TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Februar 2010

Sektion 8.14. Gemeinschaft in Differenz: Kollektive Agenten im interkulturellen Kontext / Community in Difference: Collective Agents in Intercultural Contexts
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Bertold Bernreuter (Universidad Intercontinental, Mexico City)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Indians in East Africa: Literature, Homelessness, and the Imaginary

Chandani Patel (New York, USA) [BIO]


When examining a space as large as the Indian Ocean, whose history is full of movement and circulation, literature becomes a useful resource. It provides an understanding as to how settlements were established, illustrates the daily conduct of trade, explores the relationships between diverse peoples, and portrays the conflicting emotions felt by a particular migrant community. Claude Markovits states, “Given the understandable tendency of scholars to rely heavily on official sources, the paucity of official documents on the movements of merchants is in itself a powerful factor of oblivion” (883). Literature, therefore, offers a further insight into these migrations, especially in the East African case, about which there is a lack of official documentation. M.G. Vassanji and V. S. Naipaul explore the settlement of Indians in this region through their texts that blend fact and fiction, lending insight into particular histories within specific time periods. As Vassanji’s protagonist Salim claims, “a journey overseas changed you indelibly” (Vassanji 282). And these novels address the ways in which individual identities are changed by journeys––their own, their ancestors, and those of their community. 

For thousands of years, Indians have been moving within the space of the Indian Ocean. Participating in trade, hired as contract laborers, or traded as slaves, their reasons for circulating within the ocean have been influenced by several factors. In fact, India’s physical location within the ocean arena was integral in creating these connections with other Indian Ocean regions: “India occupied a key geographical position in the maritime world of the Indian Ocean, at the heart of multiple trade routes stretching from the eastern coast of Africa to South East Asia, and eventually to Europe” (Brown 13). Conveniently resting between the eastern and western zones of the Indian Ocean, India proved to be a significant nodal point throughout the development of relationships between peoples living within this watery expanse. Furthermore, Indians’ participation in trade resulted in the formation of settlements along its shores.  It is the community of Indian merchants that settled in East Africa from about 1830 on which will be the focus of this paper. By analyzing M.G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack and V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River, I aim to demonstrate that using a literary lens nuances ways through which to view this historical settlement of people. These texts offer insights into the relationships between different groups––Indians, Africans, and Europeans–– and illustrate the conflicting perceptions and constructions of identity amongst this migrant community at a time when political policies were unfavorably implemented against its members. The resulting homelessness felt by these Indians causes them to rethink their relationship with Africa and their imaginary homeland, or the India of their minds.

While it is true that these merchants came from the same homeland, it is important to remember that their distribution to specific areas follows certain patterns of migration, resulting in settlements consisting of particular ethnic and religious groups. Claude Markovits explains that Indian traders abroad are originally from select regions of the subcontinent, Gujarat and Tamilnadu being the two providing the largest number of migrants. While many of these traders returned to India, there were others who settled in the lands they visited, thereby establishing communities. Some have labeled these people as part of an Indian or South Asian diaspora. Judith Brown acknowledges the complications and contradictions involved in using the term, and she offers an explanation as to how she utilizes it:

…I shall use it [diaspora] to denote groups of people with a common ethnicity; who have left their original homeland for prolonged periods of time and often permanently; who retain a particular sense of cultural identity and often close kinship links with other scattered members of their group, thus acknowledging their shared physical and cultural origins; and who maintain links with that homeland and a sense of its role in their present identity. (4)

Recognizing the intrinsic shortcomings of using the word to discuss all migrant Indians, Brown instead posits an argument attesting to the existence of different diaspora groups originating in the subcontinent:

So great is the diversity of origins, characteristics and experiences, that it is most realistic to see South Asians abroad as members of different diasporic strands, or even as different diaspora groups originating on the one subcontinent, who have created many transnational communities which share a sense of origin in that region of the world. (Brown 4)

Since it is not possible or accurate to discuss Indian migrant settlers as a cohesive diaspora, it may be more useful to think of these traders as members of these diasporic strands, or as Markovits suggests, as networks. According to this author, it is only through a shift of focus “towards actually operational networks through which flowed capital, goods and human beings, that we can hope for a meaningful reconstruction of the rich history of the multifarious Indian trading diaspora” (Markovits 911).  Vassanji and Naipaul’s novels provide insight into two Indian networks, revealing the particular experiences of their members.

