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Kumar Mahabir, ed. 2013. Caribbean Issues in the Indian Diaspora.

Kumar Mahabir, ed. 2013. Caribbean Issues in the Indian Diaspora. New Delhi: Serials Publications. 270 pp. ISBN: 978-81-8387-604-9.

An Indo-Trinidadian scholar of West Indian topics and the diasporic phenomenon, Kumar Mahabir, has collected a manifold of provocative essays in his most recent book, Caribbean Issues in the Indian Diaspora. Said papers resulted from the proceedings of the conferences held at St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad in 2011. The book is very aptly divided into four sections and adequately subtitled according to their converging themes: Emotions in Migration, Assimilation, Plurality of Identities and Social Adaptations and Reproduction. A total of fifteen essays comprise the bulk of the book.

Each essay attempts to fill the gaps of historical value and thus provide answers to what remained unaccounted for regarding the East Indian diasporic movement. Maurits S. Hassankham's contribution addresses the emotional state of the migrants and those who remained in the motherland. It is common knowledge by now that Indians who migrated did so temporarily to earn sufficient funds in the foreign countries to send back home, but it was generally their heart's desire to return to India. However, the majority rarely managed to do so. Quite the contrary, many died before they could amass sufficient money to defray the cost of the ticket back home. What is fresh about Hassankham's "Kahe Gaile Bides--Why Did You Go Overseas? An Introduction in Emotional Aspects of Migration History: A Diaspora Perspective" is the emotional state of those left behind and the migrant himself. The author addresses several questions: Why did they leave without their loved ones' knowledge? Was their decision to leave based on deception? Were they in fact misled or forced to leave? Testimonial accounts provide the answers to some of these queries. The first informant, Totaram Sanadhya, an educated Brahmin, arrived to Fiji in 1893 as an indentured servant. He claimed to have been deceived by a recruiter. Following the conversation with this stranger, he soon found himself agreeing to migrate against his will. It was a spur-of-the- moment occurrence that deprived him of bidding farewell to relatives. Fortunately, this informant returned back to India after 21 years abroad. Informant 2, Rahman Khan, a school teacher in India, was likewise deceived into joining two recruiters. Although Khan admits consent to work aboard, he nonetheless, claims to have been tricked into believing he would earn 12 annas a day. He too was quickly placed on a train destined to Suriname before he could collect his thoughts.

Although primary data tends to be of invaluable worth, Hassankham's advises against accepting these sources as absolute truths. One ignores the motivations these two informants might have had when they wrote their accounts. In fact, Sanadhya contradicts himself when he confesses that his sole objection to migrate was the destination to Fiji. According to Hassankham, many migrants who expressed a desire to leave the foreign countries resolved to stay of their own accord. To express the feelings of those relatives left behind, the author relies on letters and lyrics of folksongs that express their sentiments. In Khan's case, the correspondence he received from his estranged relatives express chagrin and melancholia. Khan's father informs him of their impecunious state and begs him to return to India. The tone of Khan's father's last letter expresses his hopelessness and discouragement of never seeing his son again. Another very moving letter was authored by a woman who was left behind with her child. She pleads with her husband to save her and her child from starvation.

The lamentations of the dispirited hearts seeped through their songs, poems and stories and exposed their state of mind. These sorrowful songs reveal their loneliness, feelings of abandonment and yearning for the return of loved ones. Some songs speak about the ruthless treatment migrants suffered as indentured servants, while others disclose the deception of arkdtis (1) and identify hunger as being the chief motivation for leaving India.

