A bitter sweet tale of sugar

Sugar Sugar display

Tasting sugar’s bitterness – Book review

Sugar, Sugar – A collection of short stories by Lainy Malkani

For many in the Caribbean today, sugar is mixed up with economic plans, European trade deals, restructuring and closure.

 Sugar, Sugar by Lainy Malkani takes readers to the historical dark side of the sugar industry and the history of indentured sugar labourers lured from India to other parts of the then British Empire including the Caribbean and parts of Africa.

Following the emancipation of African slaves, British sugar plantation owners looked to Indian labourers to service their cane fields. The short stories of Sugar, Sugar dip in and out of the dark past of indentured labourers and their ancestors in the Indian Diaspora living with both the bad and the lighter side of their legacy.

In his foreword, British comedian and actor Sanjeev Bhaskar writes: “Set in tropical lands that today many regard as exotic paradises, Lainy’s stories convey the darker emotional hues, the horror and complexities that so many men and women faced – but also the importance of connection, belonging and kinship. Sugar may never taste quite the same again.”

The collection of stories reflects the legacy of indentureship in Guyana, Trinidad, Natal, Mauritius, Fiji, Madras, Calcutta and the UK.

Caribbean Intelligence© brought together some extracts from the book reflecting the bitter and sweet tales of sugar, the plight of the migrant worker and colonial power:

  • ‘What choice did I have?’ he said, his voice faltering.

If I wanted to live a better life, I had to leave. Her family did it long ago when they sailed on those terrible ships all the way from Madras. I travelled by sea to come here. I sat in a bunk at the bottom of the boat and sailed to a new world. The British wanted your ancestors to work on the plantations – and then they wanted us again.

 

  • When we disembarked, we lined up in the dock, waiting to honour our contracts. ‘Honour?’ I snorted to myself now. ‘The Planters don’t know the meaning of the word here.’ I was recruited to work here for five years doing ‘light gardening’ – that’s what the man at the depot in Calcutta told me, but I never anticipated this hard, brutal life.

 

  • Back and forth, back and forth she went, with her hands behind her back, watching me lift the sides of the paper bags so the sugar would fall straight in from the chute over my head. She was just like those overseers on the sugar estate in Guyana, always pushing us to double the work for half the pay.

 

  • She looked at David, drawing his attention to the cutlass leaning against the wall in the kitchen. ‘That cutlass alone used to cut a tonne of cane a day – a day, my boy! Can you imagine that?’

 

Think about these stories before you put that next bit of sugar in your tea and coffee.  Sugar, Sugar is available at HopeRoad Publishing.

 

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