Sugar, Sugar - The Complaint

Last August, I received a letter from Arts Council England informing me that I had successfully applied for funding to create a project called Sugar, Sugar. The first part of the year long project was to write and publish a collection of short stories based on historical archive at the British Library and the memories of the living descendents of Indentured Indian sugar workers.

They were contracted to work on sugar plantations in former British colonies like Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji and Mauritius.

After I received the offer letter I set to work looking for inspiration for my stories. I sat for hours sifting through manuscripts, records and newspaper cuttings at the British Library. Eventually, I found a collection of letters written in 1884 by the Protector of Immigrants who was stationed in Natal, in what we now know as South Africa. It appeared to me that Mr L.A Mason was becoming more and more irritated by a troublesome Indian man who was trying to improve the lives of the sugar workers and their families.

The Complaint was inspired by these letters which can be found in a beautiful marble bound collection of records. Leafing through the thick paper it was still possible to smell the wood smoke, perhaps from a fire in the Protector of Immigrants parlour or from a pipe he would smoke as he contemplated the Indian man’s fate. It was this collection of letters inspired me to write, The Complaint.

The Complaint_Illustration_medium.jpg

Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas on BBC Radio 4

We are pleased to announce that this two-part series is being repeated at 11.30pm on June 16, 2016 (Episode 1) and 11.27pm on June 17, 2016 (Episode 2) and will be also available on demand on BBC iPlayer.

Sugar in My Blood, Episode 1

Lainy Malkani uncovers her family's roots on the sugar plantations of British Guiana

When you reach for the sugar bowl do you ever think where those sweet granules come from? In the first of two programmes, London-born journalist Lainy Malkani embarks on a quest to uncover her family's Indo-Guyanese roots on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

She learns how her ancestors were among the tens of thousands of poor indentured labourers shipped from India to work on the British-owned sugar estates - a practice that began after slavery was abolished in 1838 and continued well into the 20th century. They lived and laboured on plantations with quintessentially English names like Rose Hall and Albion.

When Jock Campbell, the Eton-educated son of the owners of Albion, first visited in 1932 he was shocked by the conditions he found. He asked the fearsome Scottish manager James Bee why the workers' lodgings were so much worse than those of the mules. He was told "Because mules cost money to replace."

Lainy hears firsthand accounts of life on the sugar plantations and the intense nostalgia workers felt for their Indian homeland. She also learns how some of the most famous West Indies cricketers, such as Clive Lloyd and Rohan Kanhai, began their careers on the cricket grounds of the Guyanese sugar estates.

And in a south London suburb, she joins numerous other Indo-Guyanese families as they commemorate the first generation of indentured labourers who went to the Caribbean.

She says, "It was sugar that brought my Indian ancestors to the Caribbean. It was the sugar plantations that defined their daily lives. And eventually it was what drove so many of my parents' generation to seek better lives abroad, such as here in Britain."

Presenter Lainy Malkani
Producer Mukti Jain Campion
A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.

Unexpected:

Unexpected: Continuing Narratives of Identity and Migration
Lainy Malkani

Ben Uri Gallery 17 February - 24 April 2016

I was thrown off course within minutes of arriving at the 'Unexpected:
Continuing Narratives of Identity and Migration', exhibition at the Ben Uri
Gallery, just off the famous Abbey Road. It was Tam Joseph's 'Handmade Map
of the World' that did it. The painting appeared pretty straight forward at
first glance, with its blue seas and oceans, great landmasses carved up into
sections - some large, some small, representing different countries of the
world with their borders intact. But, it was only until a fellow visitor
asked me to help her locate Israel that I realised things were not as they
should be. Our world order had been turned upside down.                   

For one thing Israel was in Central America, next to Senegal and Jordan.
Germany was located on the continent of Africa and China occupied great
swathes of North America. It got me thinking about my own country, or rather
countries, of origin. I say countries because sometimes when we migrate, we
leave one place we call home, settle down and then up sticks and move again.

In my case, that is three countries across three continents, spanning
roughly 170 years. The first is the Indian Sub-continent and the home of my
ancestors; the second is Guyana, a Caribbean country on the mainland of
South America, where my parents were born, and finally the UK on the
continent of Europe. The direct connection between all three is sugar, but
as migrants we are bound by so many other  things as well.  I drew an
imaginary line across the map, criss-crossing many unfamiliar boundaries.
India was now Spain, Guyana had replaced Romania and the UK was way off
course in South East Asia.  It led me to wonder how our geographical spaces
would have shaped world events today if Tam's interpretation of the world
were a reality.

The exhibition, in collaboration with Counterpoint Arts showcases the work
of other artists which are equally thought-provoking. Jasleen Kaur
challenges the senses with an installation that evokes the spiritual world
over commerce, finance and the law. She highlights, through her own
experiences as a Scottish Indian artist, the dichotomy between East and
Western values in the face of personal hardship. When tragedy strikes some
people call a lawyer to right a wrong, others a Guru to banish evil spirits
that linger in the air.

