In order to understand Caribbean Coolitude poetics, one might review the local poetics to illuminate context. Coolitude uses Caribbean poetics — broadly created by and maintained by black intellectuals. Coolitude would be nowhere without its ancestor and kin, Négritude. A question arises: is the Caribbean as one geopolitical space and how have the histories of different colonizers’ languages created disparate yet united experiences in the Antillean archipelago?
Sudesh Mishra is the author of five books of poetry, including Tandava (Meanjin Press), Diaspora and the Difficult Art of Dying (Otago University Press), and TheLives of Coat Hangers (Otago University Press); two critical monographs, Preparing Faces: Modernism and Indian Poetry in English (Flinders University) and Diaspora Criticism (Edinburgh University Press); two plays, Ferringhi and The International Dateline (Institute of Pacific Studies, Suva); and several short stories.
Indian indenture migration to Fiji began relatively later than the trade to the Caribbean, South Africa, and elsewhere, starting in 1879 and ending in 1920, according to Sudesh Mishra’s article “Time and Girmit.” Coolies in Fiji suffered the same deception that laborers suffered at the hands of the arkotiya — the passage to plantation bound them to five-year renewable contracts. Yet the situation in Fiji was different specifically because of the indigenous Fijian presence in the governmental affairs. There were indigenous people present in Surinam and Guyana but their representation in governmental affairs was marginal, unlike the situation of the colonies in Fiji.
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.
Coolie Woman interweaves the author’s journey to uncover the mystery behind her great-grandmother’s exit from India, pregnant and alone in 1903, with the larger epic journey of Indian indentured women to the Caribbean as sugar plantation laborers from 1838–1917. The book is cross-genre, as much immigrant memoir and immersion journalism as it is narrative history or collective biography.