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Atlantic Gandhi, Caribbean Gandhian

Gandhi used his experience with the scattered migrants of the Indian diaspora in South Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere to partly construct the nationalist doctrine that he later brought to India. The forging of what has been called the "revolutionary Atlantic" proletariat where Indians could have bonded with other exploited races in a militant consciousness across ethnic and national divisions was not part of Gandhi's resistance, indeed it was impeded by it. However, Gandhi's focus on the diaspora had an impact on Caribbean societies, through the agency of another migrant transnational from the other side of the fence, the English clergyman, C F Andrews.


Atlantic Gandhi, Caribbean Gandhian

Nalini Natarajan

Gandhi used his experience with the scattered migrants of the Indian diaspora in South Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere to partly construct the nationalist doctrine that he later brought to India. The forging of what has been called the “revolutionary Atlantic” proletariat where Indians could have bonded with other exploited races in a militant consciousness across ethnic and national divisions was not part of Gandhi’s resistance, indeed it was impeded by it. However, Gandhi’s focus on the diaspora had an impact on Caribbean societies, through the agency of another migrant transnational from the other side of the fence, the English clergyman, C F Andrews.

This version was presented as the 13th Annual Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture at Hameline University, Minnesota. I thank Veena Deo, Sam Imbo and Bao Thao. The paper is forthcoming in Nalini Natarajan, The Resonating Island: The Caribbean in Postcolonial Dialogue (Callejon Press).

Nalini Natarajan ( is with the Department of English, University of Puerto Rico.

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bout a third into his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi writes of landing in Durban, the port of Natal in South Africa: As the ship arrived at the quay and I watched the people coming on board to meet their friends, I observed that the Indians were not held in much respect. I could not fail to notice a sort of snobbishness about the manner in which those who knew Abdulla Sheth behaved towards him and it stung me. Those who looked at me did so with a kind of curiosity. My dress marked me out from other Indians. I had on a frock-coat and turban, an imitation of the Bengalee pugree (88) (Gandhi 1927).

Such is Gandhi’s remembered experience of his first moments in South Africa, an expatriate for the second time in his life thus far. I want to mark in this moment a migratory consciousness teetering on the edge of a diasporic nationalism. When face to face with the mélange of ethnicities in a colonial outpost – Muslim traders, Tamil and Telegu indentured workers, the Gujarati Gandhi in a “Bengalee” pugree designates them all as “Indian”.

Gandhi’s moment of embarkation can be read as a “nationalising” moment at the very instant he finds himself in the totally unfamiliar and unsettling space of a transoceanic migrant.1 For the year is 1893, the Indian nation is yet, “a thing without a past” and as such, the national idea is, in Sudipta Kaviraj’s formulation “radically modern” (Kaviraj 1992: 1-39). Ongoing excavations and constructions of a collective cultural tradition abound (Chatterjee 1994), but the nation as a fitting “modern” successor to this collectivity is amorphous – its contours are as yet vague, its territoriality as yet undetermined (Kaviraj 1992: 1-39). The diasporic Gandhi is an important precursor of the nationalist Gandhi. I hypothesise in this paper that it is in part from the experience of the scattered migrants of the Indian diaspora, in South Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere, that Gandhi constructs the nationalist doctrine that he then imports to India. And Gandhi’s focus on the diaspora has an impact on Caribbean societies as well, through the agency of another migrant transnational from the other side of the fence, the English clergyman, C F Andrews.

The epithet “Indian” has been used by Gandhi on only two other occasions in the Autobiography thus far, to describe “Indian students” in a hostel in London and “Indian clerks” in Lamu, a remote Kenyan port on his voyage (87). At both times he is outside India, in a transitory space (Gandhi 1927). The earlier identifications he has mentioned are “Vaishnava” (religious), “Modh Bania” (caste), and “Kathiawari” (regional) to name a few. A man whose experience before the diaspora was markedly local, confined in his own words to the “local and petty politics of Kathiawad” the nationalising moment comes, as always, in the midst of a “thorough” creolite and “unhomeliness” as Benedict Anderson (1994: 314) would say. Gandhi lived outside India for over 20 years before returning at age 46 to lead the national movement and take it into new directions. Exile, so Acton’s oft-quoted truism goes, is the “nursery of nationality”. Gandhi’s initially ephemeral and fleeting perception of migrant nationality is, as this paper argues, consolidated by the modern “technology of exile” – by the back and forth movement of Gandhian print productions in which, in Anderson’s terms, “the unstable, imagined worlds” of nationality solidified (ibid: 216).

In contrast to Gandhi’s relatively comfortable arrival, embarkation is also a moment recalling the trauma of Asian arrival on Atlantic and other oceanic shores when indentured workers in south Asia and China forced into starvation and to suffer other abuses due to a variety of factors, began their history of colonial servitude (Klass, Morton 1961, 1965, 1991; Klass, Shiela 1964; Tinker 1974, 1976; Ruhoman 1988; Weller 1968). But the early Gandhi is as yet vulnerable, grasping at the crutch of “Indianness” in exilic anxiety. In the South African immigrants he sees, “Indianness” seems more like the proverbial “hot potato” which no one wants to claim. Thus, Muslims call themselves “Arabs” and Parsis “Persians”:

I could see that the “Indians” (quotes mine) were divided into different groups. One was that of Mussalman merchants, who would call themselves “Arabs”. Another was that of Hindu and yet another that of Parsee clerks. The Hindu clerks were neither here nor there, unless they cast in their lot with the Arabs. The Parsi clerks would call themselves “Persians”.... But by far the largest class was that composed of Tamil, Telegu and North Indian indentured and freed labourers (Gandhi 1927: 89-90).

Expanding Consciousness

His position is somewhat hybrid – neither a “coolie” girmitiya (one who was on an indenture contract “girmit” being the Hindised word for agreement). Nor was he a “passenger Indian” (as the traders, sheths or jewellers/jhaveris were called) who had paid his own passage. Gandhi was brought in as a legal professional whose passage was paid by his client Abdullah Sheth. This in-between status frames his first encounter with the “subaltern” diasporic populations – not a part of them and yet subject to similar discriminations, and like them unable to leave of his own accord. The Autobiography is punctuated by his dilemmas of when to leave, how much it would cost, who would pay and whether or not his family could afford to join him.

