Most of the essays collected in this book were earlier presented at an international seminar held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, from 27th to 30th September, 2000. As its coordinator, I would like to dwell on and recollect that meeting for a number of special reasons. First of all, it was an extraordinarily rich and varied confluence of serious and stimulating scholars from different parts of the world. Not only was it interdisciplinary in the conventional sense that academics from several disciplines were present, but several genres, languages, communities, countries and continents were also involved. Not just literary texts, but feature films and documentaries were discussed. The range of concerns was extensive, from the early experiences of indentured laborers to the digital diaspora of the present. The more populous Punjabi and Gujarati diasporas came in for special attention, as did women and sexual minorities.
There were, in addition, many creative writers in our midst to enrich our interactions. Of them, Giriraj Kishore and K. S. Maniam were probably the most prominent. They gave readings from, and in turn listened to papers being read on, their work. Kishore's Hindi novel, Pahla Girmitiya (1999), has not only won several awards for its sensitive portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi's South African sojourn, but is remarkable for highlighting a new reading of Gandhi as a kind of indentured diasporan himself. (After all, he too left the shores of India for South Africa under an agreement or "girmit.") Satendra Pratap Nandan and Sudhir Kumar further developed this idea of Gandhi as a member of the diaspora. The bringing of Gandhi into diaspora studies is, I believe, an extremely important and productive move. That the "father of the nation" was also a member of the diaspora forces us to redefine the relationship between diasporas and nations. This is an issue that I shall tackle at greater length in my Introduction to this volume.
We were extremely privileged to have with us K. S. Maniam, perhaps the foremost contemporary Malaysian English writer. In addition to participating in the seminar, he came to India to become the first recipient of the newly instituted Raja Rao Award for an outstanding contribution to the literature of the South Asian diaspora. Sponsored by the Samvad India Foundation, the award was given away by the leading Indian English writer, Khushwant Singh, at a simple but memorable ceremony at the India International Centre on the evening of 30th September, 2000. Two scholar-critics from Malaysia, Susanna Checketts and Shanthini Pillai, read papers on Maniam's novels, short stories, and plays, thereby not only showcasing his work but also honoring him. Maniam himself gave a sensitive rendering of the problems of an Indo-Malaysian English writer in his essay, "Writing from the Fringe of a Multi-Cultural Society," which, along with the two essays on him mentioned earlier, is included here.
There were some special events that were also a part of the seminar. On the morning of the first day, Satendra's new book, Fiji: Paradise in Pieces, was launched by Saeed Naqvi, director, "World Report," eminent journalist and media personality. The "burning" topic of Fiji also figured that evening in a widely attended panel discussion on "The Crisis in Fiji." This session, presided over by S. T. Davare, Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, was then extremely topical, what with the final act of the drama of George Speight's coup of 19th May, 2000, yet to unfold. Both Satendra, who had been the first Labour MP of Fiji, and now is a diasporan twice over in Australia, and Vijay Mishra, born and raised in Fiji and currently Professor of English at Murdoch University, Australia, gave incisive and moving presentations. Their papers have been retained in this collection because I did not wish to lose the political and emotional charge of their interventions. All of us realized that the discrimination against diasporic Indians was not merely an academic issue, but a living, and at times, painful reality.
While I have tried to represent some of these special events in this volume, there were others that had to be left out. For instance, on the evening of the second day, the diasporan writers present read from their works to a widely attended gathering at the Sahitya Akademi, India's national academy of letters. This was, to the best of my knowledge, the first such reading in those premises, a warm and long overdue homecoming of sorts. The evening of the third day was capped by the screening and discussion of the well-known film on South Asians in Britain, Bhaji on the Beach (1993), directed by Gurinder Chadha and scripted by Meera Syal. While Henry Schwarz's and Uma Parameswaran's papers do discuss documentaries and feature films respectively, that evening's rich interaction, chaired by Vijay Mishra, could not be included.
