THE GUNNY SACK : A STUDY
Diasporic writings are invariably concerned with exile, memory, diasporic consciousness, longing for return, alienation and search for identity. All these characteristics find unique articulation in the novels of M.G. Vassanji. Vassanji has produced five novels tracing the migration of people from South Asia in the late 19th century to East Africa, and then from Africa to North America in the 1960s and 1970s. The Gunny Sack is one of them. It deals with the story of four generations of Asians in Tanzania. Here the author has examined the theme of identity, displacement and race-relations. He also has endeavoured to retain and re-create oral histories and mythologies that have long been silenced.
The Gunny Sack celebrates the spirit of Asian pioneers who moved to East Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The novelist provides an insightful look also into the culture of one particular group of Indians who were born and grew up in East Africa during the mid 20th century. Living under German colonial rule, the family of Dhanji Govindji become permanent residents of Africa while witnessing historical events that result in the birth of African nationalism. In this fantastic piece of work the writer focuses on the problematic union of East Africa and South Asia. The tension arising from the contact between the two lands is captured mostly in the characters that migrated from India to East Africa. Here most of the Asian African characters such as Dhanji Govindji and his descendent Salim Juma take part in the quest for new homes and identity. It is interesting that the same quest for new homelands that were more promising in terms of prosperity was to be Govindji’s downfall.
The main story of this novel is narrated by Salim Juma. It is he who is bequeathed a gunny sack by his mystical grandaunt named Ji Bai. This sack is an ancient sack that is full of mementos. It appears as a metaphor for the collective memory. It becomes a device to recall the author’s family history in India, Africa, England and finally North America. Nicknamed ‘Shehru’, the gunny unravels a gallery of characters whose unwritten stories reflect the Asian experience in East Africa over four generations. It seems that the novel is both the story of one extended family’s arrival and existence in East Africa as well as a repository for the collective memory and oral history of many other Asian Africans.
The first section of The Gunny Sack is very interesting. In this section we see that Dhanji Govindji arrives to Zanzibar as a trader from Junapur in Gujarat in the late 19th century and then settles at Matamu in Tanzania. He has a son, Husein, with a discarded African slave, Bibi Taratibu. Later growing in prosperity, Dhanji Govindji marries Fatima. She is of Indian extraction. She is the Squint-eyed daughter of a Zanzibari widow with unknown antecedents. But when Dhanji Govindji’s half African son Hussein disappears into the east hinterland, he pays out his fortune in attempt to find him again. In search of Husein he devotes more and more time. In this search mission he spends not just his own money but embezzles that of others to support his search mission of his lost son. One morning Dhanji Govindji is mysteriously murdered. The cause of Dhanji’s death is narrated as a shabby affair that might be tied to his serving of ties with his relatives in India so as to establish himself and his descendents in the new world:
A few years before, the Shamsi community in India had been torn apart by strife. Various parties had sprung up, with diverging fundamentalist positions, each taking up some thread of the complex and sometimes contradictory set of traditional beliefs, hitherto untainted by theologian hands, to some extreme conclusion and claiming to represent the entire community. The bone of contention among Shia, Sunni, Sufi and Vedanti factions became the funds collected in the small centres and mosques. Faced with this situation, Dhanji simply stopped sending the money on to any of the big centres and kept it in trust for the Matamu community. The strife had resulted in the murders in Bombay and Zanzibar. And now it seemed, in Matamu…. Mukhi Dhanji Govindji, Sharrifu to the Swahilis, was buried with full honours by the village of Matamu, carried in a procession of males headed by Shamsi, Bhatia and Swahili elders to the grave, grieved for by women ululating along the way.1
We can read the implications of the strife outside Matamu in far away India as being intimately connected with Matamu itself. Moreover, we can also read the implications of Govindji’s mental turmoil on his community. As he has stopped sending funds to the mother community of the Shamsis back in India, Govindji declared the autonomy of the Shamis of East Africa and sought independence. There are insinuations in the novel that Dhanji Govindji had used money drawn from public coffers for personal needs without consulting other faithful. This independence of the mind was the one that had enabled him to make a journey in a dhow across the Indian Ocean to Zanzibar. In the novel, this act of dislocation from the originary homeland in Junapur and locating oneself in the East African coast is very significant. This act was to be the initial step in the troublesome quest to belong that future generation of Govindji’s family such as Salim Juma were to face.
