“Diasporic Distractions” launched in North America
Raises Issue of Oral History Preservation
A new book on short stories “Diasporic Distractions” marking the Indian diaspora in Africa with a particular focus on the end of the colonial era was launched at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto on Sunday 6th May 2018 by Iqbal Dewji of Khojawiki.org
Speaking to an audience made up of filmmakers, politicians, writers, scholars and academics, including Canadian Federal Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi, author Mohamed Keshavjee, in a moderated interview with Ali Velshi formerly News Anchor CNN and now chief business correspondent of MSNBC, explained the background to the book. “It captures the narratives of the 20th century Indians” he said. “Though situated in Africa, the stories speak to all Indians regardless of where they come from. These are the type of characters the diaspora produced in places as diverse as Durban and Dar es salaam in Africa , Port of Spain and Georgetown in the Caribbean, and Penang and Singapore in the Far East. They can now even be found in Tooting Broadway in London”.
Dewji explained that Khojawiki a registered not for profit, civil society initiative, is dedicated to the preservation of oral family histories of the Khojas who trace their origin from Gujarat in the Indian Subcontinent. “We provide space for elders to meet and begin the process of recalling their memories and then we provide a global website where these narratives and pictures are shared and preserved for posterity”. He saw great synergy between the short story genre and endeavours undertaken by Ismaili writers such as Sultan Somjee’s two books “Bead Bai” and “Home Between Crossings” and Mansoor Ladha’s recent book “Memoirs of a Muhindi”. He also emphasized that he saw promoting such works as part of Khojawiki’s mandate.
In an animated session where Keshavjee read out excerpts from the book which had the audience in raptures of laughter, questions prompted by Ali Velshi arose as to which was the best way to make our new generations more aware of our history and what has brought us to where we are now.
“We are facing new challenges” Keshavjee stressed. “Therefore, the work of Khojawiki becomes more urgent today. Our world is bedeviled by new dystopias and unless we search for meaning and moorings we will be faced with a world where our younger generations will feel a sense of deracination and rupture leading to social disorientation”. One area where transmission of stories could take place was between grandparents and grandchildren. When children are left with their grandparents they should be encouraged to relate their life histories to them. This could be one way to create a closer bonding between generations. Another could be the sharing of recipes or of skills such as embroidery, stitching etc. Given the fact that young people today are so occupied with their daily lives, recording these stories now could be a good way of having them ready when their kids want to know where they came from. Khojawiki.org could be the venue where such discourses and recordings take place. Keshavjee highlighted that “Diasporic Distractions” draws its stories from such family discourses which he was fortunate enough to have over 4 decades.
He also felt that this endeavour by Khojawiki.org could help produce a cadre of writers in the Ismaili community and encouraged all communities to undertake similar initiatives.
“Diasporic Distractions” written in a simple but entertaining manner is an easy read and captures all the foibles that immigrant communities embody globally. It was published in Kuala Lumpur and had its debut launch at the University of Malaya in October 2017. Asked why he chose Malaysia for publication and what was so similar between the Indian diaspora there and in the rest of Africa, Keshavjee replied “firstly, both those diasporas produced two well known leaders of the Indian freedom movement – Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and Subhas Chandra Bose in Malaya- but more importantly, it was British colonialism that gave rise to the push and pull effect of Indian migration and this migration produced its own characters. These characters represent the forces they encountered and the creativity they mustered. They are funny, zany, crafty, entrepreneurial and in some cases disingenuous. But eminently human. Malaysians saw in these stories some of their own characters and their own post colonial predicaments. They could relate to them”
The book, with endorsements from The London Magazine, one of the oldest literary magazines in the world, covers themes such as post colonial insecurity faced by many minorities, rapid urbanization, nostalgic memories overseas Indians have of an India that is now past and, indeed, the darker side of prejudice which they themselves embodied. Set in different countries, the stories, in short, are able to capture major social and political movements through single experiences immigrant communities face in new areas of settlement. “This is the story of everyone of us “he said “This is the story of human movements- something that has taken place since the beginning of time. The narrative is the best way of telling it because we all love stories. We are actually made up of them” he stressed. The book is available exclusively from contact@Khojawiki.org