The Nature Of My Belongingness: Diaspora In M.G. Vassanji And The South Asian Novel In Canada

It is clear that the sense of unbelonging is not the same for all groups; for some it is a function of landscape, for others it is culture, for yet others it is race: “Belonging in any one place requires a judicious balancing of remembrance and forgetting. Writing on the discourses that inscribe the modern nation, ” it is observed by Bhabha in the following lines, “It is this forgetting […] that constitutes the beginning of the nations’s narrative . . . . It is through this syntax of forgetting –or being obliged to forget- that the problematic identification of a national people becomes visible”.

Nevertheless, Vassanji’s point above foregrounds the need to assess the extent to which Canada’s great promise of inclusion is effectively operating. The inclusion of Vassanji’s texts in Canadian courses reveals a desire to break with the institutional perpetuation of rigid categories and indicate the role that literature can play in moving ‘beyond’ such limits. On the one hand, the construction of Canadian literature as an inter-national body levels the field for writers and recognizes a commonality that is always differently expressed. As Canada continues to evolve, the inclusion of all kinds of immigrant writings (not only literary prize winners like Ondaatje, Mistry and Vassanji) may indicate the arrival of the great mosaic.

On the other hand, the shifting nature of the South Asian diaspora has drawn new and rigid borders sometimes impossible to trespass. Where is home? What is a nation? What ought to be considered national literature? These questions remain significant in Canada today. In writing on Vassanji, are thus confronted with the difficulty of defining belonging, and we are also faced with a need to defi ne, label, identify, and explain within given categories. These categories, however, more often than not tell us more about the critic’s own views on belonging than they do about the ideas of belonging expressed in the fiction itself. As Susheila Nasta has pointed out in a discussion about multiculturalism within a British context, despite the wide-ranging and often cross-cultural concerns of many of these writers, the literary establishment in Britain has persistently tended either to package those from mixed cultural or migrant postcolonial backgrounds into the convenient pockets of separate national traditions or alternatively to stitch them together according to racial derivation or country of origin, regardless of specific histories or individual preoccupations. Consequently the so-called “colonial”, “Commonwealth” or “postcolonial” links of these writers are heightened and the often significant differences between them subsumed by a reviewing practice that misleadingly levels out important contextual issues of history, politics, generation or location.

As a result, this research work, generally, discusses the nature of exile, nostalgia, memory, alienation, in-betweeness and identity crisis in the selected works of M G Vassanji. This study focuses on the selected works of M. G. Vassanji on the basis of post-coloniality and post-colonialism. This research will interrogate the migrant identity in Vassanji‟s novels and attempt to reveal how discourses of post-colonialism and narratology can help our reception of the themes of the selected works. The prose works bases on social realism are used as a mirror of the society in East Africa across several divides in order to explode questions of identity in a changing post-colonial and intercultural environment. Based on that, the following chapters for the study has been divided into five chapters.

The chapter Two titled “Mingling modes and moods: Self-Conscious attempts to Present History” in the novel The Gunny Sack is highlights of escape, wanderlust and rootlessness that afflict so many peoples in the Shamsi, a fictional device for "Ismaili" community in East Africa. The writer portrait soul-searching, self-realization, and rebirth through this novel. Dhanji Govindji, Salim's great-ancestor, flees the Shamsi community of Junapur, India, to Matamu, Zanzibar, for a better life. It also opens a window into the "dark past" of Salim Juma, which the world of changing Africa where Europe, Asia, and Africa meet. The meeting is a collision. The results are explosive, not only in the lives of men but also in the life of the whole continent of Africa. The two pasts - Salim's and that of the continent -in interaction form the knotty vertebrae of Vassanji's novel. In this regard, the novel also has usefulness as a reference book on the history and the political evolution of East Africa.

The chapter three titled “Blinks Unfailing: The Interplay of Past with the Present” In No New Land, Vassanji has noted depicting diverse incidents caused by racial segregation, investigates through the characters the mind of rootless, terrified and uncertain minority immigrants who are pitted against the cunning fanatic most. He needs to attract the regard of readers on the topics of exile, alienation, memory, sentimentality, identity, race, culture, tradition and group. Through this novel, Vassanji has informed about dismembering the Canadian multicultural mosaic relations by elements of migration, which is seen in the Lalani family, the grips of a big apprehension and perturbation in light of the fact that Nurdin Lalani, the leader of the family, has not returned home from work. In this novel, Vassanji endeavours to investigate the search through the character of Nurdin Lalani, has settled in Toronto, his father’s photograph hanging in the wall, symbolizes the past. Nurdin consciously averts his gaze from the photograph that is from his own past. His whole life is unsettled as his plugs into the present, into the licentious life of the West flouting all the values which the photograph represented. Finally, the writer, through his character acquires the mindset to acknowledge the past that he is able to accept the reality of his life in the present.

The chapter four titled “Sense of Belonging: Individuals to Clasp to Social Suavity” the novel, The Book of Secret represents M. G. Vassanji’s enigmatic novel The Book of Secrets (1994) certainly lives up to its name. Compiled of textual scraps, including the colonial administrator Alfred Corbin’s diary, the novel withholds many secrets, articulating a complex postcolonial vision while refusing closure on any number of issues, including its own narrative. Pius Fernandez of The Book of Secrets begins to read a diary leads belonging to one and Alfred Corbin, Governor of Uganda in the 1940s during the colonial period. His attempts to follow the ‘long and secretive trial’ of the diary leads him to his own past. As he finishes reading, he is reassured his roots. Nothing can sever his relationship with his adopted land, because he has become a part of its history. Vassanji specifies that the past, however enigmatic it may turn out to be, has to be confronted to make meaning out of the present.

The concluding chapter reveals that the sense of loss associated with the past is intensified in an immigrant, because past is not merely distanced in time for him, but also by space. Vassanji considers this attempt to capture the past before it fades into oblivion as his mission behind writing. This sensitivity to the past is no sign of stasis. Because Vassanji believes that only by unraveling the past, we can understand the present better. So, this spirit of enquiry takes him to the unrecorded annals of the history of his community. This re-creation of his community becomes an act of homage to the past. Hence he makes Salim of The Gunny Sack, Nurdin of No New Land, Pius Fernandez of The Book of Secrets, Ramji of Amriika, and Vikram Lall of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall looks back and acknowledges the past. The characters in the novel are from different class and gender and they are led by their painstaking search for job and social status.

18 March 2020
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