I've also had to exclude some outstanding papers and presentations. Ganga Prasad Vimal, a leading Hindi novelist, critic, and scholar, gave a paper on Hindi literature in Mauritius. Since we have not progressed to the point of publishing bilingual or multilingual books and since the paper was not given to us sufficiently in advance to get it translated, we have not been able to include it. Indeed, the whole Hindi session, presided by one of India's greatest living critics, Namvar Singh, and with Kishore's presentation in it, has not been adequately represented in the volume for similar reasons.
1. Alka Kumar teaches in the Department of English, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College, University of Delhi. Her PhD. thesis was on Doris Lessing. Her other areas of interest include Canadian Literature, Literary Theory and Translation Studies.
2. Brinda Bose teaches in the Department of English, Hindu College, University of Delhi. She researches in postcolonial, gender and cultural studies. She is co-editor of Interventions: Feminist Dialogues on Third World Women's Literature and Film and has recently done a critical edition of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. She has edited Translating Desire, a collection of essays on gender, culture and sexuality in contemporary India and is currently working on a book on the Indian novel in English, as well as editing an anthology of criticism on Amitav Ghosh, Diasporas of (he Mind : The Crisis of Dispersal in Literary Studies.
3. Deepika Bahri teaches postcolonial literature and theory at Emory University. She has co-edited Between the Lines : South Asians and Postcoloniality and has published articles in edited collections as well as in various journals, including Ariel : A Review of International English Literature, Postmodern Culture and College English. She is on the editorial board of jouvert : A journal of Postcolonial Studies and The journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literature.
4. Harish Narang is Professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He offers courses on African Literature, Canadian Fiction and Literary Translation, and has published over a dozen books related to these areas including Politics as Fiction : The Novels of Ngugi Wa Thiong'o. He has also edited Mightier Than Machete, Semiotics of Language and co-edited Apartheid in Fiction (with Gurleena Mehta). He has translated several books into Hindi, chief among which are - Samkaleen Bharatiya Angrezi Kahani, Maukhik Itihaas, Uhuru Street and Fauji Ladkiyan Thata Anya Kahaniya.
5. Henry Schwarz is Associate Professor of English at Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA. He is author of Writing Cultural History in Colonial and Postcolonial India, and co-editor of A Companion to Postcolonial Studies, Contributions to Bengal Studies : An Interdisciplinary and International Approach and Reading the Shape of the World : Toward an International Cultural Studies. His work leads increasingly toward international human rights of indigenous people.
6. Jasbir Jain is Director of the Institute for Research in Interdisciplinary Studies. She was Professor and Head of Department of English, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. One of India's leading scholars and literary critics, she has dozens of books and hundreds of papers to her credit. The general editor of a series on Writers of the Indian Diaspora, at present, she is also working on a book on modernism; another book, The Novel in India (in Punjabi) is under publication.
7. K.S. Maniam is a full-time writer who was Lecturer and Associate Professor in the Department of English, University of Malaya. He is a prolific writer with the short story collections Plot, The Aborting, Parablames & Other Stories, Arriving and Other Stories, and Haunting the Tiger : Contemporary Stories front Malaysia, the plays The Cord and The Sandpit and the novels, The Return, and In A Far Country to his credit. He won the First Prizes for The Loved flaw in The New Straits Times-McDonald (1987), and Haunting the Tiger in The New Straits Times-Shell short story competitions. He is also the first recipient of the Raja Rao Award, 2000, for his outstanding contribution to the literature of the South Asian diaspora.
8. Makarand Paranjape is Professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. A widely published poet, novelist, critic, and columnist, he is the author of The Serene Flame and Playing the Dark God (poetry); This Time I Promise It'll Re Different and The Narrator (fiction); and Mysticism in Indian English Poetry, Decolonization and Development and Towards a Poetics of the Indian English Novel (criticism). He has edited Indian Poetry in English, Sarojini Naidu : Selected Poetry and Prose, The Best of Raja Rao and The Penguin Sri Aurobindo Reader.
9. Manjit Inder Singh is Reader in English at the Punjabi University, Patiala. A widely travelled scholar and critic, he has published several papers, written and edited books, made seminar presentations and given lectures on postcolonial and post-modern literatures and critical theories.
