The Gunny Sack James Ocita, Phd department of Literature Makerere University

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Transnational Movements, the Unhomely and the Politics of Belonging in Peter Nazareth’s In a Brown Mantle and M. G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack

James Ocita, PhD

Department of Literature

Makerere University

Postcolonial Asian East African fiction chronicles the arrival of Asians in the western Indian Ocean and how their association with British colonialism later triggers post-independence political backlashes, dispersing the group to metropolises across Europe, the US and Canada. This fiction shows that the demarcation of the western Indian Ocean littoral into post-colonial nation-states brings with it new regimes of citizenship and belonging, displacing old practices of migrancy and settlership, as extensive and untrammelled transoceanic and cross-border movements, especially under colonialism, give way to greater border controls under the new dispensation. The complex web of mobility, exchange and transnational affiliations that unfolds against the backdrop of the transition from colonialism to independence complicates notions of home and national belonging. Representations of these processes in Peter Nazareth’s In a Brown Mantle (1972) and M. G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack (1989) foreground the nation as a site where nationalist politics and diaspora consciousness jostle for the determination of Asians’ subjecthood and legitimacy in the emerging post-independence nation-states.

I engage with how the two novels construct the Western Indian Ocean as a site for the confluence of African, Asian and European cultural streams, highlighting how the different modes of performing cultural identity within or astride national borders is structured on tensions between filiation and affiliation. This idea echoes Werner Sollors’s argument that all American ethnic literature, whether African American or Jewish American, etc, is structured alike, by the tension between filiation and affiliation. Implicit here is the idea that modern identity has more to do with the fact of being a minority than with the actual place one’s ancestors came from. Such a view is not oblivious to the fact that diasporic identity functions differently from that of autochthons and how each category relates to the nation-state. But it seems that for both, nationalist pedagogy, with its clarion call to national integration, presents with the imperatives for compliance.

Published in 1972, In a Brown Mantle is remarkable for its accurate prediction of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians later that same year. Emerging a year after Bahadur Tejani’s Day After Tomorrow at the height of Africanisation,1 the novel complicates Tejani’s earlier representation of Asians’ eagerness to claim belonging and their plea for the recognition, offering instead a model of post-colonial citizenship based on Asians’ evident contribution to nation-building. Nazareth emphasises a separate Goan identity rooted in the group’s association with the civil service as an implicit rejection of the homogenising Indian category commonly perceived as a race of exploiters, whose singular obsession is the nation’s economy. The novel is set largely in Damibia, Nazareth’s fictitionalised Uganda, with a cyclic plot that ends as it begins with the news about the assassination attempt on Robert Kyeyune, the country’s first post-independence Prime Minister, the fictional figure of A.M. Obote. Constructed as a fictional memoir, the novel relates the narrator’s confession of his entanglement in political corruption and a nation-building process that has taken a wrong turn. Narrated by Joseph D’Souza from London where he is exiled, the novel explores how the colonial history of Goans and their exploits under Portuguese and British colonialists shape their orientations towards nation-building in the narrative present. This problematic affiliation is emblematic of the "perpetual exile that Goans seem unable to end", as Nazareth, a second-generation migrant, captures in his reflections on editing an anthology of Goan Literature (374). As with the Goan presence in the country generally, the political corruption, ineptitude and the atmosphere of mutual suspicion between the Goans and Africans are constructed as postcolonial conditions. The novel takes stock of what it means for Goans to inhabit a heterogeneous, post-independent Damibia, relating – without excusing – the history of their association with British colonialism, while emphasising that the loyalty that a majority of them express towards the British Empire is tempered by notable cases of contribution to anti-colonial nationalism.

Similarly, The Gunny Sack amplifies the themes of mobility in the Western Indian Ocean, depicting Asians’ later dispersion to imperial metropolises as post-independence political backlashes. Like Nazareth, Vassanji constructs Asians’ experiences in East Africa as a postcolonial condition. Narrated from Boston, United States, where the narrator, Salim Juma, the great-grandson of the first-generation patriarch, Dhanji Govindji, is exiled, The Gunny Sack constructs the “West” as the preferred migration destination for Asians. Despite Asians’ long sojourn in East Africa, which in many cases becomes permanent settlements, the region, as in Nazareth’s novel, doubles as a connecting node on a complex migratory trajectory that begins from Junapur, India in 1880s. A member of Shamsis, a fictitious esoteric sect of Islam, Dhanji leaves Junapur, the ancestral birthplace of the sect, as part of a complicated exodus, impelled by inter-community conflicts that result from the establishment of the sect some three centuries earlier.2 His choice of destination, as with the rest of the Shamsis, is not accidental, for the sect is founded on the prophecy about the sun one day rising from the west, with a promise that its members should “wait for a saviour" (Vassanji 7). The novel constructs the westward journey partly as a spiritual quest for the long-awaited saviour, who three centuries later is yet to arrive.3 The Shamsis wander all over the East African coast throughout the colonial era. At the height of post-independence political pressures, many of them flee the region to imperial metropolises, continuing with what the novel depicts as their west-bound journey.