While most Indians abroad came from Gujarat or Tamilnadu, in the East African case it was the Kutchis who were present in the greatest number. By looking at the characters in both Vassanji and Naipaul’s novels, it becomes apparent just how significant the Kutchis are in East Africa. Both of the protagonists, coincidentally with the same name of Salim, are members of Muslim Kutchi families, a factor that affects how they think about themselves and the larger Indian community.

   Relations between East Africa and India gained prominence beginning in 1840 as a result of a few important shifts within the Omani Sultanate. It was at this time that Seyyid Said moved from Oman to Zanzibar, bringing many Asians resident in Oman with him. What resulted was the flourishing of Zanzibar as the central point of far-reaching trade between the African mainland and the rest of the world during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Due to Said’s benevolent policies towards Indians, as well as the competition amongst Europeans, many opportunities were presented to both the Indians already settled within the region and to new immigrants.

It was in the nineteenth century that the greatest influx of Indians took place due to the new opportunities that resulted from European projects within East Africa. Due to the takeover of Uganda’s administration by the British, more opportunities were afforded to Indian laborers. Specifically, Indians were hired to work on the Uganda railway beginning in 1896. Laborers were brought from the Punjab to build the railway, and more than ninety percent of them returned to India at the end of their contracts. Their return negates the belief held by many Africans and Europeans in East Africa that the present Indian population is descendent from these workers. Despite the fact that most Punjabis did return, Gujaratis took advantage of the new railway and began to settle further into the region. A character in Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack presents the significance of the railway to Indians: “‘The railway goes from Mombasa all the way to the lake in the interior, and everywhere the train stops there is an Indian settlement. The line was built by our Indians, every stationmaster is an Indian, and every conductor is also one of ours. Our people are doing well under the British’” (Vassanji 37). Therefore, by grasping new opportunities available due to European ventures, Indians gained new means of employment and those merchants and businessmen already established on the coast were able to move their interests further inland.

Knowing where most of the East African migrants originated, it then becomes crucial to examine how they established themselves as both individuals and a community. The principal avenue through which Indians maintained their livelihoods was through business. Even those individuals who were farmers, contracted laborers, government officials, and professionals all invested in businesses in East Africa. It was business opportunities in particular that determined much of the settlement of East Africa by Indians: “It was the reason for the initial settlement on Zanzibar and for the subsequent migration to the coastal towns of the mainland” (Gregory 22). Understanding that there was a market available, Indians established shops throughout East Africa, starting on the coast and later moving inland. Vassanji’s novel attests to the experiences of a coastal family whose initial entrepreneur, Dhanji Govindji, set up a shop in Zanzibar, whereas Naipaul’s text presents Salim’s experiences as a dukawallah (shopowner) in an unnamed village within the interior of East Africa, resting on a bend in the river.  Therefore, Vassanji traces the initial business ventures of Salim’s family in an effort to illustrate the networks through which these practices were established and passed down. Naipaul, on the other hand, speaks to the experiences of a businessman who has already moved into the interior, away from his family but still operating within a network of Indians. Despite their differences in locality, both stories reveal the complications and struggles that exist within the composition of the Indian community.

As stated earlier, the larger Indian community consisted of peoples mostly from the northwestern regions of India. Since many possessed dreams of establishing businesses and originated from these specific areas in India, it is easy to conceptualize this community as a homogeneous one. There are even instances in the novels where the exchange and intermixing of beliefs and customs become apparent: “It was a woman’s art, handed down from woman to woman on the eve of Hindu Diwali…yet the prayers were all ayats from the Quran, she insisted: sort it out…” (Vassanji 175).  Nevertheless, Indians were divided along many boundaries, affecting the way in which they interacted with each other and other habitants.  One of these concerned religious orientation:

Despite this rapid and remarkable change from rural peasants to urban businessmen, the Asians in their entirety clung to their communal religions throughout their long residence in East Africa. Their religious orientation not only fragmented the community, but also affected their economic, political, and social activity and determined their attitudes. (Gregory 25)

Thus, religion was one aspect through which Indians were divided while living in East Africa. Because immigrant settlements were set up through specific and usually homogenous networks, the Indian community as a whole was internally divided into cohesive affiliations. Merchant networks, therefore, began with the immediate and extended family and then expanded into sectarian groups to which Indians showed great loyalty: “More important to an Indian in East Africa than being a Hindu or Muslim, or even, on most occasions, than being an Indian is being an Ismaili, a Patidar, a Sikh, a Goan, or a member of a dozen or so other caste or sectarian groups” (Morris 207).

