Chit Dukhira’s ‘Magnum opus’
Chit Dukhira’s Indians in India, Mauritius & South Africa surely represents the crowning glory of his career, his ‘Magnum opus’ if one may say so. In the author’s own words, ‘This book is a labour of love.’
Indeed, one cannot but fully agree. Even a mere glance at the book cannot but impress: of coffee table book size, it is lavishly and elegantly produced, starting with ‘indians’ featuring in bold, golden letters in the devanagri motif on the front cover. Its nearly 570 pages are contained within rust-coloured hardcovers with an equally solid back, and clearly weighing in at a level (use both hands!) commensurate with the very informative and rich contents, which should make it a collector’s item.
Clearly, not only love but lot of hard work has gone into the making of this tome, and this matches the author’s own life story so far. No more need be said about him than that, having completed a successful career as Town Clerk, he is well-known as an expert in local government about which he has written extensively. He is also reputed as a social and political activist, the latter at both local and national levels, and this is reflected in his initiating several forums (e.g. Selex, ODI) and in his numerous articles and books.
To come back to the latest book, it can be said that it adds to the expanding field of Indian Diaspora studies and is a complement to The Encyclopaedia of Indian Diaspora (2006) edited by Brij V. Lal of the Australian National University. While the latter publication is truly encyclopaedic in that it is ‘the first comprehensive survey of Indian communities around the world’, Chit Dukhira’s work is its equivalent for Indians in Mauritius and offers a panoramic view of the Indian communities in a few other countries such as South Africa, Reunion, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Trinidad & Tobago. The author has travelled extensively during the three years that he has researched and collected material for the book, meeting and interacting with a host of academicians, scholars, historians and so on.
Like Brij Lal’s volume, it makes for easy and delightful reading, what with the double column pages, marginal notes and photographs, and copious footnotes. Starting with a section on Mahatma Gandhi who can be said to have initiated the true emancipation of the Indian Diaspora by his struggle in South Africa, the book goes on to give a good summary of India from a historical, political and developmental perspective. These two sections set the tone and the context of the Indian immigration that was to transform Mauritius, going into much detail about all aspects of that important dimension of our history which we cannot afford not be interested in knowing.
The crucial steps of the struggle for emancipation are covered, weaving in workers’ movements as the country’s emerging social and political leaders marched towards Independence. These are supplemented by highlighting the contributions of not only the political intelligentsia, but several other intellectuals and families, with their engagements on the agricultural, economic, social, cultural and religious fronts as they realized the needs of the Indian community in these diverse areas.
There are several annexes, as well as a good index and bibliography for those who would want to delve deeper into specific topics. There is just one little but important matter of detail to which the author’s attention must be drawn: in the ‘Author’s Note’, page 7, the last line of Part I reads: ‘Pakistan…the seventh …world’s largest territory…’ whereas further down under the subheading ’India, Mauritius…’ the first line reads: ‘India, the world’s seventh largest country…’ (italics added). This will need to be checked and rectified in a reprint or new edition.
All in all, this is a valuable addition to Indian Diaspora studies, and as such it is well worth its place not only in one’s personal collection, but also in all public libraries as well as the libraries in our secondary and tertiary educational institutions.
* Published in print edition on 17 Ocotober 2014