Placed under the subtitle of "Assimilation," Michael F. Toussant's "Absent Without Leave: East Indians on the Spanish Main in the Nine-teenth Century" provides a panoramic view of a scantily researched topic: the emigration of East Indians to Spanish-speaking countries. Toussant believes there seems to have been migratory movement to Venezuela, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Colombia and Puerto Limon. As Toussant explains, enslaved Africans sought countries that offered freedom to slaves. Pursuant to independence efforts in Colombia, Simon Bolivar, the political leader, decreed emancipation to all those who joined the crusade for independence. Enslaved Africans took advantage of this opportunity and fled to these regions. East Indians, who felt discontent with their positions as indentured servants in the Antilles would soon follow their example. This type of migration to the Main, Toussant calls "leak migrations" due to its illegal and clandestine nature. An additional factor to consider in the migratory activity to the Main was the geographical proximity of the countries. Venezuela is closer to Trinidad than other Caribbean islands, so many abandoned their indentured positions and fled to Venezuela to work. Although the Spanish language was a hindrance for the migrants, it was not a lasting one as they quickly adapted and learned to communicate in the foreign tongue. Plantation owners and overseers complained about missing workers. Absenteeism had become a widespread problem among indentured servants. Many absconded due to the unwholesome treatment they received from the overseers. Others opted to stay on the island and simply hid in different sectors. Toussant notes that following the year 1849, the British failed to keep track of the runaway Indians and did little to force them to comply with their contracts. There are no records of many missing Indians; however, the majority of those who migrated to Venezuela ended up in Capura, Peredenales and Tucupita where they felt safe.

Primnath Gooptar's "What is in an Indian Diaspora Name? The Caribbean Context" in the chapter on "Plurality of Identities" explores the etymology of personal names and place names which he terms anthroponomastics and toponomastics respectively. Gooptar explains that a person's name is the first identification marker he/she receives from parents. Yet in some cases East Indians relinquished their given names to adopt more suitable ones perhaps to mingle in the mainstream society or simply to avoid being singled out or discriminated against. By so doing they provided their children with a better chance in the New World. Gooptar points out that some indentured servants were registered with only one name, but others provided two names. When a child was born, it was given a first name and a surname. Names are closely linked to ethnicity; they reveal the person's race, cultural background, religion, and sociolinguistic status, and thus define their identity. For instance, those who convert to Islam are renamed and given an Islamic name. He explains that according to Hindu tradition, a secret name is given to children that is known only to close family members and close friends. This name is solely used in Hindi religious ceremonies and is called a rasi name. Gooptar provides a list of common Hindu names used in the Anglophone Caribbean. Indian names are generally long and difficult for non-East Indians to pronounce, therefore, some adopt shortened forms such as, Vish for Vishwanatham or Subra for Subramanian. East Indians would give their children Hindu or Muslim names, while those who converted to Christianity chose Christian first names.

Those who migrated to the West selected western names because they opened windows of opportunities to advance socially and /or obtain employment. East Indian family names, Gooptar explains, are influenced by religion and caste and are either Hindu or Muslim. Regarding nicknames, the writer cautions against the name-calling which might offend the person in reference. To exemplify, some of these East Indian nicknames refer to the person's physique, so he or she might be called "fatso or moti." The writer adds that some parents insist on calling their grown children by their pet names and in some cases, they are known by this pet name while their proper name may be unfamiliar to friends and acquaintances. Of particular interest is what the author calls the "Douglarization of East Indian names in the Caribbean diaspora." This occurs in different scenarios. To exemplify, the East Indian was compelled to change his or her name and even religion if he/she aspired to get a job in the educational field. Moreover, some East Indian names were written based on their sounds and many suffered shortening of syllables and some lost their suffixes. During the registration of new-born babies, names were also changed by the registrar who might have either misunderstood the pronunciation or preferred to write a variation instead. Some very common variations the author mentions is Muhammed; in Trinidad it is spelled Mohammed, whereas, in Guyana it is known as Mohammaud.

On a different note, Gooptar indicates that subsequent to the advent of Indian movies in the late 1930s parents selected names from the actors in films; this phenomenon he calls "filmi names." Parents chose to honor their favorite actors and actresses by naming their children after them. Other name variations came about as the result of mixed marriages. Parents wanted to please their relatives on both ends, so they gave the child two names; that is, a Christian/ Muslim mix would be Anthony Ali. In his final thoughts, Gooptar states that there is some discomfort in the loss and transformation of East Indian ethnic names which have been the cause for ridicule and discrimination that have resulted in the curtailment of opportunities be that of a political or employment nature. He believes a person has the right to retain his or her ethnic name and safeguard his/her ethnic identity.