When Dhanji Govindji, Salim’s great-grandfather, arrives in Zanzibar, he goes straight to the mukhi’s store, who is the religious leader of the Shamsi community: “There was a mukhi wherever there were a few Shamsis. And the mukhi would put you up; he would introduce you to the others of the community and he would show you the ropes” (Vassanji 12). Working within these networks, members of the community were able to gain a foothold from which to continue their business. Therefore, when Indians interacted with each other, it was important to establish these regional distinctions: “‘What are you?’ he asked. ‘Madrasi, Panjabi, Memon? Speak!’ ‘Shamsi, sahed,’ I said” (Vassanji 37). Although the Shamsi community is a fictitious one created by Vassanji, the conversation that Dhanji Govindji has with an Indian he encounters in Mombasa is indicative of the importance of these affiliations. 

The authors’ representations of the establishment of communities and the conduct of trade and business are important in understanding the racial relations that exist within these communities.  Vassanji’s Salim, who also calls himself Kala in correspondence with his brother, is presented with his past through a gunny sack, which he names Shehrbanoo, that contains family artifacts and three books that were kept by his great-grandfather. He learns of the trip made by his ancestor, who was the first to travel to East Africa. After arriving in Zanzibar and working with the local mukhi, Dhanji Govindji is able to set up his own shop. Vassanji describes Kala’s great-grandfather’s business practices, revealing how goods made their way into Africa: “Bargaining went on for hours, round after round with several customers at once, sometimes into the following day. In the end a product of Cutch, Hamburg, Philadelphia or Versailles found its way into the hinterland of Africa” (Vassanji 13). These business interactions were one avenue through which relationships were established. Naipaul’s Salim possesses a similar history of trade and business, but he moves away from his family into the interior to take over a store from Nazruddin, a friend of the family’s. His store contains many items that Zabeth, a local African woman, brings back to her village: “These were some of the simple things Zabeth’s fisherfolk needed from the outside world, and had been doing without during the troubles. Not essentials, not luxuries; but things that made ordinary life easier” (Naipaul 6). Speaking “in that mixed river language” (Naipaul 8), Salim establishes a close business relationship with her and learns how she conducts trade with barges:

Zabeth and her women threw ropes onto the lower steel deck of the barge, where there were always hands to grab the ropes and tie them to some bulkhead; and the dugouts, from drifting downstream against the side of the barge, began moving in the other direction, while people on the barge threw down pieces of paper or cloth on the fish or the monkey they wanted to buy. This attaching of dugouts to the moving steamer or barge was recognized river practice, but it was dangerous. (Naipaul 9)

Therefore, with these scenes that Vassanji and Naipaul illustrate at the beginning of their texts, it becomes clearer how individuals participated in trade with each other. Some even took on great risks to secure and transport goods. Trade and business formed an integral part of the lives of these Indian families, and it is only after understanding how they worked within this sphere that one can begin to examine their relationships with others.

Perception largely determined the categorizing of Indians within specific groups. “…and the emphasis placed on any one of the three degrees of organization–– the ‘Indian Community’ as a whole, the Hindus and the Muslims, or caste and sect, will depend on who is speaking, whether he is European, African, or Indian, and what the context of the situation and the interests at stake happen to be” (Morris 197). To Europeans and Africans, Indians are seen as a homogenous entity: “The Asians’ religious orientation and communal separateness, which determined many of their attitudes and much of their behaviour, were not appreciated by members of the other racial communities. To…the African and Arab and to the local European…the Asians have appeared as an entity” (Gregory 34). When Salim’s friend Indar arrives in East Africa and brings him to the Domain, a wealthy estate where mainly Europeans reside, he is nervous of what Indar will say about him and is relieved when he treats him as an equal: “He introduced me round as a friend of his family’s from the coast, a member of his community” (Naipaul 175). Since Salim and Indar are both Indian, to the Europeans, they belong to the same community, even though Salim has never left East Africa and is less educated than Indar.

