It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Lainy Malkani, author of Sugar, Sugar to Linda’s Book Bag today. Lainy has delved into the past and created a collection of short stories that reflect Indian voices. She has kindly agreed to tell us a bit about that process today in a fascinating guest post.
Sugar, Sugar is a contemporary collection of short stories which reveals a rich and culturally diverse history behind India’s migrant workers and one of the most abundant and controversial commodities in the world.
Inspired by historical documents between 1838 and 1917, and the living memories of the descendents of indentured workers, Sugar, Sugar, spans five continents, travelling through time uncovering inspiring tales of courage and resilience.
With sugar at its heart, this collection unveils lives rarely exposed in modern British literature and adds a new dimension to the history of sugar, post emancipation, whilst sharing a previously untold strand in the story of the making of contemporary Britain.
Making the Voices Heard
A Guest Post by Lainy Malkani
Recording Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas for BBC Radio 4 was quite an experience. I came across a network of people from my community that I had heard about but never met. I visited the Caribbean Hindu Cultural Society, where a group of elderly Indo-Caribbean people regularly met in Forest Hill, South London. They shared their stories of growing up in Guyana or British Guiana as it was known before independence. British Guiana was an unusual colony in the Caribbean. Located on the mainland of South America it was and still is the only English speaking country on the continent. It is where, sometime between 1838 and 1917, the ancestors of these elders along with those of my own family arrived from Calcutta and Madras, with contracts to work for five years on the sugar plantations . The aim was to fill the labour shortage brought about when emancipated African slaves left their hard labour in the sugar cane fields. At the end of their indentured contracts the Indians were told that they could return home. Some did go back to India but many others were enticed once again to remain and work for a further five years. It was cheaper to re-engage the workers that were already on the sugar estates than ship new workers to the colony.
Fast-forward a hundred years or so and people in the Caribbean are on the move again, this time to Britain to fill the shortage of labour in the NHS and on the transport systems in cities around the UK. Many Indo-Caribbean people mainly from Trinidad and Guyana arrived in the UK in the 1950’s and 1960’s and when they did the story of their ancestors almost disappears. They soon became categorised as ‘British Asians’, despite never having lived in India at all.
When I made Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas, I wanted to bring out this unique history into the open and give an opportunity for other Indo-Caribbean people to share their own stories and at the same time reveal a part of British history that was relatively unknown. However, once the programmes were aired, I was surprised to discover that they resonated with communities around the world.
That is when I decided to write Sugar, Sugar as a collection of short stories that stretched across five continents and to include stories from South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji and Trinidad where Indian communities shared this history. I decided to write a book because I felt that it would be a permanent addition to the narrative of Indian indentured migration.
Sugar, Sugar is inspired by historical archive and the memories of the descendent of indentured workers who shared their stories with me. It is a work of fiction because I found that there was a lack of first-hand accounts written by indentured Indians themselves. Most of the historical archive I discovered at the British Library was written by plantation owners, managers, a ship’s surgeon or the Protector of Immigrants. In my view, they revealed only one side of this story; the story of those who had an interest in preserving this system. I wanted to write from the Indian point of view.
Sugar, Sugar raises themes around identity and loss, preservation and friendship and is a mix of contemporary and historical stories. More than that, however I think Sugar, Sugar plays its part in telling a largely untold story of a fascinating period of British, Indian and Caribbean history.
About Lainy Malkani
Lainy Malkani is a London born writer, broadcast journalist and presenter with Indo-Caribbean roots. In 2013 she set up the Social History Hub to bring the stories of ‘unsung heroes’ in society to life. Her critically acclaimed two-part radio documentary for BBC Radio 4, Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas, inspired her to create this collection of short stories. She has written for the British Library, the Commonwealth and the BBC. She is married with two children and lives in North West London. Her cross-cultural roots; from Britain, India and Guyana, in the Caribbean, has been a great source of her work, both as a writer and journalist.
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