The second section of the novel is named after Kulsum. Kulsum is Govindji’s granddaughter. She becomes the wife of Husein’s son named Juma. In the novel she appears as the mother of Salim Juma who is the main narrator of The Gunny Sack. Herein this section we learn of the older Juma’s childhood as a second-class member of his stepmother’s family after his mother Moti dies. At this time the family of Govindji has mushroomed into various related families of cousins and siblings. The late Juma Husein’s family has emigrated again from Tanzania to Kenya in colonial Nairobi. After his wedding to Kulsum there is a long wait in the unloving bosom of his stepfamily for their first child, Begum.
It is the 1950, and whispers are beginning of the Mau-Mau rebellion. A segment of the novel addresses itself to a description of these troubled times of rising African nationalism. When Juma Husein dies in Nairobi, his family of Kulsum with her children including young Salim Juma, the narrator, moves back to Dar es Salaam. And gradually Kulsum’s son Salim Juma takes over the narration of The Gunny Sack from his mother, recalling his own childhood. His life guides the narrative from here on. Memory becomes the guiding force at this stage.
Salim Juma now remembers his mother’s store and neighbour’s intrigues the beauty of his pristine English teacher, Miss Penny (later Mrs. Gaunt) at primary school in colonial Dar, cricket matches and attempts commune with the ghost of his father. It is a vibrantly described, deeply felt childhood. Tanzania where the family lives meanwhile is racked by racialist political tensions on its road to independence, which comes about as Salim Juma reaches adolescence. With the surge in racial tension and nationalist rioting, several members of his close-knit community leave the country under feelings of rising unhomliness. They go to England, the United States and Canada in search of other new homes.
‘Amina’ is the title of the third section of The Gunny Sack. She is an African girl. Salim juma loves her too much. He meets her while doing his National Service at Camp Uhuru, a place he feels he has been sent to in error. This is so because the National Service was a prerequisite for joining University. Due to their exclusivity and unpredictable future as a migrant community, most Asian African families would go long way to make their children go to National Service Camps near Dar es Salaam where the core of the community lived. But Salim’s name -- Juma, an African name, and his dark complexion due to his ancestry from Bibi Taratibu could not convince the recruitment officers that he was not an indigenous African. In spite of pleas from his family he was sent to the farthest National Service Camp in northern Tanzania where he was the only Asian African amidst many indigenous African colleagues. This exposure was a blessing as disguise as it forged his African sense of self, only for it to be betrayed later in the novel, when he was persecuted on racial grounds by the Tanzanian government, because he was of Asian extraction.
Salim develops an intimate relationship with Amina at the camp Uhuru. Amina is an indigenous African, and their relationship inevitably causes Juma’s family anxiety, until the increasingly militant Amina leaves for New York. Salim becomes a teacher at his old school in independent Dar. After that he marries an Asian African but keeps a place for Amina in his heart and in fact names his daughter Amina. When the older Amina returns from the United States, the increasingly repressive independent Tanzanian government arrests her. In fact she had turned into a racial human rights activist. Due to his close acquaintance with Amina, Salim hurriedly exiles abroad on safety grounds. He leaves an Asian African wife and daughter.
The novel ends with dejected Salim alone in a basement of a flat somewhere in Canada, the last memories coming out of a gunny sack he inherits, hoping that he will be the last migrant of his family-line. The last paragraph of the last chapter of The Gunny Sack captures Juma’s wish:
The running must stop now, Amina. The cycle of escape and rebirth, uprooting and regeneration, must cease in me. Let this be last runway, returned with one last, quixotic dream. Yes, perhaps here lies redemption, a faith in the future, even if it means for now to embrace the banal present, to pick up the pieces of our wounded selves, our wounded dreams, Little, One, we dreamt the world, which was large and beautiful and exciting and it came to us this world, even though it was more than we bargained for, it came in large soaking waves and wrecked us but we are thankful, for to have dream was enough. And so, dream, Little Flowered.2
Salim Juma, the narrator who now lives as an exile in Canada, utters this above-mentioned passage. He is just one of the droves of Asian Africans who left East Africa after independence for Britain, Canada and the United States. After the migration of his forebear, Dhanji Govindji, from Junapur in India to Zanjibar; after the migration of his family from Tanzania to Kenya, then back to Tanzania and finally after his migration to Canada, Salim is tired and exhausted by the perpetual feelings of unhomliness and impossibility of belonging.
