Many were filled with hopes as high as Mahjoub's stars as they crossed the kala pani (the sea) making their way from India to Durban in southern Africa in the late 1800s. But dreams of a better life and the opportunity to save money and return to the village as 'success stories' were not to be for many who returned 'home' with less than they had started out with, and found that home was no longer the place they had left. Neither were they the same people. Caste had been transgressed, parents had died and spaces for reintegration closed as colonialism tightened its grip. Home for these wandering exiles was no more. "Inside Indian Indenture" is a timely and monumental work which makes a signal contribution to our understanding of South African Indian history. It tells a story about the many beginnings and multiple journeys that made up the indentured experience. The authors seek to trespass directly into the lives of the indentured themselves.
They explore the terrain of the everyday by focusing on religious and cultural expressions, leisure activities, power relations on the plantations, the weapons of resistance and forms of collaboration that were developed in conflicts with the colonial overlords. Fascinating accounts brimming with desire, skulduggery and tender mercies, as much as with oppression and exploitation, show that the indentured were as much agents as they were victims and silent witnesses. To read this book is to enter their world, to meet real people in all their ambiguities and complexities as they danced the uncertain edge between improvisation and resignation, to know the dreams that fill the souls of wandering exiles. Not only does it substantially revise the contours of South African Indian historiography, it starts to weave these themes into the mainstream of Southern African studies. It also situates itself in comparative work on indenture especially in Fiji and Mauritius and extends this work by making the South African experience of indenture available to other scholars. (November 2010 is the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship of indentured Indians in South Africa)