Transoceanic echoes: coolitude and the work of the Mauritian poet Khal Torabully

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Khal Torabully's poetry (mainly Cale d'toiles coolitude and Chair corail, fragments coolies) surfaces as a marine odyssey of the coolie diaspora. Coolitude epitomizes in many respects a double articulation in Torabully's work: his commitment to denouncing trauma and violence at the eve of the twenty-first century as well as the concern of the contemporary artist to find adequate words, styles and modes to engage with this suffering. Torabully, similarly to Paul Gilroy, maps a more complex picture of the notion of Indian identity, shifting the emphasis from a fossilizing nostalgia for a fixed India to the ocean space that mediates the numerous cultural (ex)changes coolie culture has undergone. His rehabilitation of the coolie memory embodied in coolitude has provided him with a framework to understand, not only his own but on a more universal level, the cross-cultural chaotic relationships that can lead to bursts of creativity but also devastating violence. Coolitude thus emerges as a poetics that attempts to recover and reassess the transoceanic crossing of coolies, establishing it as a central metaphor that is constitutive of a new perspective on Indian identities characterized by multiple crossings: crossings between cultures, heritages, places, generations, gender, historical assertions, and mythical references.

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As the literature of Creole societies severed ties with colonial literary models, a new literature conceptualized through scholarly and literary conversations on creolization emerged. In a zeal to amplify Creole solidarity against colonial dominance, however, these conversations unfortunately erased the internal hierarchies and linguistic unevenness among the formerly colonized, uniting them all under the banner of the Creole language. The aesthetics of the literature of creolization is consequently read through the lens of a strict dichotomy opposing the colonized, Creole, and orality to the hegemony of the colonizer, the colonizing language, and writing. Reading the Mauritian novelist Ananda Devi's Pagli (2001) in depth, I reveal a novel that goes against this trend and bears witness, through its very textuality, to the complexity of racial and linguistic stratifications in Creole societies, without flattening them into dichotomies. In this light, it constitutes a necessary theoretical intervention in the field of creolization aesthetics.
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This article examines the reconstruction and deconstruction of the concept of काला पानी or kālā pānā, meaning the ‘black waters’, which all Indians must cross when migrating overseas. From its origin as a Brahmanic text warning about the dangers of oceanic voyages, through its dissemination as a more generalised stricture against emigration and its use and abuse as a British colonial construction, to its recasting as a historical trope and a literary device, the ever-changing influence and meaning of kala pani is interrogated and assessed. Contextualising the kala pani trope against the setting of sepoy, convict and indentureship voyages, this study also evaluates its historical validity and importance in colonial and nationalist realities. Finally, the symbolic value of the kala pani and its reworking as a literary device are explored.
Lindsey Collen writes Mauritius as a postcolonial nation linked by ocean and air travel to the Indian Ocean region, a cross-national representation that refigures the relationship between the postcolonial nation, the world, and oceanic space. In The Rape of Sita, Boy, Getting Rid of It and Mutiny, she represents Mauritius as both an exemplar of métissage as well as marked by divisions—along class, ethnic and gender lines. These divisions relate to Indian Ocean histories of slavery, less well known than Atlantic histories, which appear in her work as the haunting of island space. What emerges from her work too is the gendered nature of Indian Ocean space, in which it is largely men who travel and women who stay behind. Through depicting travelling, activist and working women, her work produces Indian Ocean feminisms. Highlighting the on-going political possibilities of Indian Ocean networks and imaginaries in the twenty-first century, her work produces the Indian Ocean as an “activist sea”.
This essay broadly examines how contemporary Mauritian novelist Amal Sewtohul underscores the specific contribution of South Asian cultures to the dynamics of creolization in the Mascarene region and the Indian Ocean. Focusing on the author's 2009 novel, Les Voyages et aventures de Sanjay, explorateur mauricien des Anciens Mondes, it reflects more specifically on the correlation and reciprocal impact which his literary work establishes between Hinduism (as a set of religious practices, beliefs, and performances) and Creolization (as a process of transcultural mixing whereby new meanings and identities are forged). Indeed, Sewtohul's representation of Hinduism as profoundly creolized not only reflects local syncretisms but also connects with broader processes of exchange, contamination, and variation across geographies and temporalities, that are part of what Édouard Glissant calls the Tout-monde.
This chapter examines the critical nexus that exists between suffering, aesthetics, and the social formations of diaspora as articulated in contemporary Indo-Caribbean and Sikh popular art. While we retain a commitment to our ethnographic examples in the areas of South Asian art, music, and performance throughout the text, we have arranged our argument around two thematic fields: (1) the framing of the relationship between art and suffering (including discourses on trauma) in the contemporary theory of art and aesthetics and (2) the conceptualization of diaspora as an aesthetic force with the capacity to produce particular subjectivities. Despite the widely recognized historic specificities and the fluctuating cultural makeup of diverse diaspora formations, scholarly research has for a considerable time prioritized the various cultural, political, and social forces that solidify social imaginations of places of origin (the ancestral home) and the collective destinies binding a people to these places. Acknowledging the possible range of diasporic junctures and the distinct forms of collective social imagination resulting from them, typologies of diaspora (e.g., Cohen 2008) have nonetheless often prioritized the significance of (post)traumatic loss and suffering as one of the key foci for diasporic memories.1
It seems most evident that the expulsion of the Chagos islanders, 'what is widely seen as one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history,' 1 has been violently expunged in the tide of history, a perfect illustration that 'history is written by the victors' 2 and that islands have been increasingly and repeatedly reduced to unremitting preys of imperial expansion. Only marginal journalists such as John Pilger, whose work Freedom Next Time (2006) devotes one chapter to 'stealing a nation' in the Chagossian context, have dedicated some of their research to the fate of these 'wretched of the sea.' In 1968, the British government granted Mauritius its independence on the condition that Britain could keep the Chagos archipelago, situated in the central Indian Ocean. On loan to the United 1 Fred Attewill and agencies, 'Chagos islanders win right to return,' Guardian Unlimited, 23 May 2007. 2 Peter Burke, 'History and Social Memory,' in Memory, Culture and the Mind, edited by Thomas Butler (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p. 106.
Terry Eagleton once wrote in the Guardian, 'Few post-colonial writers can rival Homi Bhabha in his exhilarated sense of alternative possibilities'. In rethinking questions of identity, social agency and national affiliation, Bhabha provides a working, if controversial, theory of cultural hybridity, one that goes far beyond previous attempts by others. A scholar who writes and teaches about South Asian literature and contemporary art with incredible virtuosity, he discusses writers as diverse as Morrison, Gordimer, and Conrad. In The Location of Culture, Bhabha uses concepts such as mimicry, interstice, hybridity, and liminality to argue that cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent. Speaking in a voice that combines intellectual ease with the belief that theory itself can contribute to practical political change, Bhabha has become one of the leading post-colonial theorists of this era.
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