The question that we should ask ourselves is: Is Vassanji’s choice of the imaginative scene as a concluding part of The Gunny Sack a matter of chance or is it a conscious discursive strategy that make the reader reflect on the dislocated experience of the Asian Africans of East Africa over historical times? Is exiled Salim the product of the locations he occupied or rather his community occupied as migrant people in East Africa?
The answer to the reflection above may arise out of a further sampling of Govindji’s originary story in the first part of the novel, in the very beginning with the story of Salim’s progenitor, Dhanji Govindji. In one particular instance reminiscing about how he came to East Africa, Govindji tells his African born daughter-in-law, Ji Bai:
As you approach it [Africa] from the sea, as you enter the harbour, you see to the right all these beautiful, white buildings of the Europeans… behind his beautiful white European face of the town is our modest Indian district, every community in its own separate area, and behind that the African quarter going right into the forest.3
The community of South Asians who came to East Africa before or at the time of British imperialism has now given rise to several other generations that in popular East African discourse are known simply as ‘Asians’. In East Africa this community inhabits a middle area, both in colour and status, between European whites and African blacks. The attempt to make sense out of inhabiting worlds in-between the black and the white has in fact become a congenital theme and leitmotif in almost all genres of writings of Asian from East Africa. The imaginative writings of Asian African writers such as Peter Nazareth, Bahadur Tejani, Pheroze Nowrojee, Jagjit Singh and Kuldip Sondhi who wrote about the Asian experience in East Africa in the 1960s and early 1970s serve as prominent examples. This literary agenda persists in the oeuvre of the more contemporary Vassanji. It is argued that Vassanji’s community, historically and socio-politically, was strictly never a part of the Black/ White (post) coloniality but a community in-between the two. By demarcating the land into three and situating the Asians in-between the Africans and the Whites, M.G. Vassanji is playing out his commitment as a historical translator but is also doing other things as well.
At the very outset of The Gunny Sack, an examination of the settings reveals that they convey a certain sense of in-between ness, especially when seen from the perspective of the Asian Africans of East Africa. Take the example of the place Matamu, a fictional location somewhere in present-day Tanzania, especially as described in the following passage:
Matamu, the name always had a tart sound to it, an after taste to the sweetness, a far-off echo that spoke of a distant, primeval time, the year zero. An epoch that cast a dim but sombre shadow present. It is the town where my forebear unloaded his donkey one day and made his home. Where Africa opened its womb to India and produced a being who forever stalks the forest in search of himself.4
A sense of identity, a feeling of discrimination and demarcation, has always been in the writings of the literary members of Indian diaspora. Writing from a ‘hyphenated’5 space probably instigates authors like M.G. Vassanji to manifest their expressions of identity. In The Gunny Sack, M.G. Vassanji talks about volatile union of Africa and expatriate Indians. The being formed from this union is charged with the relentless quest of trying to find its own true meaning. The identity that the Indians are searching for is produced through this union. Salim Juma recounts the consequences of the family movement from Porbandar, India to Zanzibar, Africa. The narration carries an air of vividness and a sense of reality, as Salim recounts the fortune of his family under German, then British colonialism, and finally under Julius Nyrere’s socialism in independent Tanzania. It is a spirited saga of alliances, rivalries, success and failures. It illustrates the ability of the Shamsi community to survive oppression, fragmentation and displacement. For these children of Africa and India, the question of identity becomes an important issue. The maintenance of traditions and culture turns out to be significant.