Gandhi initially represented the rights of the mostly Gujarati Muslim property holders in the South African province of Natal, who were protesting, among other things, and by implication, the colonial lack of distinction between the trading groups and the indentured workers. The recorded meetings of the Natal Indian Congress that Gandhi went on to form, show that it had as members communities with a long history of maritime trade, clerical service and overseas settlement, from both north and south India. Signatories at these meetings and to various other protest documents show the names of Gujarati Muslims, Parsis, and Hindus from all regions (Joshis, Pandits, Chettys, Naidus, Pillais).2 Gandhi notes that traders, clerks and labourers were all called “sami” or “coolie” (which is originally a Tamil word for rent). Gandhi notes a Bhabhaesque, “sly” civility even in the “coolies”:

…all Indians were called coolies or samis. Sami is a Tamil suffix

o ccurring after many Tamil names and it is nothing else than the S anskrit Swami, meaning master. Whenever an Indian…had enough wit in him, he would [say] “you call me sami, but you forget that sami means master!” [thereby enraging his white masters] (Gandhi 1927: 90).

From this beginning, through his diasporic period, Gandhi’s consciousness expanded considerably. Speaking of his Muslim hosts, Gujaratis like himself, he often acknowledges their hospitality and speaks of them as family.3 Dada Abdulah Sheth supported Gandhi economically through much of his stay and most of his first supporters were Muslims. Gandhi undoubtedly energised much activism, still his greatest legacy to South Africa; a look at the timeline of the struggle show, however, that activism often waned when he left (see note 2). But the Natal Indian Congress was exclusive, Gandhi noted: he saw how the “unskilled wage-earners” could not pay the dues and were hence “outside the pale” of the Natal Indian Association (Gandhi 1927: 127).

The indentured coolie enters Gandhi’s consciousness in his Autobiography on his encounter with Balasundaram, a Tamil indentured servant physically abused by his white employer. “A Tamil man in tattered clothes, headgear in hand, two front teeth broken and mouth bleeding, stood before me, trembling and weeping”. The man’s headgear prompts a moment of identification:

…Balasundaram entered my office, headgear in hand. There was a particular pathos about the circumstance which also showed our humiliation. I have already narrated the incident when I was asked to take off my turban. A practice had been forced upon every indentured labourer and every stranger to take off his head-gear, when visiting European, whether the head-gear was a cap, turban, or a scarf wrapped round the head. A salute even with both hands was not sufficient (129).

Through his clerk, also a Tamil, Gandhi learns the details of the labourer’s suffering and helps Balasundaram with the doctors’ fees and to cope with medical neglect in Apartheid South Africa.

In this manner, he worked towards respect for this lowest class of “coolies” in South Africa (some of whom were, according to census records there and in the Caribbean, “adi dravida” and “dalits”) whom caste society had long subdued, ostracised and sometimes over millennia, appropriated into caste society (for a compelling account of this process, see Romila Thapar, Early India). Gandhi listened to many of their stories, represented them in legal matters, and tried to reform caste feeling from within. The lack of radical politics in Gandhi’s “diasporic” awareness and his unwillingness to question the hierarchies of the caste system has been much discussed; as also his seemingly exclusive attention to the Indian problem over the plight of Africans. With respect to the rightful Africans, Gandhi does profess sympathy and interest, as in his support for the Zulus, but does not include them in his struggles.

In the following pages I show that his intervention in the history of Atlantic labour has a twofold consequence: first, his project of cultural affirmation for the diaspora which is closely

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connected to his construction of Indian nationhood, and second, the ironic side effect, of his consequent arresting of Indian radicalism in the Atlantic. Unfortunately the forging of what has been called the “revolutionary Atlantic” proletariat (Linebaugh and Rediker 1992) where Indians could have bonded with other exploited races in a militant consciousness across ethnic and national divisions was not part of Gandhi’s resistance, indeed it was impeded by it as I will discuss. Gandhi makes no reference to Atlantic piracy of the earlier centuries and maroonage, the antislavery ideology often developed on both sides of the Atlantic coast, or the history of slave revolts for instance (Lewis 1983: 230-3;171-238).

In spite of this, Gandhi, the revered “organic” national hero within India is nevertheless an Atlantic cosmopolitan, and one who embraces resistance selectively not as a retreat to, or survival of, remembered folk customs or tradition, but as a consciously chosen path of anti-modernity4 which can define itself by using the institutions of modernity (such as newspapers, pamphlets, the public sphere). This makes his project much more formidable than a simple retreat into tradition.

First and foremost, Gandhi attempts to annihilate the “racial terror” (Gilroy 1993: 36) underlying plantation capitalism and its methods of forcing a violent modernity on its victims. This modernity requires its victims to forget their past identities in the new void of their role as racially subjugated persons who pay for their racial difference through forced migration in conditions of semi-slavery and unpaid or underpaid labour. But there is little doubt that Gandhi’s own efforts significantly affected the “modern” “non-modernity” of the diaspora. They pursued their remembered folk/traditional identities, but along the decidedly modern lines established by Gandhi’s projects, though as I will argue such projects are paradoxically imbued by a deep distrust of western style modernity.

‘Terrifying’ Modernity of Diaspora

The indentured diasporic experience, violent and traumatic, is modern in that it suddenly and abruptly brings its subjects into a new frame of reference and in this case, one intimately connected to processes of world capitalism in its more brutal form, namely, plantation capitalism. Unlike industrial/global capitalism, this stage of plantation modernity made no attempt at embourgeoisment of its colonised subjects. But it could have opened the way for, or accelerated proletarianisation, in this theorisation of Atlantic modernity by Trinidadians C L R James and Eric Williams who “situate the Caribbean as a primordial site of Atlantic modernity” (Beckles: 777) a society with its plantation system “based on the carefully regulated behaviour of slaves…is in terms of organisation and ways of living, the first modern society in the history of the world” (Beckles 1997: 777-89). So too with the inden tured coolie, who is usually invisible in many formulations of Atlantic modernity.

From being landless labour in a remote part of India, the first hill coolies shipped to Guyana in the 1830s, the Dhangars,5 and subsequently indentured populations from the plains all over India were recruited mainly through the ports of Calcutta and Madras, and transported to South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji,

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B ritish Guiana, Trinidad and other areas, to become workers in the plantation mode of production in the Americas and elsewhere. Some came with families; many were single; in the Caribbean single women were brought later to offset the skewed sex ratio.

