prism of xenophobia, and are often at the receiving end of physical and mental harassment, the exhibition hosted by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), casts light on fades pages of history that speak of a glorious past of the African immigrant community in India.
The objective of the exhibition, according to Sylviane A Diouf, one of the curators, is to "show the contribution of Africans towards Indian history and culture" and that "they did not come yesterday".
With the help of 54 panels, the exhibition depicts that the Africans in India once ruled over vast swathes of territory, commanded large armies and were an integral part of the arts, music and cultural movements of the Indian subcontinent.
From Malik Ambar of Bijapur who led an army of 50,000 soldiers against the Mughals to Malik Sandal, who designed impressive tombs like the Ibrahim Rauza, the African immigrant community was thriving at one point of time, especially in the Deccan.
Another curator, Kenneth Robbins, who co-wrote a book on the African elite in India said, "This exhibition is based on the idea that India has been a long time meritocracy where you could move up the ranks irrespective of your background. No where else in the world have Africans been able to rule outside Africa.