M.G. Vassanji seems to suggest that when several cultures exist together, it is essential for each culture to have its own distinguishing identity. But when this identity is imposed on a particular culture on the basis of race, colour and religion, the cruel brutalities become rife with reality. Vassanji focuses on this part of reality in his works. In The Gunny Sack the colour of human creed becomes important. The characters of this novel seem to draw their identities on this basis. The following cosmogonic myth offered to salim by his mother Kulsum attests to this fact:
When God was well and ready after all his exertions finally to create mankind, he sat himself beside a red-hot oven with a plate of dough. From this he fashioned three identical dolls. He put the first doll into the oven to finish it, but alas, brought it out too soon. It came out white and undone. In this way was born the white race. With this lesson learnt, the Almighty put the second doll into the oven, but this time he kept it in for too long. It came out burnt and black. Thus the black race. Finally the One and Only put the last doll inside the oven, and brought it out just the right time, it came out golden brown, the Asian, simply perfect.6
This ‘theory of creation’7 seems to be the basic theory around which the whole novel revolves. Even the main characters such as the narrator Salim get their names according to this theory:
Thus our nicknames: Sona for the golden boy, the youngest and favourite, my brother, Jamal; Kala for the one who came between Salim, Salum in Swahili, the overdone.8
The narrator’s mother invokes the above-cited myth to explain the politics of colour and belonging to her sons Salim and Sona. They are reminded of that they occupy the same place as their forefathers whom they relate to in two ways. This is by way of skin colour and cultural identity and by the way of the interstitial location they occupy in-between the black and white races of their world.
The sense of being that Vassanji portrays for all the characters comes from the theory of discrimination. Perhaps through this observation, Vassanji draws our attention not only to the circumstances under which Asian Africans developed their interstitiality but also to the fact that they have lost their sense of a secure identity, theirs is now an identity of the in-between space, an identity that does not make sense in a world interpreted in terms of Black or White.
At one place in the novel, Kala Juma narrates his sexual encounter with the Swahili girl Amina:
I heaved and embraced her waist, pressing deeper…. and I got her… and her legs moved apart ever so slightly to receive me.9
The contentment to the conquest of aggressive, intrusive male sexuality over the supine, passive, sex hungry female body is proved to be brief and illusory. Mother Kulsum’s objections to this affair thwart it. Edward, Salim Juma’s foster father, too frowns upon the alliance. He says to Kala Juma, ‘Africans and Asians are different… it’s like the story of….’10
The unsaid pert of this rebuke speaks a whole volume of an unhappy family history of cross-alliance or misalliance that Dhanji had started. Desire of the narrator for autonomous selfhood becomes inconsequential in the face of the historical forces of race and class difference in the diasporan space. A constant sense of shame, discomfiture and uncertainty about self- identity owing to being a half-cast prevents him from forging a relationship in terms of marriage with Zainab and affiliating himself with remnants of an already fractured Shamsi community. For his dubious background he suffers violence and humiliation at the hands of Zanib’s brother. Thus he turns to Amina.
During Kala Juma’s brief affair with Amina, the barriers of race and class created by the colonial history of Africa between them prove to be insurmountable in the post-independent nation. The exclusionary discourse of ‘Africa and Africans’ after independence calls into play the racial categories of discrimination and difference, in which Kala Juma stands on the fringes of the nation as ‘the other’. In this context the following conversation between Kala Juma and Amina is significant:
“Why do you call me an Indian? I was born here. My father was born here even my grandfather.”
She accusingly answers, “And then? Beyond that? What did they come to do, these ancestors of yours? …perhaps you conveniently forgot…they financed slave trade!”
“And what of your Swahili ancestors, Amina? If mine financed slave trade, your ran it.”11
The accusation and counter-accusation in which Kala Juma and Amina engage demonstrate how in a diasporan space of conflicting subjectivities ‘past’ is deployed and counter deployed for inscribing oneself in ‘home’ while excluding the other. Here Juma’s attempts – as part of Indian Diaspora – at staking claims to a land as home and forging intimate personal relationship are challenged by Amina. Arrogating to herself the originary notions of indigenous self-hood, she constructs a discourse of post-independence nationhood and home from which some people labelled as ‘outsiders’ are to be excluded. What she clearly forgets is the mix-up of Arab-African races in her Swahili blood. The barriers of class and race that separated Amina from Kala Juma would not come in-between herself and Mark, for the white man from the first world enjoys universal preference in the global cultural economy for his racial superiority and imperial strength.