It is Salim’s relationship with Metty, however, that speaks to the greater divide that exists between Indians and Africans:

The people in our servant houses were no longer pure African. It wasn’t acknowledged by the family, but somewhere along the line, or at many places along the line, the blood of Asia had been added to those people. Mustafa had the blood of Gujarat in his veins; so had Metty, the boy who later came all the way across the continent to join me. (Naipaul 20)

Described as a half-caste by Vassanji, Metty quickly attaches himself to Salim’s life after joining him in the interior. He lives with him, works in his store, and they frequently engage in conversations. Nevertheless, there still exists a division between them that is evidenced by the fact that they do not associate with each other outside of home and work. Furthermore, when Indar arrives, Salim feels comforted to make a friend of “his kind”. Even though Metty has been with him for a longer time and they share a greater connection, Salim distinguishes between the two relationships. In addition, from the time he arrives to when he leaves for London, Salim has meals at three different houses: “There were three houses that I visited, visiting them in turn on weekdays for lunch, which had become my main meal. They were all Asian or Indian houses” (Naipaul 39). Although there are times when he eats in silence with these families, because they have nothing to talk about and therefore cannot relate to each other, he still associates with this Indian community on a regular basis.

While forming a community distinct from Africans and Europeans, in relation to each other, Indians belong to different religions, and then are further divided into sects, castes, and more insular affiliations. Vassanji’s use of the term half-caste is in itself problematic due to the historical and social implications associated with it. It was used mostly by Europeans to designate multiracial peoples, particularly those who had both white and non-white blood, as a way of lowering their social status. In Vassanji’s case, the use of the term perhaps more directly shows that despite the new circumstances in which they find themselves, Indians still perceive each other along the same social, ethnic, and economic lines. The category also problematizes the homogenous perceptions held by non-Indians towards Indians since these individuals who occupy a space in two cultures, or rather between them, disrupt this homogeneous entity. To some Indians, those who carry African blood in their ancestry are decidedly inferior and are therefore attributed to a lower social standing. While many celebrate their mixed heritage, others fight to conceal it from the rest of the community. These conflicting loyalties, towards a religious and/or ethnic group, or towards India and/or Africa, influence the way in which Indians see themselves. Vassanji’s Salim, referred to as Kala, is himself a half-caste. Using him as the protagonist allows Vassanji to explore the discrimination experienced by these members, or outsiders, of the Indian community. 

Recalling the past and tracing how he became a half-caste, Salim explains Dhanji Govindji’s relations with his slave Bibi Taratibu, with whom he had one son Huseni. While Huseni marries a local girl Moti, his brother Gulam marries a girl from India who they call Ji Bai. Throughout his life, Huseni is treated differently from the rest of his siblings by his stepmother Fatima who ponders her misfortune. Very much concerned with social standing and how others perceived them, many Indians hid their black ancestry: “Black ancestry was not something you advertised…A whiff of African blood from the family tree would be like an Arctic blast, it would bring the memory of social standing racing down to unacceptable levels” (Vassanji 184).  When Huseini mysteriously disappears and leaves his family, his son Juma eventually winds up in a relative’s home: “And so Juma, because even the big house was packed, and to avoid his associating with her sons, was given a room in the courtyard, next to the servants’ quarters and the outhouse. There he grew up, a second-class citizen, nothing more than a glorified servant” (Vassanji 77). Just like his father, Juma is subject to the same status as an in-between, not quite Indian but not quite African.

   Participating within the Indian community often involved the remembrance of a past in which ancestors migrated to East Africa from the original homeland. This act of remembering is tied to the imaginary aspect of home and the identity associated with it. If an individual chose to actively remember this past, he or she carried that identity with them, but if that past was forgotten or buried, individuals rejected these traditions. In Kala’s case, his evoking of the past celebrates his ancestry, both Indian and African. Ji Bai offers him this insight by confiscating Dhanji Govindji’s books upon his death. Her act of passing down the past reveals a whole family history to Kala that he had never known, and allows him to see the consequences of Africa’s meeting with India and Europe. Even though Kala may not completely understand the significance of all of these events, he does recognize that the past needs to be remembered, and in invoking it, maintains that connection preserved through the imaginary: “Thus the disposition of the past. To be remembered and acknowledged, if only partly understood….” (Vassanji 330). Through these acts of remembrance, individuals both acknowledged and maintained these connections that inform their present identities. There are others, however, who chose to bury the past and forget these linkages.

