Archive for the 'Gender' Category


Review of Sea of Poppies by Meena Kandasamy


As the Man Booker Prize enters its fortieth year in 2008, it retains its position as the most respected literary prize for English language fiction published in the UK and the Commonwealth. Despite its glamorous halo of quality, the prize has attracted attention because of its controversial nature � a wife on the jury fought for the sake of her then husband�s novel, jury members have threatened suicide over the selection of a book, and over the years, they have, like unruly schoolchildren, called each other nasty names and gone so far as to trade charges of cheating.

Because the benefits of the Man Booker prize are many (worldwide audience, translations and film adaptations), the omissions on the shortlist generate as much public discussion as the half-a-dozen selections. Rushdie�s latest novel failed to enchant the jury; other notable omissions this year are Joseph O�Neill�s Netherland, Mohammed Hanif �s A Case of Exploding Mangoes, and Michelle de Krester�s The Lost Dog. The fact that this prize has been bestowed on first-time novelists (Arundhati Roy, Yann Martel, DBC Pierre) means that Aravind Adiga or Steve Toltz stand a big, fat chance to seize the day. Therefore, it not surprising that they happen to be bookies� favourites.

Spending a month reading the six shortlisted titles means that one can be legitimately entitled to an opinion � in other words, one can piously pick a possible winner.

I love Amitav Ghosh�s Sea of Poppies.

The text speaks to me in ways that I can never put down into words.

I have never before encountered such a feisty rural heroine in Indian English fiction. Deeti suffers in a wretchedly painful marriage, cultivates opium and supports her daughter single-handedly; falls in love and secretly marries the Dalit who saved her from becoming a sati, decides to become an indentured labourer along with her husband when fleeing from her family. Once aboard the Ibis, she is the women�s counsellor and champion of others� rights; and in the tremendous, tumultuous final scene she watches, with hope and silent resignation, the love of her life sail away (with other seamen) to save his skin. And during the course of these important events, she fills the world with her song, her laughter.

May be this praise sounds too personal: as though I was reading the novel based on who I am, a woman, a Dalit, an Indian with migrant/slave ancestors somewhere in the roots of her family tree. It is almost time to remember that not one person sitting on the jury shares my background.

However that does not mean that Ghosh�s masterpiece will impress them any less than it moved me. So I might as well say that I made this choice because of purely technical reasons. As, if you please, an objective reviewer.

At the height of his expressive powers, Ghosh is adept at creating not just true-to-life characters but giving each one of them voices and styles and speech patterns of their own: one comes across an English with Indian inflections, a pidgin tongue, and sailors� registers. The narrative is exceptionally well-handled and the climax is vivid, almost unforeseeable.

Reclaiming history sounds like a scary rightwing project, but by penning a panoramic novel from the perspective of powerless colonised subjects and the manner in which they are swayed by political forces, Ghosh has proved that the purpose of literature is to change the way we look at the world. When you are done with the rereading, this bewitching book will make you long for the second instalment and a screen adaptation.


Sea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: Penguin/Viking
Pages: 515
Price: Rs 599

The first volume of Ghosh�s projected Ibis trilogy, Sea of Poppies is a fascinating historical novel that exceeds expectations by taking on two of the mightiest projects of colonialism: indentured labor and the opium trade. Ibis, a retired slave ship/blackbirder comes to Calcutta to transport Indians as plantation coolies to Mauritius. With the silken story-telling as potent as the drug itself, colonial history and cultural connections seamlessly merge with the ensemble character cast that consists of sailors and lascar seamen, a disgraced raja, a rajput subedar, a French botanist�s orphaned daughter, and coolies of various castes and women migrants.

Even as the novel reveals masks and mindsets, it also celebrates difference and diversity . The schooner�s second mate Zachary Reid, a black mulatto freedman, and Kalua, a Dalit villager stand out as heroes who silently fight against the stigma of color and caste, and who, at least in their love affairs, transcend them. Britain�s necessity to offset its trade deficit converted the nation into the world�s biggest drug-pusher, and the impact of this exercise looms large over the lives of powerless rural people in the Ganges plains.

To Ghosh�s credit, he portrays colonial subjects as armed with the power to transform their own destinies. The colonizing tongue changes Madhu Kalua to Maddow Clover�yet, creativity gives birth to a pidgin, where English, ravished by Bengali, Bhojpuri and Laskar, turns into a multi-layered lingo whose music adds to this novel�s brilliance. The brutal climax shows the ship in mid sea, fighting a tempest. The real storm is however in the minds of those aboard the Ibis as they watch their dear ones � the convicts and the condemned � move away in search of safer shores.


Indians Overseas

Indians Overseas


P. Jodanda Rao- 1944

Is a senior member of the Servants of India Society. This speech and
paper comes out of his travels in countries where Indians had settled. This paper provides an interesting insight into contemporary 1940’s Indians views on Diasporic Indian communities.


Labouring under the Law: Gender and the Legal Administration of Indian Immigrants under Indenture in Colonial Natal, 1860-1907

Labouring under the Law: Gender and the Legal Administration of Indian Immigrants under Indenture in Colonial Natal, 1860-1907


Nafisa Essop Sheik

This study is a gendered historical analysis of the legal administration of Indian Immigrants in British Colonial Natal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By focusing primarily on the attempts of the Natal Government to intervene in the personal law of especially indentured and ex-indentured Indians, this thesis presents an analysis of the role that gender played in the conceptualization and promulgation of the indentured labour scheme in Natal, and in the subsequent regulation of the lives of Indian immigrants in the Colony. It traces the developments in the administration of Indian women, especially, from the beginning of the indenture system in colonial Natal until the passage of the Indian Marriages Bill of 1907 and attempts to contextualize arguments around these themes within broader colonial discourses and debates, as well as to examine the particularity of such administrative attempts in the Natal context. This study observes the changing nature of ‘custom’ amongst Indian immigrants and the often simultaneous and contradictory attempts of the Natal colonial administration to at first support, and later, to intervene in what constituted the realm of the customary. Through an analysis of legal administration at different levels of government, this analysis considers the interactions of gender and utilitarian legal discourse under colonialism and, in particular, the complex role of Indian personal law and the ordinary civil laws of the Colony of Natal in both restricting and facilitating the mobility of Indian women brought to Natal under the auspices of the indentured labour system.