Amina comes home to Tanzania. She is charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. Kala Juma fears that he too may be implicated in the same crime due to his association with Amina. So he runs away from the country and arrives in Canada via Lisbon and Boston. Many others, namely Uncle Goa, Zera Auntie, Hassan Uncle, Jamal Juma alias, Sona, Kala Juma’s brother too leave Tanzania, which proves hostile to the Indian diaspora in the post-independence period. Even in the New World they are treated badly. In such a situation the diasporic Vassanji’s fate or that of his fictional characters become really precarious, and they belong neither here nor there. As a result their identities become ambiguous and inauthentic both at the native home in the First World.
The diasporic subjectivities that Vassanji and his characters illustrate are transfigured many times over in multiple sites through self-chosen migrancy or enforced wanderings as well as exile. Since diasporic identities get constantly ruptured together with their language, class, race and gender denominations, and get mutated as well as reconstituted in the trans-local spaces, the originary notions of home which are imagined over and over again in different ways across borders and boundaries become ambiguous in Vassanji’s case as well as in case of other diasporic writers. Having been removed from a place of supposed origin and without emotional, political and cultural affiliations, to territorially bound, static localities diasporic people move on, as indeed their homes do. Like tortoises and their shells. Peter G. Mandeville, therefore, comments that ‘identity and place’12 of diasporic communities ‘travel together’13 and these communities practice ‘the complex politics of simultaneous here and there’. 14
For Vassanji, home is multi-locational in urban sites. Land based ties and strong social bonds that would generally hold together people rooted in native, rural places do not apply to this Kenyan-born-Tanzanian expatriate writer of Ismaili-Indian descent, domiciled in Canada. Owing to his over-hyphenated identity, the question of exilic condition in the urban landscape for him becomes entwined with the notion of home away from home in one sense and no home in particular in another sense. Home in his case is freighted with enormous investments of the imaginary. At least this is impression he casts on us when we read his interviews. In an interview with Sayantan, Vassanji says:
I am more comfortable defining myself in terms of my locale and city. That way Dar es Salaam would be probably the first place that figures as home. Every writer, I think belongs to his city, to the streets and his urban landscape, assuming he is part of an urban ethos. Another place I could call home in that sense would be Toronto in Canada.15
In another interview with Gene Carey, Vassanji says:
Once I came to the United States I had a fear of losing my link with Tanzania. Then I feared going back because if I went back I feared losing the new world one had discovered.16
Vassanji’s statements make it clear that he is caught between the homes ‘there’ and ‘here’. On the basis of the idea of multi-locational home he conciliates between the nostalgic desire for home and community through his characters. These characters are people living on the fringes of host society and dreaming of a home, replete with intimate memories and feelings of emotional affiliations. The narrator’s remark in The Gunny Sack sums up the lives of the Indian traders:
Among the trading immigrant peoples, loyalty to a land or a government, always loudly professed, is a trait one can normally look for in vain. Governments may come and go, but the immigrant’s only concern is the security of their families, their trade and their savings.17
Their lives that unfold a saga of self-survival through countless dispersion, losses, separations, ruptures are never mapped onto the history of the nation they have either left behind or the one they have come to as immigrants. Their family lore across generations builds up an intimate domestic context that is far removed from nationalist politics and recorded public memory.
