Mobilizing India

Women, Music, and Migration between India and Trinidad

Mobilizing India

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 46 b&w photos Published: October 2006

Asian Studies > South Asia, Caribbean Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Descendants of indentured laborers brought from India to the Caribbean between 1845 and 1917 comprise more than forty percent of Trinidad’s population today. While many Indo-Trinidadians identify themselves as Indian, what “Indian” signifies—about nationalism, gender, culture, caste, race, and religion—in the Caribbean is different from what it means on the subcontinent. Yet the ways that “Indianness” is conceived of and performed in India and in Trinidad have historically been, and remain, intimately related. Offering an innovative analysis of how ideas of Indian identity negotiated within the Indian diaspora in Trinidad affect cultural identities “back home,” Tejaswini Niranjana models a necessary project: comparative research across the global South, scholarship that decenters the “first world” West as the referent against which postcolonial subjects understand themselves and are understood by others.

Niranjana draws on nineteenth-century travel narratives, anthropological and historical studies of Trinidad, Hindi film music, and the lyrics, performance, and reception of chutney-soca and calypso songs to argue that perceptions of Indian female sexuality in Trinidad have long been central to the formation and disruption of dominant narratives of nationhood, modernity, and normative sexuality in India. She illuminates debates in India about “the woman question” as they played out in the early-twentieth-century campaign against indentured servitude in the tropics. In so doing, she reveals India’s disavowal of the indentured woman—viewed as morally depraved by her forced labor in Trinidad—as central to its own anticolonial struggle. Turning to the present, Niranjana looks to Trinidad’s most dynamic site of cultural negotiation: popular music. She describes how contested ideas of Indian femininity are staged by contemporary Trinidadian musicians—male and female, of both Indian and African descent—in genres ranging from new hybrids like chutney-soca to the older but still vibrant music of Afro-Caribbean calypso.


Mobilizing India. . . is a sophisticated, well-written, and engaging book which does indeed-as promised- provide a model for comparative cultural research across the global South. Those interested in Caribbean cultural studies, in the development of popular music in postcolonial societies, in identity and gender politics in a multiracial polity, will all find much that is valuable and original in this book.” — Bridget Brereton, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“[F]ascinating. . . . This book should have tremendous appeal for those interested in cultural politics both in the Caribbean and in India.” — Nalini Rajan, The Hindu

“[F]resh and provocative. . . .” — Keith E. McNeal, American Ethnologist

“Niranjana . . . has written a sophisticated study of women, diasporic dynamics, and ethnic identity in Indo-Trinidadian society, using popular music as a lens though which to view these. . . . Her book is certainly recommended reading for students and scholars of South Asian diasporas and Caribbean studies.” — Peter Manuel, Ethnomusicology

“Overall, this book is a very important contribution to the literature on Caribbean performance, as it presents a view from India on questions about Caribbean ‘Indianness’ and even on Caribbean ‘Africanness.’” — Tina K. Ramnarine, Journal of Asian Studies

“The language of the text is accessible, the analyses substantiated with meticulous research, and the insider/outsider perspective benefits Trinidad thinkers in its sensitivity, detachment, and refreshing of ideas we have come to take for granted. The central argument that Trinidad participates in a unique construction of Indian identity that progressively subverts India’s Hindutva nationalism is made within a feminist, leftist, egalitarian framework and represents the first substantial look, in the Trinidad context, at the implications of India’s outreach to Indians overseas.” — Sheila Rampersad, The Trinidad and Tobago Express

“This book is not simply about music, and needs to be read as an urgent intervention in studying comparative popular culture from a standpoint troubling the universalizing address of Western global modernities.” — Sanjay Sharma, Darkmatter

“This book needs to be read as an urgent intervention into the study of comparative popular culture from a standpoint troubling the universalizing address of western global modernities. — Sanjay Sharma, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Tejaswini Niranjana listens to the tones and echoes of Indianness in the Caribbean and elaborates a South–South genealogy that obligates us to reconceive the cultural geography of modernity. From the ‘moral status of the coolie woman’ in British colonialist and Indian nationalist discourses to the figure of the ‘Indian woman’ in Afro-Trinidadian calypso, Hindi cinema musics, and female chutney-soca performances, she pronounces the gendered rhythms of popular music as subaltern cultural politics.” — Lisa Lowe, author of Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics

“Tejaswini Niranjana’s fine achievement in Mobilizing India is to have given shape to a compelling way of rethinking the conceptual agenda for the comparative study of the Third World.” — David Scott, author of Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tejaswini Niranjana is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society in Bangalore, India. She is the author of Siting Translation: History, Post-Structuralism, and the Colonial Context and a coeditor of Interrogating Modernity: Culture and Colonialism in India.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Note on Usage ix

Introduction 1

1. “The Indian in Me”: Studying the Subaltern Diaspora 17

2. “Left to the Imagination”: Indian Nationalism and Female Sexuality 55

3. “Take a Little Chutney, Add a Touch of Kaiso”: The Body in the Voice 85

4. Jumping out of Time: The “Indian” in Calypso 125

5. “Suku Suku What Shall I Do?”: Hindi Cinema and the Politics of Music 169

Afterword: A Semi-Lime 191

Notes 223

Bibliography 253

Index 267
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3842-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3828-4
Publicity material