In all, fourteen contemporary artists based in Britain are brought together
for this exhibition with migrant stories from Afghanistan to the former
Zaire and they hang alongside older art by Jewish émigrés.

The Ben Uri Gallery is the perfect setting to challenge notions of identity
through migration. It is small, personal, warm and friendly and offers just
the kind of reception weary travellers in search of a safe haven would
welcome. It was set up in the ghettos of Whitechapel, East London in 1915 as
a place where immigrant Jewish artists could explore their creativity,
develop their art and exhibit their work. More than one hundred years later
this is still a key focus of the gallery's work except that today it
embraces artists from across the world, nurturing and supporting them as
they challenge perceptions of migration, turn notions of identity on its
head and inject new ideas drawn from their own personal experiences. 

Unexpected: Continuing Narratives of Identity and Migration continues until
April 24 2016

http://benuri.org.uk/

Lainy Malkani is a journalist and Director of the Social History Hub

The Hand Made Map of the World 2013  

The Hand Made Map of the World 2013  

Tam Joseph

Acrylic on board

© Tam Joseph

Lawyer Peter Herbert reflects on the extraordinary life of Tanoo Mylvaganam

When an old friend of mine, Peter Herbert, contacted me about the sad passing of a close friend and colleague, I was curious to find out more about her. During my research I discovered that Tanoo Mylvaganam was a determined woman with a strong commitment to social justice and equality. She was also one of the first black or Asian women to be called to the Bar. The year was 1983, when you couldn’t count on one hand other lawyers with her background.  Listen to the full story.

Source: http://www.socialhistoryhub.com/tanoo

Looking for Mr Dallas

I'm researching the story of William Dallas, a printer in British Guiana in the 1850's. He printed newspapers amongst other things along with a Mr Baum from Pennsylvania in a post office in Georgetown.

There is little to go on except that he was described as a 'light mulatto', and was trained in Scotland. Who was he? I'm hoping the British Library can shed some more light.

 

Hear my radio interview on BBC London 94.9fm with Robert Elms

Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas has been so warmly received by listeners and contributors, it really has taken me by surprise. Over the last week, I have been contacted by people all over the world fascinated by the story of Indian indentured sugar workers who migrated in the 19th century to Guyana, then known as British Guiana. The story was told through the memories of their descendants living and working in London, including my own. 

On Saturday I was interviewed by Robert Elms, on BBC London 94.9 where I talked to him about Demerara, a region in Guyana where the story of Indo-Caribbean migration began.

 

 

RADIO TIMES

Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas on BBC Radio 4

Friday 18th September 2015  

11am - 11:30am 

BBC Radio 4 FM, BBC Radio 4 LW 

1/2Journalist Lainy Malkani delves into her family’s roots to discover the bittersweet history of Indian-dentured labourers on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.  In the first of two programmes, she learns how her ancestors were among the thousands of impoverished workers shipped from India to the British-owned estates - a practice that began after slavery was abolished in 1838 and continued into the 20th century.

CAST AND CREW

Presenter    Lainy Malkani

Producer     Mukti jain Campion

Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas | Series 1 - 1. Sugar in My Blood | Radio Times.png

Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas on BBC Radio 4

Please add this date to your diary and share with your networks....

11am Fridays 18th and 25th September and on iPlayer for 30 days

Two documentaries in which I unover the history of the indentured Indian labourers who were brought to work on British sugar plantations in the Caribbean and whose descendants, later came to settle in Britain

 


Podcast Series 1 Completed!

The first series of the Social History Hub podcast has just come to an end with ten great stories from individuals who are helping to redefine the way in which we live our lives. 

True lives have always been a fascination to me. The stories that emerge when you take some time to listen to people are amazing and you never know what you will find out. Take, the Battle of Waterloo, a memorial is unveiled today and some of the descendents of the soldiers who fought on the battlefield will be telling their personal stories, perhaps for the first time. 

I’ve just read an article telling the story of dentures made from the teeth of dead soldiers on the battlefield. It’s a grim true story and the pictures are equally unsavoury, but if you can stomach it, the article is worth a read.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33085031

It reminds me of my podcast interview with the author Jamie Rhodes, who created a fictional world around the lives of those who might have collected those teeth on the battlefield. His collection of stories called, ‘Dead Men’s Teeth’, recreates lives dating back four hundred years and enables us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who never had the time, nor money to record their own lives, no matter how grim.  

Thankfully, that isn’t the case anymore and we are able to access information about the lives, struggles and achievements of people around the world relatively easily but of course someone needs to write them down or document them for future generations.

With that in mind I want to thank all the contributors to the first series of the Social History Hub podcast. Without their willingness to talk about their personal lives, the experiences they share with others would be lost. I won’t name them asthey’re all amazing but go to http://www.socialhistoryhub.com/podcasts/  and see who you identify with the most. Or indeed, just enjoy their story.

I’ll be back in a few months with a Summer Festivals special series, talking to the founders about the trials and tribulations of getting a festival off the ground.

Lainy