Yo, Desai…

People always ask me if I’m related to someone they know with my last name.  I let them finish their question out of politeness and then patiently explain that “My last name is as common as Smith is, in some ways.”  They look at me with either disappointment or with a raised eyebrow (as if maybe I really am related to their doctor and because of some dramatic series of events we were separated in the late 70’s.)  It’s kind of like asking your neighbor, Mr. Jackson, if he’s related to the King of Pop.   On another note, the S is never ever capitalized (just sayin’).

Out of curiosity, I looked my surname up on the Wiki.  Some of this I already knew… I’d like to look into the real history of it some day.

Desai is an administrative title and surname [1] derived from the Vedic Sanskrit words “desh sai”, which mean “land lord”, or lord of the land from the highest honor from the king of Persia mostly found in [punjab,pakistan, and persia].

Desai are known as one of the few upper class people. They came from the royal family of kings until the scourge of colonialism destroyed the Desai power and re-distributed Desai lands to others and created divisions not just within Desai’s but also individual Desai families. This period of rapid change since the 17th century when the first European traders set up go-downs in Surat district came to a climax in the early 19th century when Desai lands started getting either split up or got taxed individually. This started a process of educational excellence within the Desai community which fully embraced the western education system to stay in important positions with the new ruling powers.

Desais were revenue collectors who looked after a region or area on the ruler’s behalf and in return would get ten percent share of revenue. Historically, the feudal lords of Western Indian regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab and the Konkan regions of Bharat(India) and Goa were honoured with the title ‘Desai’.

Desais are mostly a part of the Anavil Brahmin caste although other castes do have the surname as a title in India, Desais from Pakistan and Persia are mostly Muslims. People from there have been migrating to US since 1650s. There are many Desai’s in the USA, UK, South Africa, Uganda, Fiji, New Zealand, Canada and Australia usually known for being wealthy and very upper class in fact their one of the highest. In the Konkan region, the titular Desai surname is attached to another family name or the name of the village, e.g. Sawant Desai (primarily of Sawantwadi), Rane Sardesai, Raut Desai, Naik Desai. In Pakistan and Punjab Desai are known by their ancestoral villages i.e. Mahuva, Dhandhuka, Palsana, Kamrej, Kharshad, Sultanpur, Varacha, Navsari etc……..

Today it is hard to tell who is a real Desai as many other communities and even other surnames within the Anavils like Naik, Khan, Mohammad, Sattar, Samad, Talwar, Aingh, Zaidi,Vashi and Mehta have changed their names by deed poll to Desai. This fact alone proves that the name Desai still carries some importance even today whether this is real or perceived, although a true Desai can be proven so by asking which villages their paternal ancestors came from and thus it can be traced back to find true Desai lineage or not, as in which place are you a Desai of?

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