ENG 319 South Asians in Britain and America

Ambreen Hai, Th 1:00 PM-2:50 PM

 Modern South Asia comprises at least seven countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, each with highly diverse cultures, languages, economies and histories.[1] This course will examine the literary and cultural implications (in their historical, political and economic contexts) of two recent major waves of migrations of South Asian peoples. The first, the post-World War Two migration of both skilled and relatively unskilled workers from South Asia to Britain, former colonial power, that has since transformed Britain; and the second, still ongoing, post-1965 migrations from South Asia to Canada and the United States.

          We will focus on the literature and culture of migration, i.e. on cultural production (primarily literature and film) that records, reflects on, and attempts to intervene in the cultural and psychological effects of (im)migration and assimilation. We will read closely some global, world-famous writers like Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, and Jhumpa Lahiri. We will also draw on interdisciplinary scholarship (history, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, gender studies, literary criticism) to understand historical, political and economic contexts, and to investigate questions such as the following: What local (and global) forces induce people to migrate and to settle in places radically other than their places of origin? What are the causes of such large-scale migrations, and consequences for those who migrate as well as for their host and home cultures? What sorts of affiliations or communities (national, cultural, ethnic, racial, religious) are lost, constructed, re-affirmed as a consequence? Who travels, and what travels with migrants (e.g. food, clothing, music, cultural or religious practices), and as a response to what legal or political or other constraints and needs? What are the gendered effects, especially on women, of migration or new forms of belonging? How do cultural practices change as they travel? How have South Asians written about, resisted or conceived of changing identities, assimilation, home and family? How do all these differ between Britain and America? How can theories of diaspora or diasporic identity help us understand these phenomena?

          We will begin (6-7 weeks) with narratives of the South Asian migration to Britain, including literature by first and second generation British South Asians like Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Meera Syal, Monica Ali, films and television shows, comedy skits, bhangra music, as well as some inter-disciplinary scholarship to ground, contextualize and historicize our analyses. The second section of the course (4-5 weeks) would look comparatively at South Asian diasporic narratives and film from the other side of the Atlantic, such as the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Bharati Mukherjee, Kiran Desai, Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair, and others, as well as cultural analyses of such phenomena as “Indo-chic” and mutual cultural appropriation in changing global contexts of power and race relations by scholars just as Sunaina Maira, Vijay Prasad and others. South Asian responses to post 9-11 changes in immigration laws, policies and racial climates might be another focus on this section of the course.

          This is primarily a literature seminar, based on discussion, active class participation, and some experience with literary or cultural analysis. There will be at least one oral presentation, and two papers, one short (5-7 pages, due by mid-term) and one longer final research paper (12-15 pages). 

This course may be counted towards the English major distribution requirement under postcolonial literatures. It is also cross-listed in CLT and SWG and may be counted towards those majors.

Pre-requisite: permission of the instructor. Please email me (ahai@smith.edu) for an application form) 

COURSE SCHEDULE (rough outline): 

Week One: Introduction: Course overview, discussion of poems and excerpts from British TV comic skits

Unit One: South Asians in Britain, post-1945 

Week Two: Kamala Markandaya, Nowhere Man (novel)

Judith Brown, Global South Asians, Ch. 1 & 2

Week Three: Meera Syal, Anita and Me (novel, w/excerpts from film)

Week Four: Salman Rushdie, “The New Empire Within Britain” (essay)

Hanif Kureishi “The Rainbow Sign” (essay)

Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (Ch.1 -2) (novel)

Week Five: Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (Ch. 3-6)

Week Six: Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (Ch. 7-9)

Week Seven: Monica Ali, Brick Lane (novel) and debates about cultural authenticity

Unit Two: South Asians in Canada and the U.S. post-1965 

Week Eight: Bharati Mukherjee, The Middleman and Other Stories 

                 OR Chitra Divakaruni, Arranged Marriage (stories)

Week Nine: Mira Nair, Missisippi Masala (film)

            Gurindhar Chadha, Bend It Like Beckham (film)

Week Ten: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake (novel + film)

Week Eleven: H. M. Naqvi, Home Boy (novel)

Week Twelve: Selections from cultural studies scholars on South Asians in the U.S.

(Vijay Prashad, Karma of Brown Folk, Sunaina Maira, others) 

Week Thirteen: Conclusion; oral reports on final papers


[1] Broader definitions include Iran, Afghanistan, Tibet, and Burma, among others.