Each step in the process was accompanied by lengthy threeway correspondence between colonial India, the British Parliament and the Atlantic planters. The Gwala, Chamar, Kumhar or the Julaha (cowherd, leather worker, potter or weaver) – from Gorakhpur or Banaras was suddenly an item in the endless B ritish debates. In this place where capitalism operated with its clothes off, they were banished to the barrack, the gold mine or the cane field, and made to toil long hours in the blazing hot sun. They encountered a “new system of slavery” with a brutal system of penalties and punishments and a clear agenda of deracination and detribalisation. Hugh Tinker notes that in folk-art “the girmitiya was always portrayed with his hands bound together, his shoulders hunched”. What they most notably lost was the jaat- biradri – (their caste-kinship networks) built over millennia. But equally they might have been freed from some of the worst caste and village oppressions perpetrated by the Pujaris, the Thakur (landlord), or the Bania (moneylender). For instance, in these new conditions early on in indenture even the formerly ritually exploitative brahmin was a subaltern. The north Indian pujari, or “maharaj” (“maraj” in Creole) as the brahmin cooks were called, or the south Indian “vatiar” or “vatialoux” were coolies like everyone else and laboured too. V S Naipaul comes to mind here in his pathetic representation of the Brahmin Biswas in Trinindad. Ernest Moutussamy, writing of the Indian community of Martinique, transported from the French colony of Pondicherry, speaks of “vatialouxs” as “giving comfort” to the people in an a lien land. Similarly, Moses Nagamootoo’s (a Creolisation of N agamuthu) novel Hendree’s Curse details a syncretic culture of Indian folk deities and Afro-Caribbean belief systems. A latter day manifestation of Indo-African creolite is in music: in the s eductive rhythms of chutney soca.

The early remembered narratives and habits of peasant existence that Gandhi might have encountered did change. Later in the history of migration when memories began to be reconstructed according to caste and gender dictates they ended up reinstating the oppressions left behind.6 Rhoda Reddock and Patricia Mohammed have discussed these neo-Hindu constructions. In the period of Hindu resurgence, organisations such as the Sanatanis or the Hindu Mahasabha often reintroduced customs from the homeland, further reinforced by waves of migration transporting customs (Tiwari 2000: 25-29; Moutosamy 1989).

Initially, because Gandhi was working within modernity which he expects as a “British” subject, he focuses on “rights”: he is silent about the cultural survival of the indentured especially when these entail ritual and superstition. Gordon Lewis has described the rural customs and dialects that survived and still survive – the prayer flags, the festivals of phagwaa, thai puzham, folk songs like the hori bhangra and rasiya, the worksongs of Kahars, Dhobiyas or Kumhars, the Bhojpuri dialect (Lewis: 244). For the premodern world view of the transplanted kisan of Gorakhpur and eastern Uttar Pradesh (the heart of what was derisively called the cow belt) was by no means extinguished by the coolie uniform, the “barah anna” (12 annas) wage (75 paise or ¾ of a rupee) or what Eric Williams calls “the regulated labour” of the first modern system in the world, the plantation.

In such conditions, cultural survival primarily arises to confront material crises. As David Arnold has argued in his study of famine in the same period but within the subcontinent, the inden tured workers’ regions of origin had soil fertility and drought issues which encouraged a world view of seeming magic and superstition, but were, in fact, collective cultural responses based on millennial experience (Arnold 1984: 62-115). Rainmaking ceremonies in drought-stricken Tamil Nadu (1876-78) reverberate interestingly with famine in transplantation. Anecdotal 7accounts of how coolies in Guyana responded to the severe drought of 1889 with rainmaking ceremonies, for instance, do suggest the active retention of religious propitiatory beliefs that they brought with them. In most cases, colonial authorities were forced to pay attention. For instance, in Guyana in 1889, a pujari was brought to perform the chandi homam to propitiate the goddess Kali, and a Shivala temple (note the non-Sankritic version of Shivalaya) erected on the spot where he dug a hole and fasted in Gandhi’s activism does not record such survival modes. The peasants’ propitiatory beliefs, the performance of “kavadi” (a mystical dance in worship of the Tamil god Muruga, practised to this day among immigrant Tamils descended from indenture labour in South Africa), is totally ignored. He is concerned more with their rights and working conditions and in shaping them into the “new” Indians. In this he might be reflecting the Arya Samaj and other reformists who distanced themselves from ritual dancing.8

Gandhi’s Modern Methods

To flesh out my claim of Gandhi’s “modern” methods, I return to my opening moment: Gandhi’s perception of Indian nationality in the Atlantic harbour in Durban. Symptomatic of modern procedures of surveillance, it is connected to his attitude of power symbolised, textually, by his gaze. The moment of arrival is dominated by metaphors of the visual: “I watched”, “I observed”, “I could not fail to notice”. Thrust into a “new” space, the arrivant cannot but see (and be seen) differently. The gaze is customarily read as a “look that the subject(s) whose perceptions organise the story direct/s at the characters and acts represented” (Newman 1990: 1029). One may read in the Autobiography the role of scopic control in the Gandhian project in South Africa. His role as an overseer in the sense of a careful, litigiously conscious reader – of newspaper items, legal details, minutiae of constitutional rights

– help him trace the legal disabilities suffered by Indians in South Africa. The Gandhian gaze is later, in Indian national space, to take the form of the benevolent supervision of bapuji (Hindi/ Gujarati for father), the familial figure of pre-modern succour. In Gandhi’s South African sojourn, this gaze is to be a gaze of surveillance – gendered, classed and privileged in other ways – in the interest of his new constituency, displaced peoples from the subcontinent.

Gandhi’s centrality as a “nationalising” agent in South Africa is behind a very unusual counter public space (Fraser 1990: 57-59) he constructs there. He follows closely the debate over indentured “Indians” in the Caribbean in the parliamentary debates and later focuses on the “woman question” in relation to the Caribbean. In South Africa, he takes up the three pound tax issue. The coolie girmitiya was by agreement entitled to a plot of land if he did not wish to return home; when that was denied and a tax levied instead, Gandhi jumped in. He notes their survival skills in his writings. An anglicised lawyer himself, this tenacity of India’s transplanted peasant agricultural classes affects him profoundly, though as I said before, he focuses on the practical rather than the propitiatory or superstitious. He focuses on an “Indian” way of life rather than a religion, although the customs he stresses are Hindu. He analyses the factors that have caused the envious backlash against Indians in South Africa. Once the Indian survived indenture and got his plot of land:

The Indians gave more than has been expected of them. They grew large quantities of vegetables. They introduced a number of Indian varieties and made it possible to grow the local varieties cheaper. They also introduced the mango. They entered trade. They purchased land for building, and many raised themselves from the status of labourers…(130).