For those who think of the past as something shameful, Kala claims they go their whole lives without knowing who they really are: “There are those who go to their graves not knowing where they came from…who hurtled into the future even as the present was yet not over…for whom history was a contemptible record of a shameful past” (Vassanji 166). Even when he tries to tell his mother Kulsum about the stories he hears from Ji Bai, Kulsum refuses to listen. Since she has worked towards moving away from the tainted past, she chooses to forget.  Naipaul’s Salim attests to the fact that history is dead and that he does not pay it much attention:  “History was something dead and wrong, part of the world of our grandfathers, and we didn’t pay too much attention to it; even though, among trading families of ours, there were still vague stories….” (Naipaul 269). Disassociating himself from the world of his grandfathers, tied to India, he loses the imaginary aspect of a homeland. Unlike Kala, Salim does not inherent the stories of the past, which makes his decision to leave the community for the interior easier: “I could be master of my fate only if I stood alone” (Naipaul 29). Seeking to escape that past, he starts a new life that he can control by making the move. Therefore, the decision to forget the past is a conscious choice made by individuals rather than something that merely happens to them, as seen by Salim’s willful decision to forget.

The choice to either remember or bury the past is also linked with names and their meanings, alterations, and histories: “A name that immediately identifies a Gujarati Muslim of a certain sect from Surat, who traces his ancestry in Arabia” (268). While some celebrate the past by carrying on family names, others rid themselves of the old. Begum, Kala’s sister, names her children Peter Juma Harris and Sara Kulsum Harris, to remember her parents Juma and Kulsum despite having been shunned by her mother and consequently moving to the United States with her new husband. On the other hand, as Salim claims, some people only wanted to rid themselves of the past: “No one used the new names, because no on particularly cared about them. The wish had only been to get rid of the old, to wipe out the memory of the intruder” (Naipaul 38). And Kala’s accidental choice of names rendered him untraceable: “The rest of my family ignored the whole question and became Dhanji, even the more classy Dhanjee, a name invoking wealth and respect, while I, under the auspices of Uncle Goa and Mrs. Schwering’s glaring eye, became: anybody. No trace of tribe, caste, colour, even continent of origin” (Vassanji 133). Names carry great meaning, power, and glory. Therefore, when Kala and his brother choose their nicknames, it is telling of their choice to remain as part of Africa even when they have left: “Sona and Kala: our nicknames. Gold and black. The colours of Africa” (Vassanji 15).  By choosing the name Kala, he ascribes his half-caste status upon himself instead of burying it like it was in the past.

During the political moment in which Indians were expelled from particular East African countries around the 1970s, there was a feeling amongst them of a peripheral existence, which was further complicated by a conflicting loyalty to Africa. Told to flee the area due to the impending violence that would break out, Indians were left with no choice but to leave: “Allah told him [the “Big Man” figure in the novel] that Asians were sabotaging the economy, hoarding to create shortages, smuggling sugar, coffee and currency, not paying taxes…and they were not integrating, not allowing their daughters to marry Africans. Therefore, Allah concluded, the Asians must go” (Vassanji 299). Despite the fact that many were born in Africa and had never returned to India, they too were forced to escape. As much as Indians such as Salim claimed they were a part of Africa, they were subjected to the same consequences. His duka was also padlocked and given to an African. And so some of the settlements that were established many years earlier disappeared and dispersed. Again, when compared to other groups within East Africa, Indians were seen as a homogenous entity against which such policies could be directed. Some Indians relocated to other countries, reestablishing themselves, but the remnants of these expulsion policies were carried with them in their memories. The physical homelessness that resulted from these policies was followed by a mental or imagined homelessness as Indians realized they were caught between two worlds.

It can be said that many of these Indians were in search of themselves as they were divided between religious, ethnic, and social groups, and while never quite being African due to their foreignness, did not feel a strong connection with a homeland that they had not seen. Recognizing that the destruction of his community is upon him, it became easier for Salim to understand that home was more and more an imaginary place that cannot be fully accessed. Even his family was disbanding. Constantly thinking about where to go, Salim acknowledges that there is nowhere: “But home was hardly a place I could return to. Home was something in my head. It was something I had lost” (Naipaul 159). It was for this reason that he had stayed in the interior for so long.  Just as other foreigners there, he knew there was nowhere else to go. Existing between worlds, it is impossible to possess fixed loyalties.

