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Review of Sugar's Sweet Allure.

In 1838, the British and colonized Indian governments permitted sugar planters in British Guiana to bring Indian indentured workers from India to their plantations. This labor movement was expected to satisfy a labor demand precipitated by slave emancipation. Indentured Indians were required to provide their labor services to the plantations, while the planters looked for a more permanent labor force. However, the solution to the latter was never found, and Indians continued to provide indentured labor until 1917, when the system was abolished. By the 1860s, the laborers were encouraged to re-indenture for another five years after their contracts expired. By the early 1870s, they were given a small parcel of land to settle in exchange for their entitled return passage to India. The settlement scheme was very successful, and by the 1900s, Indians had become a majority population in British Guiana. Khalil Rahman Ali situates his novel within the context of Indian indentureship in British Guiana. The story begins when a young male Muslim laborer--Mustafa Ali, from Uttar Pradesh, India--falls in love with a young Hindu woman, Chandini Sharma, from a well-to-do background in the same region. Both characters share a mutual love and respect when they meet secretly. However, when it is revealed that both characters are in love with each other, it becomes a bone of contention between the families. Social customs in nineteenth-century India very often did not allow for affection between people of different religions, and so Mustafa is forced to run away with the expectation that he will come back for Chandini. In his escape for a different life, Mustafa ends up in Calcutta where he is duped into signing a labor contract that takes him across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans for over three months to British Guiana.

Mustafa is a witty individual who is able to acquire positions of leadership while on the depot, during the voyage, and on the plantation. He eventually comes in contact with almost every aspect of being indentured. He is exposed to other ethnic groups like Africans and Chinese, who are also working and living on the plantation on which Mustafa is indentured. During the first five years of indenture, Mustafa has the opportunity to meet and marry someone else but remains faithful to Chandini, even though he fails to make contact with her through letters and messages. When his contract expires he is torn between going back to India and staying in British Guiana. He eventually stays in British Guiana for another five years. While he never dismisses his love for Chandini, he marries another indentured Muslim, and together the couple has two sons. The story becomes more interesting when Mustafa is able to break out of his plantation environment to start his own business and when his sons are ready to get married. At this stage of the plot one is in suspense as to whether Mustafa will ever see Chandini again. The characters do not meet in India but in British Guiana when they are middle-aged. In India, Chandini's family plantation is ruined by disasters and other hardships, and so, like Mustafa, she is forced to look for employment and eventually is indentured to British Guiana on a plantation not too far from Mustafa. But neither character is aware of the other's presence. However, Chandini is no longer single. She marries, mainly for protection, a gentleman whom she meets on board the sea voyage to British Guiana. They eventually have two daughters. In maintaining the match-marriage customs of nineteenth-century India, Mustafa is looking for two young women to marry his two sons and is told of a couple who has two daughters on a nearby plantation. It is within this context Mustafa and Chandini meet after thirty years apart. They acknowledge and respect each other's different routes in life. One of Mustafa's sons is eventually married to Chandini's daughter, something Mustafa and Chandini were not allowed to do in India.

The novel is rather interesting in that it covers so many themes in Indian indentureship not often seen in literary works. The author examines the relationships during indenture from the position of the laborers and not from the power holders of the plantations. The end result is some surprising gender, religious, and ethnic relations that are not always tragic. But the novel also provides a balanced perspective on Indian indenture in British Guiana. One learns about how these individuals were uprooted from their homes, and how this rupture affected them in the depot, during the sea voyage, on the plantations, and in their isolated communities. Yet, over time and through determination, they were able to develop a new homeland in a foreign country without dismissing their past. It is a classic case of cultural continuity and change. Finally, one gets the sense that despite hardships in British Guiana, it was a better place than India, at least for the working class and social relations. The descendants of indentured Indians in Guyana will find this novel useful in understanding their past.

Work Cited

Ali, Khalil Rahman. Sugar's Sweet Allure. London: Hansib Publication, 2013

Lomarsh Roopnarine

Jackson State University
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Author:Roopnarine, Lomarsh
Publication:Journal of Caribbean Literatures
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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