Moving Cultures, Transcultural Encounters
My talk will focus on two novels by Sultan Somjee, a fourth generation Asian African born and raised in Kenya, now located in Canada. Somjee’s first novel Bead Bai (2012) engages with the emankeeki, a beaded ornament worn by married Maasai women. He reinserts into Eastern African history the forgotten life narratives of a group of Indian women known as ‘Bead Bais’ who enabled the flow of coloured beads between the dukawallahs and the indigenous tribes that impacted the expressions of African aesthetics. In his second novel Home Between Crossing, (2016) Somjee engages with the kanga (‘the cloth that speaks wisdom’) as a trope to explore the meeting of the cultures of land and oceanic migrations. I will explore how Somjee’s work offers a fascinating reconstruction of the transnational life histories of Ismaili Khoja women from India to East Africa from the early 20th century to the 1960s, and then the double diaspora to Canada in the post-independence period. My interest is in Somjee’s use of the tropes of material artefacts such as the bandhani (Khoja), emankeeki (Maasai) and kanga (Swahilli) to explore an imaginative space drawn from the interface of feminine art, aesthetics and ideas of both settler Asian and African indigenous cultures. I will particularly focus on how Sultan draws from the oral, the visual and the embodied to address complexities of gendered and racialized Asian-African race relations under British colonialism and African nationalism.
Mala Pandurang is Professor and Vice Principal at Dr. BMN College, Mumbai (affiliated to SNDT Women’s University). She is a postdoctoral alumna of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (AvH). She has taught as Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and is also a recipient of the Charles Wallace In-UK Research grant. She has also received a Major research grant from the University Grants Commission (New Delhi). She is the Reviews Editor of the Journal of South Asian Diaspora (Taylor and Francis) and series editor of Postcolonial Lives (Brill). Her areas of research are postcolonial writing, diaspora theory and gender studies and she has published extensively on the same. In 2012 she received the SNDT Women’s University ‘Maharshi Karve Utkarshta Shikshak Puraskar’ (Best Teacher Award) from the Governor of Maharashtra.