Even when Salim’s friend Indar is abroad, he encounters the same contradictions and complications: “‘This lady had the idea that people like myself were at sea because we were men of two worlds’” (Naipaul 216). When applying for a position as a diplomat, Indar decides to choose India as the country he will serve: “‘I had never felt so involved with the land of my ancestors, and yours, and so far from it’” (Naipaul 218).  He is finally turned down on account of his conflicted loyalties: “‘But you say in your letter you are from Africa. How can you join our diplomatic service? How can we have a man of divided loyalties?’” (Naipaul 222).  Unable to break free from his perception as an African and Indian at once, Indar is refused the position. He is not seen as an Indian with an unwavering loyalty to India. Indar goes from being a man of two worlds to a man of no world as he is neither an African nor an Indian. He, like Salim, Kala and other Indians who were born and grew up in East Africa, only possesses a home in his imagination. However, even this imagining of home is different for each of them as it is affected by their ethnic loyalties and divided places within, or outside, Indian society.

While it is important to gain an understanding of how certain people moved to other areas and for what reasons, it is equally essential to bear in mind that this movement happened across space and time. M.G. Vassanji and V.S Naipaul account for this movement by both illustrating the physical relocation of many characters throughout their texts, and also by presenting the consequences of time; the past is sought but never attained because it is something that exists in the mind. It is through searching for this past and looking back that lends the homeland an imaginary aspect, as stated in Salman Rushdie’s essay Imaginary Homelands:

But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge––which gives rise to profound uncertainties –––that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind. (10)

Rushdie’s use of the plural “homelands” and “Indias of the mind” is indicative of the many versions of India that are conceptualized since each person creates a different image in his or her mind. The migrants to East Africa do not form a homogenous community and their manifestations of home are reflective of their diverse memories and links to India.

Amitav Ghosh claims that any person who has even a slight link with India is Indian because there is no means to cut him off from this association. As discussed earlier, Indians carry with them conflicting loyalties and ideas about identity due to their affiliations with specific ethnicities. Ghosh claims that Indian culture is constructed as a result of these differences:

If there is any one pattern in Indian culture in the broadest sense it is simply this: that the culture seems to be constructed around the proliferation of differences (albeit with certain parameters). To be different in a world of differences is irrevocably to belong. Thus anybody anywhere who has even the most tenuous links with India is Indian; potentially a player within the culture. The mother country simply does not have the cultural means to cut him off. (Ghosh 78)

 While characters such as Kala and Salim have not visited the country nor were they born there, their claims to India are still valid. These connections, however, can only be lived within the imagination for they will never have access to a complete past, but rather fragments of memories and stories passed down to them. Furthermore, since each person carries distinct family histories and memories, these conceptions are varied. As Naipaul’s Salim rejects any imaginary aspect of India and loses home, Kala continues to invoke the past through the remembrance of his ancestors and the retelling of stories. Therefore, while all migrants have access to this imaginary homeland, it results in different paths for each of them. Even after their expulsion, some will choose to return while others will migrate once again to Europe, the United States, and even other African countries.

Vassanji and Naipaul play an important part in the relationship between India and her diaspora. As Ghosh states:

…the links between India and her diaspora are lived within the imagination…It is because this relationship is so much a relationship of the imagination that the specialists  of the imagination––writers­­––play so important a part within it. (Ghosh 76)

By examining texts such The Gunny Sack and A Bend in the River, another dimension of this process of identity formation is offered, revealing the ways in which relations between Indians and East Africans were shaped and affected by certain historical and social circumstances. In trying to understand how migration affects the ways in which members of a community see themselves, Rushdie’s statement about migrant identity is useful. He claims, “Our identity is at once plural and partial. Sometimes we feel that we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools” (Rushdie 15).  These novels offer greater details about the smaller processes necessary for the conduct of trade and business within East Africa while also presenting the multiplicities inherent in the identities of Indians residing within the region. Unable to completely break free from the lasting traditions and divisions into ethnic and religious groups, while at the same time identifying with Africa, perceptions of home are negotiated, often leaving individuals with only an India of the mind, an imaginary place tied to the past.

Works Cited:

8.14. Gemeinschaft in Differenz: Kollektive Agenten im interkulturellen Kontext / Community in Difference: Collective Agents in Intercultural Contexts

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

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For quotation purposes:
Chandani Patel: Indians in East Africa: Literature, Homelessness, and the Imaginary - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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