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June 21, 2011


Brilliantly written !

Gr8 article .... Wat wonderful eyes u hv, to see wat others didn't see ! ...Best reading on the subject since Anand Sawant Mulloo's " The Global Indian Family - Voices of the Diaspora" ...This Indian-Carribean museum you mention & Mauritius's Mahatma Gandhi Institute/Aapravasi Ghat & other such museums/Archives need to connect & create a PIO museum hub somewhere in UP / Bihar .... A larger audience needs to be made aware of this piece of Indian immigration history & its corelation with the current wave of illegal immigration to Europe thru old soviet lands ...

Fascinating piece! I always think more should be written (outside of the scholarly literature) about this "other" Indian diaspora. Also about the blue collar/ small tradesman diaspora of our own age.

Himal Southasian invited me to contribute a piece for its travel / journeys special issue. I sent in this essay and a version of it, about 22 percent shorter, appears in the Oct-Nov 2011 issue. I included in it additional details on the sea voyage itself but was disappointed by the rather misplaced color photo that accompanies the piece (I remain partial to the original, longer version here). The Himal piece also just received a mention in the New York Times by its Mumbai correspondent, Vikas Bajaj.

Writing in Himal, a South Asian journal, Namit Arora documents how 145,000 Indians came to the small Caribbean island of Trinidad between 1838 and 1917 as indentured laborers. Even though they faced a difficult voyage and knew little about their destination, many signed up to go on the long journey. “For most Indians, the primary driver in their migration was to escape economic destitution, which at that time had been intensified by repressive British taxation after the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857,” Mr. Arora writes.

Noel Norton, a photographer from Trinidad, wrote to me to draw attention to his new book of photography, Kalyana: The Beauty of Indian Culture in Trinidad and Tobago - Photographs by Noel P. Norton, Memoirs by Mary Norton.

His portfolio is on his website and the limited edition of this book is available by writing to

I came across a new book to be released later this year, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur. Below is the book blurb. Check out the "Migrant Music" that's on the sidebar on the page linked above.

In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a “coolie”—the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many of the indentured, disappeared into history. Now, in Coolie Woman, her great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother’s story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on complex lives.

Many were widows, runaways or outcasts who fled mistreatment, even mortal danger, to migrate alone in epic sea voyages—traumatic “middle passages”—only to face a life of hard labor, dismal living conditions, and sexual exploitation. As Bahadur documents, however, it was precisely their sexuality that gave coolie women a degree of leverage. In new worlds where they were the scarcer sex, they had their pick of Indian partners. Their exercise of this power often incited fatal retaliations by the men who were spurned. Meanwhile, intimacy with white overseers sometimes conferred privileges. It also precipitated plantation uprisings, as a struggle between Indian men and their women intersected with one between coolies and their overlords. The women’s shortage gave them sway but also made them victims, caught in a shifting borderland between freedom and slavery.

Examining this and many other facets of these courageous women’s lives, Coolie Woman is a meditation on survival, a gripping story of a double diaspora—from India to the West Indies in one century, and from Guyana to the United States in the next—that is at once a search for roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity.

I have always thought about the Indians settled in West Indies as the lucky people. They got deliverance from the Indian-ness for good. They are far better off then majority of the Indians.

Dear Readers
We from this side of the world, the Mascarene Islands,where more than half a million Indians settled in the nineteenth century,do appreciate ongoing research and publications on Indian diaspora in the Carribean. It is true that connection between the writers of both sides of the world is lacking.There are so many common elements in the histories of immigrants,but little comparative studies have appeared again from lack coordination.
Readers may check books written by Marina Carter, Richard B Allen,Satiendra Peerthun, Anand Maulloo,Pahalad Ramsurrun, Raj Boodhoo and others. They may also contact officers at Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund Port Louis and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute Moka for more information.

Raj Boodhoo

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Books by Namit Arora

  • “Namit Arora does for Silicon Valley what Tom Wolfe did for Wall Street in The Bonfire of the Vanities: with keen eye and sharp wit, he captures the culture and mores of the place. But Arora is funnier. And sweeter.” —S. Abbas Raza, Editor, 3QD.

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

Shunya Website

Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

Namit Arora's India Photo Archive