This exact sentiment I found to be later echoed by George Lamming, the Barbadian Caribbean novelist who describes “those Indian hands” that fed the Caribbean people.

As he begins to organise in the space of diaspora, Gandhi is at the centre of, in Nancy Fraser’s terms, “an...arena of discursive interaction...[c]onceptually distinct from the [colonial] state” (ibid: 57-59). However, such an oppositional counter-public also presupposes the agency of the sovereign subject (in this analysis Gandhi) with an “absolute knowledge of the “real” (Rai 1995: 32). But Gandhian sovereign subjectivity, the basis of his construction of a “nationalist” subject out of the “creolite” of the Indian d iaspora, is not merely a derivative reflection of 19th century Western Cartesian humanism. It always remains a site of struggle for marking Gandhi’s distance from both Cartesian humanism, and its political corollary, the modern Indian national state, which as the child of colonialism is to be the chief harbinger of widespread and unprecedented change in ways of living for the colonised. Gandhi’s construction of a new concept of nation exploits what Bhabha has called the essential “ambivalence” of the nation as a cultural idea (Bhabha 1990: 1). One of the propelling forces in Gandhi is his terror of the nation as harbinger of a destructive modernity.

The nation says Sudipta Kaviraj, adapting Gramsci, “fears to face and admit its own terrible modernity because to admit m odernity is to make itself vulnerable” (13). Hiding in its “subterfuges of antiquity”, it seeks to disguise its “modernity” (Kaviraj 1992). There is both more opportunity for subterfuge and a keener terror in an imagined space of nationality, in migration, expatriation or exile. The Indian immigrants whom Gandhi found in South Africa (and his associate and disciple C F Andrews found in the Caribbean) were surrounded by the institutions of a modern colonial state, yet they were denied a place in it. Reacting to it, they retreated to their imagined and remembered traditions, which existed in a space outside the modern. Gandhi draws these traditions into the “ambivalent”

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nature of the modernity of nationality – its Janus face as both “new” and its building on older cultural systems (Bhabha 1990; A nderson 1994: 314).

Non-Modernity: Hind Swaraj

Such exposure to the condition of expatriate labour within a brutal plantation modernity supplies an illuminating context to Gandhi’s manifesto against modernity, the Hind Swaraj written at exactly the mid point of his experience in South Africa. I have thus far spoken of Gandhi’s “modernity” in his nationalist mobilising of diasporic protest and yet his worry that nationality could bring about a de-cultured model of modernity. It is in the contradictory space that Hind Swaraj may be located.

Hind Swaraj’s history as a printed document illustrates the connection between national imaginings and transoceanic print movements. It was written, significantly enough, on a ship, the Kildonan Castle and on the ship’s stationery. It was thus a startling image of migratory print. It was first published in two instalments in the Gujarati section of Indian Opinion,9 then in book form, first, by Gandhi’s own International Printing Press in Natal, and later by Ganesh and Co, Madras. The history of the text itself bears evidence to the striking transcontinental mobility of the print medium. Anderson, notwithstanding his problematic privileging of the literate over the non-literate,10 says, “the essential nexus of long-distance transportation and print capitalist communications prepared the grounds on which the first nationalist movements flowered” (Anderson 1994: 316). In this sense, Gandhi’s maritime writings are a part of “the circulation of ideas and activists as well as the movement of key cultural and political artefacts: tracts, books, gramophone records, and choirs” in Gilroy’s compelling view of the Atlantic as “ rhizomorphic”, transcultural, international as opposed to the nationalistic (Gilroy 1993: 4) space.

But if Hind Swaraj reflects the connection between maritime print capitalism and thus a “modern” imagining of nation, it imagines the Indian nation as avowedly non-modern. A decade or so ago, Partha Chatterjee took issue with Anderson’s account of the derivative character of post-colonial nationalisms. “If nationalisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from certain ‘modular’ forms already made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?” (Chatterjee 1994: 5). Gandhi’s expatriate “technology” of nationalism consolidated by print proves nevertheless that the content of the imagining may be radically un-European. Hind Swaraj declared Gandhi’s uncompromising opposition to European post-Enlightenment modernity as mediated and choreographed by the modern national state – the institutions of Science and Medicine, Law, Communications, Rationalism, Materialism and Consumerism (ibid: 153). Hind Swaraj may be understood as countering the terrifying implications of the modernity of nationalism, precisely by its interpretation of “Indianness” as non-modernity. And it is explicitly the South African settler from India whom Gandhi characterises as non-modern. Subaltern diasporic experience, exposed to the terrors of capitalist modernity, the “capitalism

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with its clothes off”, allows Gandhi to formulate his views on the non-modern:

The colonial community in South Africa believed that they were the representative of western civilisation and India, that of Oriental Civilisation. If peoples belonging to such rival civilisations met, the result would be an explosion. It is not the business of the statesman to adjudicate between the relative merits of these civilisations. His business is to try to preserve his own. Indians are disliked not for their vices but for their virtues – simplicity, perseverance, patience, frugality, and other worldliness. Westerners are enterprising, impatient, engrossed in multiplying their material wants and in satisfying them. They are afraid that allowing Indians to settle as immigrants in South Africa is tantamount to cultural suicide (Parel in Gandhi 1997: xxiii).11

The curious elements in this passage are the assertion and hyperbole which result in Gandhi’s tendency to look at “Indianness” as a given. In fact, his discourse draws from a lot of contradictory elements: “orientalist” construction of eastern culture and his own personal lifestyle preferences which he projects on to the immigrants.

Gandhi’s Construction of the Indian

In South Africa, over a long period of time, and cross-fertilised by trips to India, Gandhi begins a systematic construction of “Indianness” as a platform for linking the disparate groups in ways that would yet keep the “newness” of nationality at bay. Thus, though the immigrants themselves might not have had the luxury of a return trip home, Gandhi did it for them, financed by his trader patrons. His “subjects” include representatives of all his political constituencies. Beginning with the Muslim traders,12 and widening to include the “coolies” of Transvaal and Orange Free State, the Christian Natal born Indians who had earlier been aloof from the rest, and women dispossessed by racist laws.