In The Gunny Sack Salim’s words touch on the points of rupture in the articulation of Asian African subjectivity and experience. It appears that the reclamation of his subjectivity through his keen memory offers propulsion into an empowered self-definition and self-knowledge, which is one of the keen areas of postcolonial discourse. The exiled space, Toronto, from where Salim reminisces is actually a location of dislocation. This is a realm that resounds with the pressures of dislocation such as want, discomfort and nostalgia. Interestingly, his story also speaks of certain pleasure of dislocation such as relief and the possibility of dreaming another future again. It is this line of thought that Bhabha appears to be grappling with when he says:
The recesses of the domestic space become sites for histories most intricate invasions. In that displacement, the borders between home and the world, become confused and uncannily, the private and the public becomes part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is divided and disorientating.18
East Africa, seen from the exile location from where Salim Juma speaks, is not just a recess of the domestic space, but also an excess of that same place. It is excess in the sense that much as Salim and other Asian Africans who flee the region after independence may want to forget it and forge on, they may never be able to do so. They carry the region with them within their minds. In this way, Salim Juma is like Vassanji who says that no matter where he goes, he carries the East African world with him, indeed within him.
The writings of all the Indian diasporic writers usually focus on the discrimination, differentiation, injustice and inequity that have been a part of life of almost every East Indian immigrant. Such treatment of life has compelled them to become nostalgic. Perhaps that is the reason why these writers tend to draw upon the reservoir of memories from their homelands. In The Gunny Sack Salim Juma’s remarkable remembering includes finding the significance of ancestral genesis and genealogy. Vassanji, double diasporic Indian writer, talks more about East Africa than anything else. His novels The Gunny Sack and The Book of Secrets and his collection of short stories, Uhuru Street – are all focused on the lines of Indians in East Africa. Vassanji says:
I write about my own people because we are a people without any sense of history and place. A person without history is like an orphan. We know the name of the place we stay, we know our immediate surroundings, but we tend to look towards a future – tomorrow and day after tomorrow – of a better future may be. But where is our past? Where are our roots? 19
By Rosemary Marangoly George The Gunny sack has been treated as a work of immigrant genre for characteristics such as disregard of national schemes, the use of a multi-generational cast of characters, a narrative tendency, full of repetitions and echoes and above all “curiously detached reading of experience of ‘homelessness’, which is compensated for by an excessive use of the metaphor of luggage, both spiritual and material.”20 She seems to distinguish this genre from exile literature for its “detached and unsentimental reading of the experience of homelessness”21 and its refusal to engage in the politics of either home or nation. This distinction is confusive. If indifference to the politics of nation and rootlessness is the crux of the matter, what is important is how one whether an immigrant or an exile, has to reckon with one’s past, return to one’s cultural roots and conceive of one’s cultural identity despite the anchorage of real nationhood and home. In an interview M.G. Vassanji says to Kanaganayakam:
Once I went to the United States, suddenly the Indian connection became very important: the sense of origins, trying to understand the roots that we had in us.22
Later while teaching physics in Toronto, Vassanji “began to encounter his East-African past.”23 For him the past is an aesthetic necessity, and it has great sacral, heuristic value. In this context we can recall Pius Fernandes in Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets. Fernandes says:
Of course the past matters, that is why we need to bury it sometimes. We have to forget to be able to start again.24
In Vassanji's Gunny Sack the historical past concerning origins engages his characters in a tortuous way, mediated through memories of countless displacements and ruptures:
…. wisps of memory. Cotton balls gliding from the gunny sack, each a window to the world….Asynchronous images projected on multiple cinema screens….Time here is not the continuous co-ordinate ….but a collection of blots like Uncle Jim drew in the Sunday Herald for the children, except that Uncle Jim numbered the blots for you so you traced the picture of a dog or a horse when you followed them with a pencil….here you number your own blots and there is no end to them, and each lies in wait for you like a black hole from which you could never return. 25
Since a black hole is a condition in the outer space from which no matter and ray can escape, Vassanji uses this figurative as a dark, endless one way passage from which the diasporic self can’t return, nor indeed can he progress towards any closure or resolution unless it is forced and deliberate. In this fictional scheme, migrancy turns out to be basically an interminable narrative journey without any beginning or end.