In designating these narratives as "postcolonial” instead of the more specific “immigrant genre”, as Rosemary Marangoly George proposes in her reading of The Gunny Sack, I recognise not only their inextricable link with the history of European colonisation across large parts of the Indian Ocean world and the resultant anti-colonial nationalisms but also their emergence during particular moments in the national histories of the region. George herself acknowledges that the immigrant genre, which, for her, is typified by the aforementioned novel, belongs to the wider gamut of postcolonial literature, generated as it is by experiences of global colonialism, and as such forms part of postcolonialism and decolonising discourse. For George, what is distinctive about the genre, besides its construction of immigration to the “West” and the straddling of multiple locations, is its characteristic “disregard for national schemes” through its proclivity towards spatio-temporal boundaries that are in excess of the nation’s and, especially, its detached treatment of conditions of homelessness, while privileging “the metaphor of luggage”, both spiritual and material, in ways that make it seem apolitical (72-75). I deviate from George’s otherwise useful separation of the immigrant genre from postcolonial literature in recognition of the significance of nationalist politics that generate these narratives, while simultaneously remaining cognisant of the transnational and global networks in which the diasporic subjects they represent are caught up and how these complicate notions of "home" and belonging.

More importantly, I do so to show that these narratives are products of particular nationalist politics that are themselves implicated in wider imperial and anti-imperial nationalisms that seek to offer competing universalisms. Produced by a combination of local and transnational forces, In a Brown Mantle and The Gunny Sack grapple with a complex web of national and global politics. In the two novels, the transition from colonialism to political independence – and the attendant disintegration of the western Indian Ocean world into the emerging nations-states – has far-reaching socio-political ramifications for Asians. These historical and political developments demarcate, in Vijay Mishra’s terms, the "old" and "new" diasporas, which, as products of maritime mercantile capitalism and the post-1960s global migrations, respectively, inhabit two different kinds of locations. Mishra points out that the subjects of the old diaspora, in the colonial or post-colonial spaces they occupy, are implicated in a complex relationship with other (formerly) colonised host/national peoples, while those of the new diaspora, having entered metropolises of the former imperial masters or other white settler countries negotiate their subjecthood within a multicultural paradigm along with other immigrants from former colonies (13).

In the post-colonial climate in which Nazareth’s and Vassanji’s novels emerge, the desire for, and the question of, national belonging and Afro-Asian engagements are shaped by two interrelated ideological pursuits – one local and the other global – that the postcolonial governments in Damibia/Uganda and Tanzania embarked on shortly after independence. The local one comprised programmes of economic nationalism, which in Uganda becomes popularly known as Africanisation, designed largely to mitigate Asians’ stronghold on the economy (cf. Mamdani’s "Ugandan Asian Expulsion"). The global one was an offshoot of the loose anti-imperial Third World alliance born out of the 1955 Bandung Conference, which in both countries, involved a move to the left. The two ideological pursuits are articulated in the Arusha Declaration (1967) and the Common Man’s Charter (1969), which the immediate post-independence governments in Tanzania and Uganda, respectively, passed to present to their citizenry popular versions of socialism as a vital initial step toward the actualisation of the full meaning of independence and the realisation of national ideals.4 Each of the two documents crystallises the respective government’s policy resolutions, articulating proposals for national service. The so-called Asian exodus of the late 1960s and early 1970s that Nazareth’s and Vassanji’s novels imagine is mainly fuelled by these ideological pursuits. Thus, for a more productive reading, I draw attention to these political developments as motivating impulses behind the two novels, insisting on the need to read them against the context in which they emerge.