His construction of the “Indian” must be seen as an important intervention on the racial thinking of the time. Gandhi has reached South Africa in the 1890s, when by many accounts, the colonial construction of India’s inhabitants already reflects Europe’s epistemes. It has shifted from the taxonomic (description of the many ethnic types) through the Social Darwinist (ranking these on a scale of “primitive” to “civilised”) to a coherent discourse of alterity (embodied in Hinduness as Indianness) (34).13 At the same time, the period marks a transition, in Kaviraj’s terms, between 19th century anti-colonial cultural ideologies and the post-Gandhi programme of political decolonisation as a feasible project, i e, between cultural and political nationalism. Gandhi confronts this transition headlong in South Africa, by combining territorial, political claims – the right to franchise, to property, to citizenship – with cultural and chiefly religious self-definition.

So his territorial, civic struggles are always buttressed by cultural experimentation – in diet, hygiene, satyagraha, ahimsa. In his writings he names the elements of the new “Indianness”: an all-India consciousness drawing from many religions but sharing the trait of being antithetical to “modern” civilisation, purged of undue regionalism and religious and caste bigotry (xxiii).14 Here we must note his lengthy apprenticeship in understanding all of India’s religions. Noteworthy, too, is how the African inhabitants of South Africa are marginalised in Gandhi’s attempt to claim South Africa as a space for constructing “Indian” nationality. I shall return to this point later.

His two settlements, Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm, both close to Zulu villages, are his crucibles for constructing “Indianness”:

Phoenix is intended to be a nursery for producing the right men (and women) and the right Indians... “suitable place for making experiments and gaining proper training” Parel, xxii-iii in Gandhi 1997; quoting Gandhi, Complete Works 9:3 82).

The contradictions in Gandhi’s method of forging and constructing “Indianness” in diaspora must be acknowledged, for such contradictions continue to plague diasporic populations especially in issues of gender. One of the challenges in approaching Gandhi is the fact that in his many experiments, the anarchic/transgressive and the traditional always seem to be in tension.15 His experiments with “Indianness” in South Africa intersect erratically with both the “modern” and the “traditional”. One episode at Tolstoy Farm illustrates the slipperiness of Gandhi’s experiments. In his construction through social experimentation of the sexually controlled “Indian”, Gandhi has young men and women bathe together in the Farm’s pond.16 Such an experiment would have been well nigh impossible to carry out in India. When this provoked some teasing of the young girls, Gandhi ordered that the girls’ long hair be cut off, so they could bear the mark of their dishonour, and as a deterrent to future offenders. The punishment, which was initially opposed by several women in the community, bears too troubling a relation to widow tonsure to be seen as moving towards a new definition of gender relations. Such circularity recurs in many Gandhian experiments.

Interestingly enough, Gandhi’s experiments in the non-modern are discursively co-coordinated by as many likeminded European texts he can muster to the effort (Socrates, Thoreau, Tolstoy and Ruskin). These texts themselves, as Patrick Brantlinger has noted, reflect a post-Renaissance though not post-Enlightenment global transcultural modernity made possible by print.17 For my purposes, one can observe an interest in social and civic discipline which includes, but is more than, the essentialist “Indianness” he hails in the passage quoted earlier. Gandhi’s version of “Indianness” would include those who obeyed his strict, sometimes even cruel regimen in Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm, but exclude those who wished to confront western civilisation through other means. His “Indianness” involves a conscious distancing from certain sectors of expatriates living abroad – the radical terro rists who advocate a violent end to British rule (xxiii).18 But most important, his strategic use of “modernity” works not by denying the principles of civil society,19 but by working out a mode of civil fashioning which imposes his private vision on the public sphere. This mode, I claim, is one perfected in conditions of diaspora.

Negotiation of Public and Private

I contextualise the two ideas I began with – a “constructed” nationalism ambivalent towards modernity and a personally i mpelled civic “surveillance”, within the particular Gandhian n egotiation of “public” and “private” in his quest for influence in colonial society. In recent studies of west European patterns, the civil, public sphere is approached and analysed in contradistinction to both the private sphere (family, sexuality) and the State (2).20 In colonial India, the anomalous place of “culture” and “religion” as both public and private already complicates the model (2).21 For expatriates from colonial situations, the model is triply complex. As an expatriate, Gandhi’s private sphere was distinct from that in his home country. His situation entailed isolation from conjugal life, family, reliable sources of economic support, community of origin and domicile. Moral choices (propelled by his vaishnava bhakti or his ahimsa), which for Gandhi were always the basis of political action, could not be regarded as e ither sanctioned by culture or family, or as motivated by filial/ psychological motivations like obedience, rebellion or guilt (meat eating/smoking). At the same time, the expatriate sphere would allow certain activities denied to him in the highly stratified “publics” of colonial India (56-80).22

I conclude the Gandhi section with two examples of how some of these “essentially” Indian traits were constructed by Gandhi and how his expatriate experience was personally implicated in them: frugality and vegetarianism. Both have become associated with Indian diasporic populations, and often (in times prior to new age fashions promoting vegetarianism, yoga and the like) with an accompanying suggestion of eccentric non-adaptability to western life.23

Frugality of the body, a key Gandhian idea, becomes the determining sign of “Indian” resistance to modernity. It is possible to read frugality as structurally connected to Gandhi’s experience of expatriate life. He explicitly traces his economy with money and with the body to his survival strategies in London (Gandhi 1927: 47).24 Frugality becomes his version of self-containment in an alien land and culture. Thus, from the time of his days as a student in London, he chooses walking instead of mechanised transport, a habit he adheres to throughout his life. The socioeconomic “denials” suffered by Indians in South Africa further allow Gandhian constructions of frugality.

Similarly, and by way of linking Gandhi’s two expatriate periods, I take Gandhi’s success with vegetarianism in his earlier student phase in London, as exemplary. Although vegetarianism is often dismissed as a Gandhian fad (179),25 I consider it crucial in G andhi’s negotiation of expatriate experience. It is an issue which can be approached through a multifaceted conception of the p rivate. It reflects a particular practice among the Vaishnava sect in Gujarat responding to the immediate cultural influence of Jainism (134).26 In Gandhi’s life, it also represented psychic familial conflicts (thus privacy in the sense of the emotional and sexual experience). His older brothers ate meat and he himself as the youngest son, responded to a pre-modern, matriarchal pressure to abjure it. Yet vegetarianism is never merely a cultural, religious or filial/psychological matter reflective of gender ambivalence. Even in adolescence, Gandhi is concerned with how it may intervene in public issues. His meat eating dinners in the State House in Gujarat reflect his attempt to reconcile a habit associated with public power (as the rulers ate beef) with his own private shame. Unable to do so, Gandhi arrives at a characteristic compromise. Filial obedience is more important than a power

may 2, 2009 vol xliv no 18

which denies one’s personal commitments. Henceforth, he will seek a path where the political and the personal are more aligned. In the polarised world of Kathiawad, where opportunities for n egotiation are few, and parental authority omniscient, such a path is difficult.

