Can you tell me about your creative writing thesis? What is it about?
It started off as a novella. It’s about a girl growing up in Trinidad whose family has been there for six generations. It takes place in both Trinidad and India from the late 1970s to mid-1990s. After living until she was ten years old in Trinidad, she then lived in India, then came back to Trinidad. She has been involved in different cultural spheres, because Trinidad is a multi-racial, multi-cultural society.
My writing speaks about the acute racism she experiences as an Indian girl taking part in Calypso in the public domain. When she returns from India, she has to adjust herself to being typecast by people saying, “She’s Indian, therefore she doesn’t belong here.”
At the historical level, she tries to remember the past because [in India] a lot of the history of Trinidad is not taught in schools. There’s an invisibility that she feels when she’s growing up. The novel operates on that level, a socio-historical level, and on a more personal level as well.
What kind of research has this work involved?
Going back to India last summer was a big thing. Talking and interviewing school friends there who remembered all kinds of weird things about my childhood, and also adult friends of my parents. And I kept huge diaries from ages 10 to 14, when I was in India. Also, history books that talk about certain events in Trinidad such as the labor movement of the 1970s.
You’ve also done a lot of work as a video artist. Can you describe your video for the collage class this fall?
I had sixteen hours of tape from India and maybe nine hours of tape from Trinidad. From these, I took fragments of images that you wouldn’t necessarily know to which place they belonged. So it had to do with the fragments that were brought from India to Trinidad more than 150 years ago and the continuities and discontinuities between these two places.
Most people would see the video and assume that it would be India, because very little is known outside of Trinidad about Indians in Trinidad – even though they are the majority of the population and a strong cultural presence. So I wanted to disrupt the way in which people perceive and make assumptions about other people.
I then bought long strips of semi-transparent cloth. The cloth was symbolic of a dupatta, a kind of Indian sash thrown around the shoulders. I made the video first, and then projected it onto these lengths of cloth, arranging the cloth so that the projection would go through the different layers. It creates a feeling of depth. The cloth would move in the air, giving a more visceral presence to the work.
In most of your work you’re concerned with identity. Do you have a goal of what you want to explore or achieve in your understanding or communication about identity?
I think that my main goal is to express a kind of fragmentation and the feeling of having multiple identities and perspectives of the world that Indians in Trinidad feel, and many Caribbean people feel displaced. And I want to see this as something to be embraced, valued and appreciated instead of saying “we have one culture in Trinidad” and trying to negate other cultural presences. I’m trying to embrace aspects of the culture that are not acknowledged sufficiently right now. I feel I have a breadth of experience that I want to bring into my writing and my art to show that there are many ways in which someone can be Trinidadian. I am also interested in what it means to be an Indian in the Diaspora – the ways in which cultural identities overlap.
What audience do you envision?
That’s an issue I have to think about all the time because I’m writing for Trinidad as a whole, but I’m also writing specifically for my parents. I write also for an outside audience. It’s hard because I don’t want to be a person from Trinidad, writing in exile, who has an alienated perspective of things in Trinidad. Some of what I’m writing about isn’t even known in Trinidad itself, because things get eaten up by time and narratives are lost very quickly.
I want it to be a very specific story – not just some exotic crap about this island, fed to a Western audience. It’s important to me that people in Trinidad can identify with it on some level.