In the three sections that follow, I explore, first, the early history of Asians in East Africa and the implications of the transition from colonialism to political independence. This transition produces new diasporas in the west, with complex relationships with the old one, which is embroiled in a problematic relationship with the home/host nations. Second, I explore how the experience of migration and the complex affiliations that result from it complicate questions of belonging, especially in the post-independence dispensation. Third, I turn to how the plotting of the two novels represents a search for a workable model of post-colonial citizenship. I conclude that Asians’ victimisation in the wake of the immediate post-independence nationalist fervour, are shown to stem less from popular perception towards the diasporic subjects as vestiges of imperialism than from their failure to adjust to the demands of the post-independence dispensation.
From the western Indian Ocean to the nation-states

In a Brown Mantle and The Gunny Sack paint a long history of circulations in the western Indian Ocean, which predates European colonialism by several centuries. This history, in light of Erik Gilbert’s periodisation, can be demarcated into the period from 1000-1750 with Arabs, Persians, Indians, Chinese and the Portuguese as the main actors. Although Gilbert characterises this period as marked by minimal regional processes, some of its enduring legacies such as Islam and the Swahili culture have endured to the present time. The second distinct period, marked by Europe’s capitalist expansion, is framed by the rise and, eventually, the collapse of mercantile capitalism and, with it, new patterns of imperialism – dates from 1750–1960. Gilbert credits British colonialism across the region for galvanising regional processes for more intensive cultural productions during the period in question, with empire-building, migration, and long-distance trade occurring on a much more dramatic scale. The third in Gilbert’s periodisation is the post-independence era of nation-states, dating from the early 1960s, with the dawning of political independence, to the present. This period, besides registering the emergence of the nation-state in East Africa, also marks the end of the great age of steam ships and dhows. The discovery and exploitation of oil in the Persian Gulf further introduces new migration patterns and an era of air travel, which further quicken the dissolution of the western Indian Ocean as an integral geographic unit, with the influx of people from outside the region (Gilbert 17).

Gilbert’s historiography, in emphasising the intensity of cultural creation under the British, risks obscuring how mercantile and colonial capitalism from 1750s to early 1960s drastically changed the terms of engagement among the different peoples in the region. Writers such as Amitav Ghosh have argued accordingly that European colonialism actually presented a disruptive influence on the cosmopolitanism that existed in the region. Ghosh maintains that colonial domination, far from galvanising meaningful cultural conversations, actually forestalled them. Thus, in the field of culture, the period of decolonisation represented "attempts to restore and recommence the exchanges and conversations that had been interrupted by the long centuries of European imperial dominance” (37). Ghosh’s view on the resumption of this "interrupted cosmopolitanism" as the “necessary and vital counterpart of the nationalist idiom of anti-colonial resistance” resonates with the spirit of Bandung – or its brainchild, the Non-Aligned Movement – in its denunciation of all forces of imperialism.5 Rather than spawning this harmony or cosmopolitanism, the Movement, Ghosh contends, was "an institutional aspect of a much broader and older cultural and political tendency” (38). Animated by desires and hopes for a certain kind of universalism and a continuance of Afro-Asian cultural exchange, the Bandung Conference and Non-Aligned Movement after it sought to ensure that the cosmopolitanism of the old Indian Ocean world lives on in the post-colonial moment of the nation-states.

In a Brown Mantle and The Gunny Sack show that the practicability of this grand vision rests, on the one hand, on how Asians view their destiny and negotiate the critical question of affiliation in the post-independence moment and, on the other, on how the nation-states react to their presence. Given the diaspora’s association with British colonialism and their orientation towards the UK, the transition from colonial domination to political independence becomes increasingly significant. Drawing on what he regards as a central, yet hitherto unacknowledged, connection between colonialism and diasporisation, Ato Quayson adds an important dimension to understanding the regional processes and inter-racial engagements facilitated by colonialism. Colonial space-making through the instrumentalisation of diaspora, Quayson argues, beyond simply establishing and demarcating a geographical reality projects particular socio-political ethos upon such spaces. Most importantly, colonial politics, he points out, involved altering pre-existing relations among local groups over whom it established control (245). The two novels show that the steady intensification of diasporisation and the simultaneous weakening of Afro-Asian engagements stem largely from the racial consciousness inculcated by colonialism as part of its modality of control.

In a Brown Mantle and The Gunny Sack thus strive to put in perspective the history of Asians under colonialism and their entry into the post-independence moment. The two novels challenge prevailing perceptions of Asians as colonial stooges and the concomitant post-independence politics that brand them as vestiges of colonialism and, as such, as objects of further decolonisation processes. They offer more redeeming narratives of Asians’ purchase on the nation-states in the region to legitimate their claims of belonging and citizenship. Writing in the wake of post-independence political backlashes, Nazareth and Vassanji grapple with issues that complicate Afro-Asian engagements both under colonialism and after political independence. The logic of their emplotment encourages us to read the novels as works generated by the tensions in the new heterogeneous, post-independence nation-states.