In The Gunny Sack, memory negotiates the colonial and postcolonial history of East Africa. Throughout the narrative the history of the struggle of imperial powers of Europe like Germany and England over colonies in Africa, the world wars, their impact on the demographic profile of Indian diaspora in the African east coast, and finally the decolonisation of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zanzibar and other nations constitute the troublesome destiny of the people. They are forced to migrate and re-migrate to places both imaginary and real. Throughout the novel Salim Juma negotiates communal and individual identities, the life of the continent of Africa and the lives of individuals. He explores the past, constructs genealogies and traces the complex formations of the sites of subjectivity through ruptures, dispersal and mutations.
The past is retrieved in The Gunny Sack and reconstituted only through the backward gaze upon the gunny sack that still carries the dust of Kariakoo, a street in Dar es Salaam where young Kala Juma, the narrator, fortuitously meets Grandmother, Ji Bai, who conjures from the past people, times and places for him. He admits:
Thus past gets buried, but for my drab, my sagging ugly shahrbanoo, from which the dust of Kariakoo has not been shaken yet.26
The dust -- metaphorically, the remains of the dead -- magically bodies forth the past and the entire line of forebears. Ji Bai speaks to him almost like a prophet. She says to him that she will give him his father Juma and his father Husein and his father -- And thereupon begins Juma’s journey back into the realms of past. He says:
Ji Bai opened a small window into the dark past for me ……and a whole world flew in, a world of my great grandfather who left India and my great grandmother who was an African, the world of Matamu where India and Africa met and the mixture exploded in the person of my half-cast grand father Husein who disappeared into the forest one day and never returned, the world of a changing Africa where Africa and Europe met and the result was even more explosive, not only in the lives of men but in the life of the continent.27
The knowledge of one’s origins and past, howsoever shameful and sordid, is necessary. The search for the origins and past is also a moral responsibility towards the posterity and future to be assumed, in addition to the necessity for self-knowledge and survival on the part of the diasporic self.
* * * *
1. M.G. Vassanji, The Gunny Sack (London: Heinemann, 1989), pp. 42-3.
2. Ibid., pp. 268-9.
3. Ibid., p. 29.
4. Ibid., pp. 39-40.
5. Arun P. Mukherjee, “Introduction”, in Oppositional Aesthetics: Reading from a Hyphenated Space (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1994), p. Vii.
6. M.G. Vassanji, The Gunny Sack (London: Heinemann, 1989), p. 73.
7. Ibid., p. 73.
8. Ibid. p. 74.
9. Ibid., p. 222.
10. Ibid., p. 223.
11. Ibid., p. 211.
12. Peter G. Mandeville, “Territory and Translocating: Discrepant Idioms of Political Locality”, Columbia International Affairs On Line July 2000, 21 October 2002 < http: // www.cionet.org/htm>.
15. Sayantan Dasgupta, “Coming Home”, The Statesman Review 30 May 2000. ts. Jadavpur U., Kolkata.
16. Gene Carey, “Ramji’s Amrika”, Rediff on the Net 5 May 1999, 5 July 2002 < http: //www.rediff.com/news/1999/dec/ 08us.htm >.
17. M.G. Vassanji, The Gunny Sack (London: Heinemann, 1989), p. 52.
18. Homi Bhabha, The location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 9.
19. M.F. Salat, “The Need to discover: M.G. Vassanji’s Writings”, in Jameela Begum, and Maya Dutta, eds. South Asian Canadian (Madras: Anu Chitra Publications, 1996), p.71.
20. Rosemary Marangoly George, The Politics of Home: Post-Colonial Relocations and Twentieth Century Fiction, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), P. 171.
21. Ibid., p. 175.
22. Chelva Kanaganayakam, “‘Broadening the Substrata’: An Interview with M.G. Vassanji”, World Literature Written in English 31.2 (1991), p. 21.
23. Susan Linne, “Novelist Proves You Can Go Home: Asian African Author Visits Kenya for Research”, South Coast Today, 28 May 2000. 12 March 2002< http://www.s-t.com/daily/05-00/-05-28-00/eo7ae 164.htm >.
24. M.G. Vassanji, The Book of Secrets (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1995), p. 298.
25. M.G. Vassanji, The Gunny Sack (London: Heinemann, 1989), p. 112.
26. Ibid., p. 10.
27. Ibid., p. 135.