10. Pratyusha Basu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on the interactions between gender, development, and resistance, and is informed by postcolonial and feminist theoretical frameworks. Her dissertation will critically analyse the participation of women in dairy development in western India. She is currently engaged in fieldwork, with support from the Social Science Research Council and the National Science Foundation.
11. R. Raj Rao has written poetry, short stories, plays, essays, criticism, and a biography and is currently working on his first novel. An enlarged edition of his short stories will come out next January. Rao has no qualms about being described as a gay writer, doesn't like to be called an academic and prefers to think of himself as an activist.
12. K. Satchidanandan is the Secretary of the Sahitya Akademi (the National Academy of Letters) of India. He is one of India's leading contemporary poets, with several collections of poems to his credit. Many of his poems have been translated into English and other European languages. Before joining the Sahitya Akademi, he was Professor of English in Kerala.
13. Satendra Pratap Nandan is Director of the Centre for Creative Writing, Media and Culture Studies at the University of Canberra, Australia, and the international Chair of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS). His numerous publications include Faces in a Village, Voices in the River, Lines Across Black Waters and Fiji : Paradise in Pieces.
14. Shanthini Pillai is a Lecturer on Literature at the Faculty of Language Studies, National University of Malaysia (UKM). Her research interests include the representation of the Indian immigrant to Malaya in literature and historiography, sub-alternist discourses, diasporic theory and literatures of the Indian diaspora. She is co-editor of a book on the cultural constructions of the Indian woman in literature.
15. Shiva Kumar Srinivasan is a Lecturer in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. He was a visiting research fellow in the Centre for English Studies, Senate House, University of London (Spring 1993) and a participant in The School of Criticism and Theory, Dartmouth College, USA (Summer 1994).
16. Sudhir Kumar is Reader in English at the Department of Evening Studies, Punjab University, Chandigarh. The author of many academic papers in Indian English and postcolonial literatures and theories, his forthcoming books include Nation-in-Katha : A Study of Muslim Writers and Elizabeth Gaskell : New Perspectives.
17. Susanna Margaret Checketts teaches English at the Faculty of Language Studies, National University of Malaysia. She has published a variety of books including The Story of Macbeth, Waiting Like the Dragonfly and On the Tip Of My Tongue. She has also published articles such as "In the Teeth of Translation in Language and Globalization," and "Widening English Language Horizons Through Poetry." Her creativity is also manifested in her collections of poems and papers presented at local and international conferences. She has just finished a novel with a Malaysian background and is currently working on a book on the quirks of the English language and literature.
18. Uma Parameswaran is Professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, Canada. The author of several books, including A Study of Representative Indo-English Novelists, Cyclic Hope Cyclic Pain, The Perforated Sheet and SACLIT : An Introduction to South Asian-Canadian Literature, she is also a poet and playwright as well as a producer of a weekly television show on India and Indians in Canada.
19. Vijay Mishra is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Head of the School of Arts at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia. Before returning to Perth he was Professor of English at the University of Alberta, Canada, for two years. Among his publications are Dark Side of the Dream : Australian Literature and the Postcolonial Mind (with Bob Hodge), The Gothic Sublime, Devotional Poetics and the Indian Sublime and Hollywood Cinema : Temples of Desire, He is currently completing two books : The Diasporic Imaginary and The Postcolonial Canon.
20. C. Vijayasree is Professor of English at Osmania University, Hyderabad, where she teaches postcolonial literatures and women's writing. She has co-edited two anthologies of critical essays : Browning 2000, Remapping Culture : Nobel Laureates in Literature and a collection of short stories translated from South Indian languages, Routes. She has also published The Raj and the Writer, a book on Mulk Raj Anand, and has just completed a book on Suniti Namjoshi.
21. Vinay Lal teaches history at the University of California, Los Angeles. He writes on a wide variety of subjects, including modern Indian history, the politics of knowledge, the Indian diaspora, popular and public cultures in India, and the global politics of culture. He has most recently edited Dissenting Knowledges, Open Futures : The Multiple Selves and Strange Destinations of Ashis Nandy.