Nazareth’s novel presents a long flashback of Goa’s history of colonial domination, which accounts for Goans’ presence of in East Africa and rationalises their political loyalty and orientation towards the British Empire. The Goan seafarers, who leave Goa first for British India and, later, East Africa, are shown to follow the routes charted by their successive imperial masters. Their mobility and shifting allegiances are constructed both as signs of, and subterfuges against, their vulnerability in the face of the vagaries of imperialism. The novel constructs Goa’s vicissitudes as determining Goan character as captured in this condensed history of the land:

Hardly anybody paid any attention to Goa until India decided a few years ago to re-conquer it from the Portuguese who had ruled it for four hundred and fifty years. The world cried "Aggression" against India. Then the world started crying "Aggression" on behalf of India against China who, it was said, had attacked India at the border on the pretext that the land was originally Chinese. Meanwhile, having got used to the idea of being Indian once again instead of Portuguese, Goans started wondering what it would be like to be Chinese. (Nazareth 2-3)

In a geopolitical climate where allegiances are ever shifting, the Goans quickly learn the costliness and futility of resisting such onslaughts. Exposed to unrelenting colonial aggressions, they learn the expedience of yielding to colonial authority with a lasting sense of fatalism, opting for security. The novel implicates the efficiency of the propaganda machinery of the British colonialists, in cohort with the tendency of the Goans themselves to kowtow to the former, for the latter’s failure to realise that they are in Eastern Africa due to shortage of opportunities in Goa – itself a colonial condition – not out of the benevolence of their colonial masters (4-5). Nazareth attributes this loss of perspective to Goans’ servitude, a condition of their long history of imperial domination.

The vulnerability of Goans and their loyalty to successive colonial masters shape their migratory trajectories. Abala and Zindere – Nazareth’s fictional codes for Entebbe and Kampala – are just two nodes along a winding circuit that begins from Goa and, through Bombay, winds up in London. What sustains this transnational migration pattern is the promise of better opportunities that Empire extends but seems unable to deliver on. D’Souza’s father leaves Bombay for Abala where he, like those who had preceded him, joins the British colonial Civil Service. The reason for this choice is said to be “embedded in the bitter history of our race”, a "history of conquests and reconquests – rule by Hindu empire-builders, Moslem imperialists, and finally Portuguese" (Nazareth 3). Subjection to this long chain of colonial domination conditions the Goans to embrace collaboration as a subterfuge against powerful adversaries, believing as they do that their very survival depended on how wisely they negotiate their loyalty. As such, forging anti-colonial alliance with Africans against the British colonialists in keeping with the politics advocated for by D’Souza and Pius Cota – a Goan nationalist from Mosaki, Azingwe (Nazareth’s fictional codes for Nairobi, Kenya) – could not have been more un-Goan.

The novel shows that the desire for opportunity, stability and safety that brings Goans to Damibia is undermined by their primary loyalty to Goa and sympathy towards the British colonialists at the expense of identifying with Damibia’s anti-colonial struggle. This loyalty and sympathy in the Goan psyche are inextricably linked and are generated by, their self-perception as immutable colonial subjects. D’Souza’s father, for one, in drawing Pius Cota’s attention to the need for loyalty towards the British, asks the young radical nationalist who seeks to rally his fellow Goans against British colonialism, “whether, as an immigrant race, we could bite the hand that fed us what we could not obtain at home." Articulating a sojourner’s consciousness, the older D’Souza wonders "whether an immigrant race could get involved in somebody else’s fight" (Nazareth 11). This acknowledgement of gratitude, and the concomitant loyalty towards British imperialism that it produces, undermines Goans’ participation in nationalist struggle and claim to belonging in the post-independence Damibia. Thus, the transition to political independence shatters the old colonial order in which they had invested so much faith, heightening their anxiety. Written at the height of Africanisation and the resultant upsurge in the “exodus” of Asians to imperial metropolises,6 the novel is motivated by the urgency to relate the story of how Goans awaken from colonial servitude to the realities of post-independence politics as they adjust from their sense of selfhood as colonial subjects to post-colonial citizens. In D’Souza and Cota, the novel showcases Goans’ contribution to the process of nation-building.