The same subtext of struggle informs the second encounter with meat eating and vegetarianism, this time in England. Gandhi begins by recalling the vow to his mother. In Erikson’s analysis, the “pre-modern” “vow” is crucial in Gandhi’s conflict at this time. Once again, his autobiography builds up a dramatic opposition between the religious pre-modernity of the vow and the pragmatic modernity (adaptation to change) enjoined on him by those who advise him to take meat. He is still seeking a way out of the public/private dilemma posed by his vegetarianism. How is he to frame a public discourse out of his personal traits of filiality and connection to his mother, the cultural values embedded in Jainism and ahimsa, and his desire to counter the masculine ethic of colonial beef-eating? In other words, how is he to rescue the so-called “pre-modern” from its ahistorical space of “otherness”, and bring it into the space of the modern, as its equal adversary? If he can do so, maybe he can then handle the terrors of modernity.

Typically, the expatriate condition allows him the space for a “new” compromise, and yet another field of experimentation. Far from being a pre-modern way of life discarded in the move to progress, he discovers in London a “counterpublic” of vegetarianism and its print discourse. He reads the works of Salt (Vegetarianism), Anna Kingsford (The Perfect Way in Diet) and Howard Williams (The Ethics of Diet) most of whom wrote in the 1880s. He writes for a weekly journal, makes his first public speeches, and assumes executive office in their society.27 But in this rational discourse of “modern” vegetarianism, his first obligation remains to insert his mother’s definition of it. Of the three scientific definitions he names in the Autobiography, of vegetarianism, he chooses the one compatible with his mother’s wishes: i e, a diet without eggs. Thus does Gandhi’s vegetarianism enter the public space of modernity and the narrative of his Autobiography.

Caribbean Gandhi and C F Andrews

Gandhi’s work in South Africa set off a chain reaction, involving other sites of indenture like Fiji and the Caribbean. Gandhi’s chief collaborator was C F Andrews, an English clergyman who became involved in the struggle for Indian independence. Andrews, incidentally, met Gandhi for the first time on New Year’s Day, 1914, on Durban’s quay, the very spot where Gandhi began his diasporic discovery. The occasion itself is symbolic. Gandhi was dressed in the clothing of indenture (“a slight ascetic figure in a white dhoti and kurta of such coarse material as an indentured labourer might wear”) (Chaturvedi and Sykes 1950: 94) and A ndrews, much to the chagrin of the white community there, swiftly bent down and touched his feet in respect. Gandhi’s f amous costume, generally associated with peasant India, is here acknowledged as a coolie’s – a transplanted indentured worker’s costume. Gandhi adopted it when imprisoned with other coolies in South Africa protesting racist laws. In many ways this encounter linked Andrews, Gandhi and the indentured experience.

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The voyage to South Africa had been traumatic for Andrews and made him aware of the sufferings of the transplanted. While on the voyage an Indian cook from Calcutta jumped overboard and killed himself. Andrew’s own seasickness and feeling of being in a void gave him an existential insight into the fate of the indentured. In Durban, in Gandhi’s Phoenix farm he was witness to the misery of a runaway Tamil coolie, bearing on his body the marks of a brutal beating and who was comforted by Gandhi. Apparently, the scene moved Andrews to tears (Chaturvedi and Sykes: 95). But it was not only coolie misery that Andrews witnessed. Choosing to live in the “squalid” Indian section on the outskirts of Pretoria, he noted their hospitality, their graciousness, their cleanliness:

the dhobis (washermen) of Pretoria became my great friends… Their great delight was to give me a “khana”, either a breakfast or a dinner. They also gave me clothes to wear; they fitted me up with shoes and slippers, they were eager to wash and iron my white summer suits every day” (Chaturvedi and Sykes: 96).

It is this hidden subtext, the extraordinary capacity for grace and survival in the midst of inhuman conditions that touched Andrews and which I want to emphasise. Back in India, working with Gokhale’s anti-indenture campaign and committing himself to working in Fiji, Andrews read Totiram Sanadhya’s account in Hindi My Twenty-one Years in Fiji and informed himself about the anti-indenture campaign spearheaded by the Australian colonial sugar refining company. He personally visited every immigration depot between Allahabad and Calcutta and realised the extent of the trickery and subterfuge used by the recruiters to lure labour to Fiji (Chaturvedi and Sykes: 113). He was given the title “Dinabandhu”, friend of the poor. During his five weeks in Fiji, Andrews worked to ensure land settlements for the indentured, liquor controls, labour contracts as opposed to the prevailing coerced contracts, the campaign for recruiting whole families, housing, a public steamer service instead of “coolie” ships, and village schools in Hindi (113-124). These demands became the model for his later work in many indenture situations, culminating in his visit to the Caribbean-Guyana. While Gandhi’s work addressed the politico-socio-moral side of indenture, Andrews’ focused on the legal-material side, using his nationality to negotiate successfully with the planters.

Later, Andrews travelled to the Caribbean region, to Guyana, where he noted both the wretched conditions in which the coolies lived, and the tremendous potential for their prosperity in the beautiful landscapes of the Caribbean. En route to Guyana, Andrews’ “ship called at the Bermudas, Santa Lucia, and Port of Spain, and everywhere Andrews went ashore and gathered information about the numbers and welfare of the Indian setters”.28 Once in Guyana, Andrews visited the29 sugar plantations on the East Coast of Demerara, “where Indians were still living in the ruinous, unhealthy old indentured labour quarters. Morning and evening he spoke in Hindi at church services to which the Hindu people crowded, hungry for Indian news and the sound of their own language”.

However, here Andrews’ impression that the isolation from I ndia of the community and the consequent religious decline with an increase in social vices such as rum-drinking and g ambling, is not offset by any sense of cultural resilience derived from folk memory. In this he is similar to Gandhi. Looking closely at Andrew’s journal, it seems possible that he did play a significant role in such resilience.

