Asia in My Life
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Peter Nazareth and Bahadur Tejani, early contributors to Transition would later set the tradition of Afro-Indian writing with their novels, a tradition taken to new heights by Moyez G Vassanji. More than even black African writers, these three have been among those who have explored extensively and intensively the often problematic African-Indian relations. My own work, Wizard of the Crow, published in 2006, in which I tried to bring in Eastern philosophies into imaginative discourse with African realities was following in the footprints already made by these writers on the sands of the cultural scene in Africa.
It may be argued that in the specific cases of East and South Africa where there has always been a sizeable Asian immigrant presence, Afro-Asian dialogue was inevitable. But, in general, Africa and Asia, have met through the political entities like the Bandung conference; the non-alignment movement; the Afro-Asian Peoples solidarity organization; and at the intellectual practice, the long years of the Afro-Asian writers movement which staged conferences in various capitals of Asia and Africa.
I have always felt the need for Africa, Asia and South America to learn from each other. This south-to-south intellectual and literary exchange was at the center of the Nairobi Literature debate in the early sixties, and is the centerpiece of my recent theoretical explorations, in Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing. The debate brought about a literature syllabus that centered the study of Indian/Asian, Caribbean, African-American and South American writers along side those of the European tradition. The result was not to the liking of the neo-colonial regime in Kenya who accused me and my colleagues of replacing Shakespeare with Marxist revolutionaries from Asia, the Caribbean, Afro-America and Latin America, among them being Lu Xun, Kim Chi Ha, VS Naipaul, George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite, CLR James, Alejo Carpentier, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. Shakespeare was of course safe but we had committed the crime of placing him among other writers and changing the name of the department from English to Literature, which we thought the more appropriate designation of the study of literature without borders.
As the editor of the Gikuyu language journal Mutiiri, I have published the Gikuyu translations of some of the poetry of Ariel Dorfman and Otto Rene Castillo. Professor Gitahi who did the translations directly from Spanish into Gikuyu did his doctoral work on the Latin American literature. Gitahi was a product of the literature syllabus of the reorganized literature department of Nairobi University. His translation has facilitated direct Spanish-Gikuyu language conversation.
I would like to publish numerous translations from the languages of Asia and South America and you can call this a challenge to African, South American and Asian translators. More important I would like to see similar efforts at enabling conversations between African, Asian and South American languages. This also calls for new category of literary scholars who have studied a combination of languages from Asia, Africa and South America.
It is time to make the invisible visible in order to create a more interesting – and ultimately more creative and meaningful – free flow of ideas in the world. Satya Mohanty is quite right when he points out that “One of the many advantages of the present moment is that the long intellectual shadow of the Age of European Empire seems to be receding a bit, and we have remarkable opportunities to work across cultures to learn from one another.“
Mohanty’s call for the cultural interaction and interchange across borders – beyond the Eurocentric campus and our current notions of Comparative Literature – echoes in a forceful way and fresh manner the vision assumed and contained in the call for the abolition of the English Department made in Nairobi in 1969, the first steps in what would later become post-colonial theories and studies. Mohanty’s call for cross-regional comparative literary studies is a necessary and timely intervention on the path towards a genuine world literature.
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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