Afrindian Literature as Minority Writing

Among the efforts to define and describe the main characteristics of Afrindian literature, the words by Vijay Mishra (2006:139) are especially illuminating and applicable to both Dangor and Vassanji. Mishra claims that the literature of the Indian diaspora is arguably one of its greater accomplishments as it is among some of the best writing in English. Mishra (2006:139) notes that it is a minor literature written in a major language.

The use of the term ‘minor literature’, therefore, signals [a] number of formal characteristics of the literature of the Indian diaspora: it removes the absolute link between peoples and mother tongues ... it places the writer in the midst of the greater concerns of the nation even when he or she may be seen as an outsider; and it voices, through a thoroughly nuanced use of English, something that belongs specifically to a diasporic group consciousness. The literature of the Indian diaspora as an example of a minor literature suggests that a minor literature does not come from a minor language but it is something that a minority constructs in the majority language, in this case predominantly English ... As a minor literature reflecting these characteristics, the literature of the Indian diaspora is bold, imaginative and foundational.

Eva Karpinski (2012:21,25) studies the phenomenon of diasporic minorities writing a minor literature in a major language by means of (un) conscious acts of translation from their mother tongues:

Spanning the axis between “mother tongue” and “borrowed tongue”, translation for a migrant encodes the tensions between the two and can be experienced through metaphors of movement and displacement, as exile from one or the other, tinted with nostalgia for either language, or as exile from both, the mother tongue and the borrowed tongue ...

Writing in English, either as the language of symbolic empowerment for many immigrants, or as the language of historical oppression for many indigenous and postcolonial subjects, already “disarticulates” the original, and therefore exposes [the] violence inherent in the act of translation.

Afrindian Literature as Autobiographical Postcolonial Writing

‘Autobiography’ has always been a fuzzy category in literary theory, ranging from any fictional work that has some autobiographical elements to a very distinct genre in which author, narrator, and protagonist are one and

The Translation of Diasporic African Indian Autobiographical 99 the same (Anderson 2011). The latter has enjoyed a long tradition of texts, such as Nelson Mandela’s Long walk to freedom (1994). Indeed, it is difficult to identify differences between life-writing subgenres—biography, autobiography, travel books, memoirs, diaries and testimonies—which also produce hybrids with other genres and subgenres. Xu (2017) notes that translating such autobiographical works presents many challenges. Cornwell et al. (2010:38) observe that life writing is an effective medium of expression for African writers: “What is most distinctive about African autobiography is its concern to present not a unique existence but a representative life that helps to explain the historical circumstances that engendered it.”

Recent years have witnessed an explosion of interest in the so-called “autobiographical moment in postcolonial theory” (Huddart 2014), i.e. a movement away from focusing on the self-lives of white Western men to exploring a varied assortment of new selves belonging to hybrid, diasporic, mobile, male/female subjects generated by colonialism or postcolonialism, or from what Ania Loomba (2005) calls the binary opposition between colonial and postcolonial worlds. Although not strictly autobiographical, the novels of Dangor and Vassanji include many autobiographical elements. Danger’s The Z town trilogy (1990), Kafka’s curse (1997) and Bitter fruit (2001) deal with the Indian community in South Africa during apartheid and post-apartheid from the viewpoint of their author’s life experience. Similarly, Vassanji’s The in-between world of Vikram Lail (2003) is based on its author’s experience of the predicament and hardships of the East African Indian community and their second forced diaspora.

Afrindian Literary Perspective of the ‘Homeland’

Many Indian diaspora writers, including Afrindian writers such as Vassanji, have made the pilgrimage back to the ‘homeland’, with different experiences. Whereas V.S. Naipaul (1932-2018, born in Trinidad) and Michael Ondaatje (b. 1943 in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Canada) experienced this pilgrimage negatively, for Vassanji it was a positive experience. Naipaul’s memoir Finding the centre (1984) narrates his first visit to what he perceived as ‘primitive’ India, and Ondaatje’s Running in the family (1983) describes his return to Sri Lanka. For both Naipaul and Ondaatje, the visit was a nightmare in a barren place and the source of much frustration, because India and Sri Lanka had become alien lands for them.

In contrast, Vassanji’s return, described in A place within: rediscovering India (2008), meant reconciliation with India, the land of his grandparents. He was able to enjoy and be part of three different cultural and geographical backgrounds: East Africa, Canada and India. His visit occurred shortly after he had published his novel The assassin’s song (2007), which was received as a novel of India rather than an Indian diaspora novel. Forhim, his “in-between” world turned into his “in-among” world. Vassanji’s positive yet realistic attitude is reflected in the following abstract:

India has changed. The country brims with confidence, a refreshing contrast to the images of my youth (Life magazine) of starving, dying India. Embarrassing India. Now, on the sixtieth anniversary of Independence, the Times of India’s headline is “60 and getting sexier”; tabloid language, unfortunately, is a marker of sophistication and coolness even in this established newspaper. The media talk is endlessly of the economy and growth rates and “Chindia” - the superpowers on the threshold, China and India; film celebrities, cricket, and America are the obsessions ... Cool India (the phrase itself lifted from Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia) is to some degree Mimic India. (Vassanji 2008:148-149)

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