As he had done in Fiji, Andrews discussed crucial aspects of Indian life with the community: the improvement of communications with India, the registration of Indian marriages, the land grants to substitute for return to India, cooperation between Africans and Indians in matters such as the control of alcohol and gambling, cooperative credit to facilitate the growing of rice, the induction of Indians into education (Andrews was instrumental in the dream of a University of the West Indies, 245) and the police force, and social reform within the Hindu community on issues such as child marriage. Of housing, he asks: “Why should the houses on even the best estates be set up in rows “like beans on a beanstalk?...Why should not the Indian choose his own type of house, provided that sanitary requirements were met?” (Chaturvedi and Sykes: 242-43).30

Narratives by Indo-Caribbeans do testify to the effects of Andrews’ visit, in writers like Maya Tiwari, Lakshmi Persaud and others. Writing of the period after Andrews is observing, for instance (1929 or so), here is Lakshmi Persaud’s description of the 1930s and 1940s:

At dusk it was easy to believe you were in India: shadows and sounds of bullock carts, the aromas of roties on chulhas; fresh water in buckets and cut grass in bales; off-white houses with thatched roofs and glowing wood fires in the yards; the soft gentle sounds of Hindi in the night carried by warm winds along red earth tracks. Even as late as the 1930s it was easy to believe.31

Persaud describes Andrews’ dream of the Indian style house achieving fruition (82-83).

Andrews’ devoted attention to practical matters provides the material backbone to the Gandhian alchemy of changing wretchedness into cultural strength, of drawing from the affliction of the body into a struggle for deliverance and welding this alchemy into the nationalist programme of cultural survival and definition. The claim of this paper is that it is initially in the context of indenture in diaspora, in the pain of displacement and the longing for India, transformed into a great national programme for self-definition, that Gandhi draws his impetus. A scene narrated by C F Andrews is a visual reminder of how the “nation” is never far away int his Creole place of Hindus, Muslims and Zulus and also in Gandhi’s and Andrews’ consciousness of m igrant suffering:

The strain of a long day of unwearied ministry among the poor was over. In the still after-glow of twilight, Mahatma Gandhi was seated under the open sky. He nursed a sick child on his lap, a little Muslim boy, and next to him was a Christian Zulu girl from the mission across the hill. He read us some Gujarati verses about the love of god, and explained them in English. “What is India like?” said a young Hindu to me with eager eyes. “India”, I replied, “is just like this. We have all of us been in India tonight” (Chaturvedi and Sykes: 99).


To conclude, my foregrounding of the expatriate phase in Gandhi’s life departs from readings which, in highlighting Gandhi’s nationalist contribution within India, see South Africa as merely a preparatory phase. Sumit Sarkar, Anthony Parel and Judith Brown have traced the connection to South Africa of Gandhi’s all-India vision, his belief in Hindu-Muslim unity (many of his clients in South Africa were Muslims) and his experiments with social reform, protest movements and satyagraha. In these accounts, South Africa is a training ground for what Sarkar has called a “basic Gandhian style” (178-79).32 Of his expatriate life, Antoinette Burton has examined Gandhi as a traveller “in the heart” of the late Victorian empire. I argue for a much more structural intervention of the psychosocial and political experience of diasporic (dis)location in the forging of Gandhian nationalism both in his definition of nationalism and in his encounter with an Atlantic modernity. Nationality, hitherto only experienced as local or regional, enters the consciousness as an apprehension of exile, as a separation from and hence desire for, a lost home. This essay has implicitly argued that such desire is not merely “personal” or “subjective” in any timeless sense but historically produced at specific power-knowledge axes, which both the “chosen” and “forced” migrations occasioned by Empire brought into being. And a salient element in this equation between exile and nationality is precisely exilic modernity: modernity as the birth of a new translocal consciousness which can live in one place and claim (and construct) allegiance to another. Ironically, in this definition of modernity the “coolie” stubbornly holding on to folk customs in the Atlantic plantation or mine is as key a player as Gandhi, a cosmopolitan from below. However, the consciousness of this double identity (as Gilroy or Glissant would say) is enabled primarily by movement and communication “of bodies and of print” (see Anderson also, above). In both the London and South African sections, the bracketed, artificial conditions of expatriate life help Gandhi to realise the paradoxical demands of Indian nationalism – its negotiation of the anti-modern, within the space, and the terror of the m odern. A nationality constructed in migrant Creolite, it dares to imagine the Indian nation as the diametric opposite of the European nation.

Gandhi’s version of “Indianness” in South Africa unfortunately ignores the space of Africa as a home for Africans and of other Creole cultures in the diaspora, to an exclusive consideration with “Indians” and their nationalism. In other regions of the Indian diaspora, the process of “Creolite” and its resistance by Indian settlers has been a historical puzzle.33 Gandhi might be read, in this paper, as a participant in the process of Indian separatism in diaspora, discernible in the world today.

In this context I want to end with reference to C L R James, guru of Atlantic modernity. Hillary Beckles summarises James, who pointed out that the persistence of slavery was a betrayal of French revolutionary enlightenment modernity, and who yet saw hope for anti-slavery movements in this very contradiction. I quote Beckles’ account:

Since the conjuncture of Enlightenment ideals and imperial adventurism were compromised by the promotion of slavery… it was incumbent upon the colonised subaltern, the wretched of the earth, to claim as a right, judicial and social access to these idealisms…Only such politics, James showed, could constitute the resolution of m odernity’s contradictions – and illustrate the transformative power of Enlightenment in action (Beckles 1997: 780).

may 2, 2009 vol xliv no 18

Clearly Gandhi disagreed, charting for the Indian diasporic were not up to much, but I tell you the things that mattered, I rememand resident subaltern a different path. His mode of resistance

ber travelling by train and I was reading an article in the news – or one of them – about Gandhi and I talked to a friend of mine about it and

does not share in such a pro-Enlightenment view of Atlantic

some Indians who were there dressed in their Indian clothes said “Hey

modernity. A conversation between the later C L R James and

Gandhi!” in other words they knew about Gandhi and that was about

Ken Ramchand in San Fernando, Trinidad, as they discuss the

1927-28 and so…34

influence of leaders on Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian issues, respectively, is telling. In response to speculaton on C L R James’ suggestive subtext speaks for itself, alternating whether the majority of Trinidadians in the 1920s and 1930s irony and admiration, Garvey and Gandhi, Indo-Caribbean and (Gandhi’s peak period) would have heard much about Marcus Afro-Caribbean, elite leader and mass following, newspaper and Garvey: C L R says and I quote from a recorded oral transcript: rumour. But in his discourse, the Caribbean Indians “dressed in

[their] Indian clothes” and responding to Gandhi’s name remain

they didn’t hear much about Garvey, but Garvey came here in 1929, oh

uncreolised; according to this paper, a Gandhian diasporic

yeah Garvey came and when Garvey landed here a whole lot of people went down to the wharf to see him, but as a personality, his policies l egacy, perhaps?

Notes speaker, in this case, a “born-again” Hindu. Simi 21 Sandra Freitag, “Introduction, Special Issue on
1 For a similar discussion of exilic nation-forming, lar anecdotes may be found elsewhere in the the Colonial Public Sphere”, South Asia 14.1
see Benedict Anderson, “Exodus”, Critical Inquiry, inden ture. In addition to caste narratives (every (1991): 2.
20 (1994): 314. caste and sub-caste has one: be they chamars or 22 Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere”, So
2 See for a timeline of Indian activism in South Africa, Saivite brahmins, every group has a story of ori cial Text, 25-26 (1990): 56-80.
“A History of Indians in South Africa” in “South African History Online”, gin) to those in indenture are added tales such as these – narratives of origin in indenture. I am in 23 A good example of these traits being viewed as comically eccentric is in V S Naipaul’s House for
3 Hospitality is a trope that occurs in accounts of terested here not in veracity of the narrative but in Mr Biswas’ representation of vegetarianism in
travellers in the Islamic world, a popular example the way they are remembered and how they may be Biswas and frugality in the Tulsi’s.
4 5 6 being Ibn Batutah’s writings. In this context, I found interesting Faisal Devji’s reading of G andhi’s travel in South Africa as reflecting traditional “pre-colonial” Muslim trade routes in the Indian Ocean. See, for a different reading, Robert Young for the relevance of Gandhi’s “counter-modernity” to post-colonial theory: 316-34. “Coolie” was the catch-all phrase used to describe indentured labourers; in Tamil the word “coolie” is used to mean “to rent”. For the reconstruction of Indo-Caribbean womanhood in the post-indenture period see studies 8 9 10 read. The points to note in this narrative are, that though the speaker wishes to document an “authentic” Vedic Hinduism preserved or reinforced in Guyana, what we may in fact read is the peasants’ bargaining power: they will not work unless the homam is performed. A pujari will mean they have a focus to help resist the missionaries efforts to convert them. Cf My discussion with Ritu Birla.11 and 19 December 1909. See my discussion of Anderson’s non-applicability to India in Natarajan “Woman, Nation and Narration in Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children”. 24 25 2627 28 29 M K Gandhi, An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Ahmedabad: Navjivan 1927), 47. Sumit Sarkar, Modern India (Madras: MacMillan 1983), 179. Erik Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Non-Violence (NY: Norton 1969), 134. Erik Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Non-Violence (NY: Norton 1969), 134 and Parel. See Chaturvedi and Sykes, 239. See Chaturvedi and Sykes, 239-45.
by Mohammed, Reddock, Puri, Niranjana. 11 Complete Works, quoted in Parel, xxiii. 30 See Chaturvedi and Sykes, 242-43.
7 Each of these is mentioned in historical and ethnographic statistics as “waves” and the claimed caste status of the labourers is tabulated. Accounts note that caste was sometimes manufactured along the way as indicated by the term, the “boat brahmin”. But it is in private family stories “factual” or “fabricated” that the spirit of diasporic survival must be recovered. Thus, the anecdotal, even if suspect, because mediated through various ideological agendas must be respected. 12 13 14 15 Judith Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1972), 1-15, Sumit Sarkar, Modern India (Madras: MacMillan 1983). Amit Rai, “India On-line: Electronic Bulletin Boards and the Construction of a Diasporic Hindu Identity”, Diaspora (1995-6): 34. Parel, xxiii in Gandhi, Autobiography. I thank Radhika Subramaniam for our discussion on the “anarchic” in Gandhi. 31 32 33 34 See Persaud, 81-86 for a lyrical description of the life of Indians after indenture ended. Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India, Madras: MacMillan 1983. 178-79. For an enabling discussion of Creolite, see Glissant, 263. Interviews with Ken Ramchand; OWTU Guest House, San Fernando, Trinidad & Tobago. C L R James, 5 September 1980.
Thus “positive” agendas like feminist recovery, or 16 I thank Meena Alexander for pointing out this in
“negative” ones like Hindu resurgence, must be cident to me. See her essay on Tolstoy Farm in her References
considered and critiqued while detailing the process of recovery. By way of illustration, I will look at a brief narrative of how a pujari from Uttar Pradesh was brought to Guyana in 1889, as told by his great-granddaughter: The British had agreed to bring over a handful of pujaris, in response to the Hindu immigrants’ belief that the priests could end the severe drought of 1889 by performing the Chandi Homa, the Vedic ritual intended to bring the rains…Although the priests fasted for two 17 18 19 20 book Shock of Arrival (1996). See for a discussion of industrialism and the Enlighten ment, Patrick Brantlinger, “A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism: John Ruskin, William Morris and Gandhism”, Critical Inquiry 22 (1996): page # 483. Parel, xxiv. Introduction to Gandhi, Hind Swaraj. As Partha Chatterjee has claimed, 1994. Sandra Freitag, “Introduction, Special Issue on the Colonial Public Sphere”, South Asia 14.1 (1991): 2. Anderson, Benedict (1994): “Exodus”, Critical Inquiry 20: 314-27. Arnold, David (1984): “Famine in Peasant Consciousness and Peasant Action: Madras 1876-78”, Subaltern Studies III (Delhi: OUP), 62-116. Brantlinger, Patrick (1996): “A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism: John Ruskin, William Morris and Gandhism”, Critical Inquiry 22: 466-85. Beckles, Hilary (1997): “Capitalism, Slavery and C aribbean Modernity”, Callaloo 20.4: 777-89.

months and performed various religious rituals. [My] great grandfather…newly arrived in Port Mourant…entered a pit that had been dug for the Vedic fire rituals, and he fasted alone for two more months, until the heavens finally opened up. The villagers lifted his emaciated body from the pit and the first mandir or temple in Guyana was built on that spot… and was named the Shivala temple.

The speaker is a writer, a former 5th Ave celebrated fashion designer, a refugee to the US from Guyana’s ethnic violence in which she lost her family members, and now the founder of an ashram. Her story illustrates my point about family narratives as a mode of historical memory or construction, which may reflect also the perspective of the

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