Khal Torabully

From vocabularies of indenture to living grammars: A writing prompt

With these poets drawing from the pool of their collective unconscious, the haunting memory of a traumatic past from “passage to plantation,” something new emerges. It is the Coolitude of endurance, the transformation of a vocabulary into a grammar that depends upon inclusion in various national spaces. As seen in Torabully’s poetry, the history and weight words occupy when given different parts of speech, to the continuing negotiating of kalapani, and the power to topple patriarchal atavism with queer interventions — poets Coolie language.

Vocabularies of Coolitude: Mauritius

Khalil Torabully

'Chair Corail: Fragments Coolies' by Khal Torabully

To extend my look into Pirbhai’s vocabularies of indenture I consider Khalil Torabully’s poetry, the generator of the Coolitude concept. It is through his conceptualization of Coolitude that the Mauritian poet establishes a discourse that empowers the Indian labor diaspora to begin to draw connections between themselves despite national identities. 

David Dabydeen on Coolitude

A Coolitude interview

David Dabydeen from Peepal Tree.

Critic, writer, and novelist David Dabydeen was born in 1955 in Berbice, Guyana, moving to England with his parents in 1969. He read English at Cambridge University, gained a doctorate at University College London in 1982, and was awarded a research fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. David Dabydeen is Director of the Centre for Caribbean Studies and Professor at the Centre for British Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Warwick. He is also Guyana’s Ambassador-at-Large and a member of UNESCO’s Executive Board.

Vocabularies of indenture in the Indian labor diaspora

Girmitiya women working

In her book Mythologies of Migration, Vocabularies of Indenture: Novels of the South Asian Diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific, Miriam Pirbhai articulates the specificities of diaspora that are usually overlooked by scholars like Vijay Mishra in their approach to understanding the concerns of the Indian Labor Diaspora as unified. The context of each writer is usually neglected in favor of pointing out cohesion between national groups without a consideration of the nuances that shade each diasporic context.

Coolitude: Theoretical underpinnings

The term Coolitude is derived from “coolie,” a word originating in Tamil that means “laborer” with the implication that the labor provided is physical in nature. The British started taking Indians into their colonies in 1838, a trade that lasted until 1917, created to provide labor needed in sugar plantations after slavery was abolished. Its roots are in labor and works to reclaim an identity that acknowledges histories of labor and the British labor trade in the colonies. This type of movement that faces Asia from spaces where overseas Indians live counters common wisdom that holds that fictions of “race” create identity.


kuli nam dharaya

Natalwa me ai ke

bhajan karo bhaya

hath me cambu

kandh me kudari

pardesita ghare jai


They’ve given you the name “coolie”

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