& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Descant - Masala

People of Indian origin create a little India wherever they are. Arjun Appadurai terms this phenomenon as “ethnoscapes.” In his study of Indian immigrants in North America (Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, 1996), Appadurai contends that “when Indian immigrants settle in North America, they do not completely assimilate but construct what he calls “ethnoscapes” or landscapes of group identities¹.”

The 162nd issue of Descant with its Masala theme is a literary depiction of Appadurai’s “ethnoscapes.” It is a collection of short stories, poems and visual art that brings to life the immigrant experience. It contains rains, ragas, and racism, colour and identity, music and memories – a bit of everything that makes for an Indian experience in an alien environment – “ethnoscapes”.

Why is it that immigrants take to writing so avidly? Perhaps it is the quiet desperation of adjusting to a strange place, or perhaps it is the constant fear of losing one’s past forever that compels an immigrant to write and record.

Some of the best literature in English language has been (and is being) created by immigrants. It is a noticeable trend, especially among people of Indian origin, or people whose ancestors left the Indian shores to reach far corners of the globe. They started new lives in places that while similar to their home, were so far away that they could return to their homeland only in their memories.

Miraculously, the idea of India didn’t (doesn't) fade away from the collective consciousness of the second and third generation immigrants born and raised outside India – in East Africa, the UK, or North America. In fact, it thrives. And when they take to writing and expressing themselves, they create a world that redefines their Indian roots that is breathtaking and heartbreaking.

In Descant Maasla, yaqoob ghaznavi describes this emotion vividly in the Home, a poem that narrates the life of a second generation Canadian woman with no connection live to India:

yet how do I understand
fascination with the homeland
far from the air I breathe

longing constantly changes shape
enters maps in me I had no knowledge of
tears me into sweet bitter solitudes

Descant Masala includes some superlative work incorporating diverse voices and touching upon varied leitmotifs within the overarching theme of immigration. Appropriately, the issue begins with Wasela Hiyate’s Gold (an excerpt from a novel), which narrates the story of a family’s decision to immigrate from the Hindi heartland to the Caribbean. Enticed by fanciful promises of limitless riches (gold), the family leave India only to find themselves in purgatory of bonded labour and destitution.

Often the portrayal of heartrending reality by second and third generation Indian immigrants is a result of their realization that the world will never let them forget their Indian roots. 

Evadne Macedo, born in England, now living in Canada, with only a remote sense of India, tries valiantly to answer the question common among the second and third generation immigrants: Who am I? It’s a question that unsettles her. About those who ask her, “Where are you from?” she says, “…the ones who ask where I am from see me first and foremost as Indian and want me to confirm that I am nothing more than what I appear to be.”

Many narratives talk about the universal experience of racism that non-whites faces in places where whites form a majority. However, what often remains unacknowledged is the inherent racism that Indians have for people of other races. Their unspoken awe for the whites, and their contempt for the blacks; their unconscious attempts to turn into coconuts: brown outside, white inside.

Descant Masala has Mona Zutshi Opubor’s remarkable memoir The True Story of a South Asian Micegenator. She reveals the deep rooted racism that is inherent to most Indians (wherever they may be). Describing her parents’ horror that she was marrying a black African from Nigeria, Mona asks: “Which was more shameful: if your child married a black or a Muslim? The unanimous agreement was that different religion was preferable to mixing aces. ‘Why would that be the case?’ I asked my mother…’How is race more divisive than religion?’ ‘Indians are colour-conscious,’ she said. ‘No one has to know if you have a Muslim in the family. They look like we do. But how could we hide a black son-in-law?’

There are many gems in Descant Masala. Pradeep Solanki, the guest editor for the issue, has prepared a Gujarati thali – a complete meal that has everything in just the right proportions. Conspicuously missing is cricket, which incidentally is the fastest growing sport in Canada.

¹: Quoted from Growing Up Canadian Ed: Peter Beyer & Rubina Ramji, McGill-Queen’s University Press 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment