Fictional constructions of Grey Street by selected South African Indian writers.
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Fictional Constructions of Grey Street by Selected South African Indian Writers. This thesis explores the fictional constructions of Grey Street by selected South African Indian writers to establish a deeper understanding of the connection between writers, place and identity in the South African Indian context. The concepts of 'place' and 'space' are of particular importance to this thesis. Michel Foucault's (1980) theories on space and power, Frantz Fanon's (1952) work on the connection between race and spatial politics, and Pierre Bourdieu's (1990) concept of 'habitus' are drawn on in this thesis in order to understand the ramifications of the spatial segregation of different race groups in colonial and apartheid South Africa. The specific kind of place focused on in this thesis is the city. Foucault's (1977, 1980) theorisation of the Panopticon is used to explain the apartheid government's panoptic planning of the South African city. As a counterpoint to this notion of panoptic urban ordering, Jonathan Raban's Soft City (1974), Michel de Certeau's "Walking in the city" (1984) and Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project (2002) are analysed to explore an alternative way of engaging with city space. These theorists privilege the perspective of the walker in the city, suggesting that the city cannot be governed by top-down urban planning as it is constantly being re-made by the city's pedestrians on the ground. The South African city is an interesting site for a study of this kind as it has, since the colonial era, been an intensely contested space. This dissertation looks primarily at the South African Indian experience of the city of Durban which is a characteristically diasporic one. The theories of diasporic culture by Vijay Mishra (1996) and Avtar Brah (1996) form the foundation for a discussion of the Indian diasporas in the South African colonial and apartheid urban context. Two major Indian diasporic groups are identified: the old Indian diasporas and the new Indian diasporas. Each group experiences the city in different ways which is important in this study which looks at how different Indian diasporic experiences of the city shape the construction of Grey Street in fiction. One of the arenas in which diasporic histories are played out, and thus colonial, nationalist histories are challenged, is the space of fiction, Fiction provides diasporic groups with a textual space in which to record, and thus freeze, their collective memories; memories that are vital in challenging the hegemonic 'nationalist' collective memories often imposed on them. Christopher Shaw and Malcolm Chase's (1989) work on nostalgia is useful in this thesis which proposes that the collective memories of diasporic groups are quintessentially nostalgic. This is significant as the fictional constructions of place in the primary texts selected are remembered and re-membered through a nostalgic lens. The fictional works selected for this thesis include Imraan Coovadia's The Wedding (2001) and Aziz Hassim's The Lotus People (2002). Although other Indian writers have represented Grey Street in their works, including Kesevaloo Goonam in Coolie Doctor (1991), Phyllis Naidoo in Footprints in Grey Street (2002), Mariam Akabor in Flat 9 (2006) and Ravi Govender in Down Memory Lane (2006), the two novels selected respond most fully to the theories raised in this thesis. However, the other texts are referred to in relation to the selected texts in order to get a fuller picture of the Indian South African perspective of Grey Street. The selected primary texts are analysed in this dissertation in their historical context and therefore a brief history of Indians in South Africa is provided. The time period covered ranges from 1886 with the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers to Natal to present day. Although this thesis focuses largely on the past and present experiences of Indian South Africans in Grey Street, questions are raised regarding future directions in Indian writing in the area. Thus, attention is also given to forthcoming novels by Hassim, Coovadia and Akabor. Research such as I am proposing can contribute to the debate on the cultural representation of urban space in South Africa and hopefully stimulate further studies of Indian literary production centered on writers, place and identity in the country.