Unlike Nazareth, who constructs Goans’ migratory trajectory as an expedient response to successive waves of imperial onslaughts, Vassanji imagines that of the Shamsis – their quest for the west (Africa being the most immediate westerly destination) – as having both spiritual and economic dimensions. Besides the interest in the long-awaited saviour, Shamsis’ journey across the Indian Ocean is also driven by tales of riches that continued to reach Junapur from Zanzibar. Salim remembers that "men returned from Zanzibar invariably rich" (Vassanji 8). Dhanji yields to the allure and leaves Junapur for the island. As the hub of commerce in the western shores of the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is a thriving cosmopolitan site. Dhanji’s first impression of it is that of "a dream city suddenly rising from the ocean, with its brilliant, luxuriant verdure, the shimmering white of the Arab houses in the foreground, the numerous dhows… of different flags in its harbour" (Vassanji 8). The novel constructs the exchange between the subcontinent and Zanzibar to be centuries old. Dhanji’s arrival on the island in the late nineteenth century is preceded by those of other migrants who, over the centuries, voyaged across the ocean to partake of the lucrative trade in slaves, spices and other precious commodities that the island boasts.

With the ease of mobility that the western Indian Ocean region affords, Dhanji soon leaves Zanzibar for Matamu on the mainland. He capitalises on the diasporic network that the region boasts by contacting the local mukhi – the religious/cultural head of the Shamsis – to help him settle in this new location (Vassanji 10). In Vassanji’s fictitious scheme, the mukhi, or the Shamsis community generally, in Peter Simatei’s expression “provides the centre that enables a re-enactment of Indian identity and is therefore the symbolic link with mother India” (87). Ironically, however, it is the Matamu mukhi, Ragavji Devraj, who, in his endeavour to help Dhanji establish himself, sets him up with an African former slave woman, Bibi Taratibu, who eventually bears him a son, Huseni, the narrator’s grandfather. The Dhanji-Taratibu liaison is emblematic of the widespread pattern of miscegenation in the region, which, with the consolidation of diasporic presence, attracts strong outcry from India, resulting in the sending of "missionaries" to the region to keep the community in line (Vassanji 11). Dhanji, from a combination of pressures from his community and his own growing prosperity, marries Fatima, an Indian-Zanzibari woman, who bears the rest of their other children.

The Gunny Sack plots the vicissitudes and wanderings of the Govindjis across the East African coast, with several of them ending up in the West. The family’s history, as part of the wider Asian experience in East Africa, is contained in the eponymous gunny sack that Ji Bai, Dhanji’s daughter-in-law, bequeaths to Salim. When Salim receives the sack after Ji Bai’s death, he finds inside it an assortment of paraphernalia from which he is able to piece together the family’s troubled biography. The gunny sack, as Derek Wright maintains, emerges in the narrative as a confluence of memory and imagination, history and fiction. This intersection emerges as an important site from which the past is invoked to legitimate the present. Wright highlights that the sack’s nickname, "Shehrbanoo" – or "Shehru" as Salim shortens it – conflates Scheherazade and Shahryar, respectively the narrator and the narratee of Arabian Nights. In this tale compilation, Scheherazade faces imminent death in keeping with Shahryar’s daily ritual of marrying a new virgin and having her beheaded the next day. The wily Scheherazade postpones her death indefinitely by regaling her heartless husband-king with thrilling tales that she tactfully leaves unfinished night after night under the pretext of having run out of time with dawn fast-approaching. Each subsequent day the king spares Scheherazade’s life so that she can finish the tale only for her to repeat the same strategy the next night. A thousand and one nights later, a much humanised and wiser Shahryar spares Scheherazade’s life and marries her, having had three children with her in the course of those long nights.

Wright aptly observes that the nickname “Shehrbanoo” connotes the simultaneity of the sack’s roles as the narrator and the narrated. Each object in the sack has biographical exploits that make it a repository of the memory of the Govindjis’ early experience on the coast. In Wright’s term’s, "the gunny sack itself constitutes the history that it memorialises" (126). The sack gains significance in the narrative in the way it resists manifold attempts by the Govindjis to destroy it in their attempt to sever themselves their unsavoury past. But the pressure to break with the past is matched by the capacity of the same to perpetuate itself by virtually becoming the source of its own sustenance. In an interview with Chelva Kanaganayakam, Vassanji describes the unease that association with the past stirs in Asians after arriving in the West as an “immigrant syndrome.” Its remedy, Vassanji suggest, is to acknowledge the past, in order that it may become real (25). For Salim, who is keen to piece together the contained memory, the survival of the gunny sack, like that of Scheherazade, depends on its capacity to satisfy that need.