Hanna Klien brings us to the big screen in her essay "Beyond Bollywood: Alternative Female Subject Positions in the Context of Hindu Film Reception in Trinidad" classified under the subtitle "Social Adaptations and Reproduction." Klien opens by noting that her work is the product of her Ph.D. research project which focuses on the role of young Trinidadian females in Hindi movies. The groundwork for her study was based on empirical primary data collected in the years 2010-2011. She interviewed three female subjects between the ages of 19 to 26 yearsold; all of Indo-Trinidadian descent and belonging to the middle class to gather their ideas about the representation of women in Hindi films. The portrayal of love scenes, kissing and lovemaking in such movies was not as overt as those in western flicks. The compromising scenes in Hindi screens were suggestive rather than explicit; in other words, a kissing scene would be portrayed by couples hiding behind trees. Other intimacies were left to the spectator's imagination. Hindi films which "reveal too much" tend to be criticized as being too westernized and portraying very little of the Indian culture. Symbolic womanhood, Klien suggests, represents the role models, codes and symbols Hindu women emulated from films dating as far back as the 1930s. These films served as identity markers for women. Thus, symbolic womanhood served as a prototype of feminine deportment and proper etiquette. Klien advises that symbolic womanhood is closely tied to ethnic identity as it is deemed Indian. More recent films that included dysfunctional relationships and illegitimate children as well as premarital sex were censured by Trinidadians for misrepresenting and distorting Indian cultural and ethnic elements and values. She asserts, however, that films of the 90s presented an array of symbols and imagery for symbolic womanhood.

The film the author uses as a sample, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehma (hereafter KANK) has contradictory overtones. On the one hand, it remains faithful to established moral canons as there are no kissing scenes, yet on the other hand, its subject matter clashes with Indian values since the storyline includes an adulterous affair. The picture caused mixed feelings of disapproval as well as acceptance in Trinidad. KANK breaks with the traditional depiction of motherhood as a devoted wife and mother in Hindi films. Instead the protagonist of the film is a childless woman. In patriarchal societies womanhood is linked to motherhood. A barren woman would not fit the ideal portrait of femininity. Klien's interviewees all pointed out their desire to become mothers. One of the young women interviewed complained about the taboo subject of sexuality that mothers avoid to discuss with their daughters. She adamantly exclaimed that this subject must be broached with daughters. Another informant protested about the prevailing double standard in Trinidadian society. A woman is made to pay dearly for her indiscretions while the male who is equally or perhaps more to blame goes unscathed. Trinidad still remains largely sexist. Klien surmises that her three informants challenge the concept of symbolic womanhood that defines the identity of the Indo-Trinidadian woman. Hibridity must be considered in these identity constructions if female role models are to be portrayed legitimately.

To conclude, these interesting proceedings account for the hybridization that has inevitably transformed and formed the identity of the diasporic Indo-Caribbean communities. Although Indo-Caribbean people acknowledge their ties to India, they nonetheless recognize a new identity has originated from the mix of races that resulted from the diaspora. Hassankham provides a complete historical background based on the accounts of indentured servants, folksongs and letters that reveal the state of mind of the migrants as well as the relatives left behind. Toussant covers all angles of the reasons why the indentured servants fled to Spanish countries and specifies the Spanish countries that housed them and that contributed to the Indian diaspora. Gooptar offers a thorough analysis of onomastics and their transformations and varieties that resulted from the diasporic phenomenon and Klien presents a clear and holistic portrait of the identity of the hybrid Indo-Trinidadian female.

Ilsa Lopez-Valles

University of Puerto Rico, Carolina


(1) Recruiters.
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Title Annotation:Articulo en ingles
Author:Lopez-Valles, Ilsa
Publication:Caribbean Studies
Article Type:Resena de libro
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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