Asia in My Life
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
It was not all harmony all the time. The Indian community kept to itself, there was hardly any social interaction between us, except across the counters at the shopping center. Fights between African and Indian kids broke out, initiated by either side. The Indian dukawalla, an employer of Africans for domestic work and around the shops, was, more often than not, likely to hurl racially charged insults at his workers. Some of the insults entered African languages. One of the most insulting words in Gikuyu was njangiri. A njangiri of a man meant one who was useless, rootless, like a stray dog. Njangiri came to Gikuyu from Jangaal, the Sanskrit/Hindi word for wild: it would have been what the Indian employer was likely to call his domestic help. In the colonial times, in my area at least, I do not recall the tensions ever exploding into inter-communal violence.
The post-colonial scene presents a different picture. Time and again Indians and Indian owned stores have been targets of violence especially in times of crisis, mostly victims of looting. I am not sure if it’s the fact of their Indianness or the fact of their being a most visible part of the affluent middleclass. In such a case the line between the racial and class resentment is thin. Different in that sense is the case of Idi Amin’s Uganda, where hundreds of Asians were expelled from a country that had been their home for almost a century. In both the colonial and post-colonial era, social segregation, forced in the case of the colonial era, or a consequence of habit and history, has exacerbated tensions.
The colonial school system segregated Asian, European and African from each other and it was not until Makerere College that I had social interaction with Indians. Makerere was an affiliate of the University of London in Kampala, Uganda, where, until the advent of Idi Amin, racial relations were benign. Before its college status, Makerere used to be a place of post-secondary schooling for African students from British East Africa, but as Independence approached, the college opened its doors to a sizeable Indian student presence. That is when we started learning about each other’s different ways of life at a more personal basis. We shared dorms, classes, and the struggles for student leadership in college politics and sports. Leadership emerged from any of the multi-ethnic and multi-racial mix. Doing things together is the best teacher of race relations: one can see and appreciate the real human person behind the racial and ethnic stereotypes.
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Essays in this Forum
Rethinking the Global South
by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
From Indian Literature to World Literature: A Conversation with Satya P. Mohanty
by Rashmi Dube Bhatnagar and Rajender Kaur
Asia in My Life
by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
The Global South and Cultural Struggles: On the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization
by Duncan Mceachern Yoon
The Fault Lines of Hindi and Urdu
by Sanjay Kumar
Reframing Colonialism and Modernity: An Endeavour through Sociology and Literature
by Gurminder K. Bhambra
Varieties of Cultural Chauvinism and the Relevance of Comparative Studies
by Tilottoma Misra
Literature to Combat Cultural Chauvinism: A Response
by Shivani Jha
Is There an Indian Way of Thinking about Comparative Literature?
by E. V. Ramakrishnan
Modernity and Public Sphere in Vernacular
by Purushottam Agrawal
West Indian Writers and Cultural Chauvinism
by Jerome Teelucksingh
Oral Knowledge in Berber Women’s Expressions of the Sacred
by Fatima Sadiki