The anxiety that the Govindjis have about their past stems largely from their attempt to escape traces of black ancestry in the family. In his early endeavour to grapple with the “stain”, Dhanji forbids contacts between Huseni and his African mother in order to maintain the family’s "respectability”, resulting in the son’s permanent estrangement from home (Vassanji 22). In his futile search for his disappeared son, Dhanji traverses the plains and coastal towns in the western Indian Ocean, exhausting all his fortunes in the quest before encroaching on the community’s funds entrusted to his care as the mukhi. His fruitless journeys in search of Huseni become a plotting device in the novel. Wright reads Dhanji’s appropriation of the community’s fund symbolically as the "siphoning off [of] part of India in pursuit of the piece of Africa he has engendered, the Africa in himself" (135). The patriarch pays the ultimate penalty for this indiscretion, which not only leaves his already impoverished family wallowing in even deeper desperation but also cuts them off from their community. Later, the Govindjis are forced to change their family name to Hasham to escape the "double shame of sin against community and… God" (Vassanji 138). Their wanderings underscore the ease of mobility in the old western Indian Ocean world and the attendant economic possibilities for which the Asians, as in Nazareth’s novel, credits the British (Vassanji 31). The progress of diasporic subjects within the colonial economy is dependent on their position as a buffer between European colonialists and Africans, which encourages their perception as part of the larger “success story” of colonialism.

The coming of political independence, however, turns the table against the Asians. The now-sovereign nation-state does not only circumscribe cross-border movements that colonialism had eased but also injects new nationalist ideologies and political ideals, unsettling the old colonial order. Where the British colonialists prized Asians’ middle-man role in the economy, the new post-independence government, with its commitment to socialism, now sees them as exploitative capitalists and vestiges of colonialism. The social insularity of the Asians further exacerbates popular perception of them as an alien presence.7 Consequently, they are viewed as threats to the independence of the new nation. As part of the remedy, the nationalisation of their properties, following the Arusha Declaration, replicates Africanisation initiatives that generate much of the tension in Nazareth’s In a Brown Mantle. Where Dhanji had revelled over Asians’ success under the British, Hassan Uncle now laments in the wake of TANU’s nationalisation drive: “We are washed out” (Vassanji 242). Uttered by Hassan, whose contempt for Tanzania’s independence is undisguised, the lament carries a twist of irony. The novel suggests that independence calls for the kind of realignment that most Asians are unprepared or unwilling to make.

Vassanji’s novel constructs the Declaration as just another version Africanisation politics which, in Uganda, culminates in the 1972 expulsion. The parallel between the two political developments becomes evident in the way they galvanise the Asian exodus of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Focusing on the expulsion as the culmination of Africanisation, Salim remarks that it "cracked our world open like an egg” (Vassanji 246). Underscoring how the expulsion re-orients the Ugandan Asians, he further elaborates:

There was a world, outside this egg, that you could escape to. Previously, even less than a year ago, going there was like going to the moon: only a few brave souls went to its alien loneliness and survived precariously. Only a few months ago the pious would tell you about the moral degeneracy of the West. Now there were Ugandan Asians in India, Pakistan, UK, US, Canada and Australia. (Vassanji 246-67)

The anxieties that post-independence Africanisation politics leaves in its wake disperse Asians to destinations across imperial metropolises and the subcontinent. Imperilled by his agitation for political reform, Salim, for his part, flees Dar es Salaam for Lisbon and eventually Boston. His family – mother, wife and daughter – migrates to New York. Despite the political tenor of these flights, however, Vassanji, remarkable for his aversion to oversimplification, simultaneously draws attention to their personal underpinnings. In Salim’s case, for instance, exile is also a flight from marriage, from “an impossible domestic situation… like [his] grandfather, Huseni… and even his father Dhanji Govindji who went to look for him" (Vassanji 265). Through this conflation of the personal and the political, the novel, in Salim’s desire for an end to these repetitious flights, gropes for closure. But there remains a lingering unease that even the new location will continue to deal the restlessness that impels him to flee Tanzania, for double displacement, as Tina Steiner argues, far from mitigating the disorientation and anxiety about migration, exacerbates it as it signifies a failure to assert belonging (126-27).

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