New Book: Nalini Natarajan’s “Atlantic Gandhi—The Mahatma Overseas”


Nalini Natarajan’s Atlantic Gandhi: The Mahatma Overseas has been published at the end of this month by Sage Publishing. Peter Linebaugh describes the book as “an amazing study of Gandhi which shows how transnational, planetary forces from the Caribbean, South Africa, and India were brought to bear on [Gandhi’s] concept of Indianness.”  The book includes an in-depth discussion of the global phenomenon of indenture, focusing on South Africa and the Caribbean, as well as other topics related to Gandhi’s diasporic consciousness and his anti-colonial struggles.

Description: Using the frames of diaspora theory, post-colonial discourse theory and the recent Atlantic turn in studies of resistance, this book brings into relief Gandhi’s experience as a traveler moving from a classic colony, India, to the plantation and mining society of South Africa. The author forwards the argument that this move between different modes of production brought Gandhi into contact with indentured laborers, with whom he shared exilic and diasporic consciousness, and whose difficult yet resilient lives inspired his philosophy. It reads Gandhi’s nationalistic (that is, anti-colonial) sentiments as born in diasporic exile, where he formed his perspective as a provincial subject in a multiracial plantation.  The author’s viewpoint has been inspired by the new analytic that has emerged in the last few decades: the Atlantic as an ocean that not just transported the victims of a greedy plantation system, but also saw the ferment of revolutionary ideas.

Peter Linebaugh writes: [Gandhi’s] reading of Thoreau, Ruskin, and Tolstoy helped him form his conception of India as frugal, vegetarian, spiritual, adhering to ahimsa and satyagraha, and a style of anti-modernism which would lead to a very modern struggle of independence on the one hand but separation from the struggles of Zulu in Africa and blacks in Guyana on the other hand. Call them coolie, subaltern, or proletarian, Gandhi’s construction of the idea of “India” arose in relation to, but not identity with, the workers of the barracks, the cane field, and the gold mine who produce in war, drugs, and money the defining experiences of modernity. Few will be able to read this book without serious reconsideration of Gandhi’s cultural politics and political philosophy. Here is an oceanic Gandhi.

Patricia Mohammed writes that Natarajan places the “coolie woman” in South Africa under the microscope of Gandhian lens against the parallel discourses on their questionable sexuality and value as a labour resource in other sites of Indian indentured labour, including the Caribbean. In doing so she moves us towards a current and more comparative rethinking of the historical clichés that have typified the study of diasporic Indian gender relations under the colonial enterprise.

Nalini Natarajan was born in Madras (now Chennai) and raised in New Delhi and Mumbai. She holds an MA from Delhi University and a PhD from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK. She teaches English at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras. In her research, she combines an interest in India and its many regions, local languages and cultures, British domestic and imperial culture in the nineteenth century, feminist theory, and Caribbean and Latin American issues.  Another forthcoming book, The Resonating Island: The Caribbean in Postcolonial Dialogue—a series of intercultural essays on the Caribbean and South Asia—will be published by Terranova this year.

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3 thoughts on “New Book: Nalini Natarajan’s “Atlantic Gandhi—The Mahatma Overseas”

  1. Nalini Natarajan’s Atlantic Gandhi: The Mahatma Overseas should be interesting reading, particularly for those of us who engage in discussions and writings on the Indian diaspora, indentureship, voyages across the kala pani and plurality of societies to include slavery that isn’t abolished yet in the 21st century.
    I wish to add other books for readers that should be part of the reading material on Gandhi and the Caribbean:

    1. India in the Caribbean by David Dabydeen, Brinsley Samaroo, University of Warwick and London Strategic Policy Unit (Oct. 1987)

    2. Bound Coolie Radical in British Guiana 1894-1901 by Clem Seecharan

    3. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thoughts, Words, Deeds by Ramnarine Sahadeo (2011)

    [Leonard Dabydeen: Author of Watching You, A Collection of Tetractys Poems (2012) – Inspirational and Spiritual reading]

  2. there can never be enough written on this spiritual solder of peace; it will help many in the west (also the east) if they can be exposed to the book that inspired him but which he was reluctant to read, (like so many today).
    hence the book MOHANDAS K. GANDHI, thoughts, words, deeds .

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