South Asian Diaspora, though relatively small in number (8 million worldwide in comparison with the Chinese diaspora [22 million], the Jews [11 million] and the Africans [300 million] van der Veer 1), is by no means an easily defined category.  Not only is the region of “South Asia” (see the Map below) variously defined, its composition is complex and diverse in terms of race, religion, and nations.  Diaspora, as “communities of the transnational moment” (Tololyan qtd in Mishra 13), also transgresses national boundaries and hybridizes national cultures—both those of host nation and country of origin.  Likewise, diaspora identities “constantly [produce and reproduce] themselves anew, through transformation and difference” (Hall 402).  Just as these identities are in flux, a lot of diasporic writers’ narratives are, too.  They are dynamic and multi-layered because, in-between two or multiple cultures, temporality and space, the writers creolize the master-codes of English, weave together multiple plotlines and allow some ethnic spaces to take on magical realistic dimensions of past, present or future.  


Complex as they are, the literatures and cultures of South Asian Diaspora can raise intriguing and relevant questions about the times, spaces and cultural identities of us all in the age of transnationalism.  In this course, therefore, we will read a selection of novels and films with a focus on the South Asian literary writers and filmmakers located now in Canada, supplemented with a few of those in UK and US. 


The issues we will discuss are:

  • what are the reasons for the characters to immigrate, sometimes more than once? 

  • how do these texts construct the diasporic spaces: either the “Here” of Canada, UK and US, or “There” of Tanzania for M.G. Vassanji, Sri Lanka for Shyam Selvadurai and Michael Ondaatje, and Trinidad for Shani Mootoo and Neil Bissoondath. 

  • how do factors of race, gender and nation intersect to influence the characters’ senses of identity and their relations?

  • how do the writers’ in-between position influence their writing styles and views of their “countries,” histories and cultures?

As a whole, the course tries to delineate the “intersectionality” (both in theme, through spatialization and narrativization) in these diasporic works, in order to discuss how they engage multiple social relations, and whether they produce spaces to diasporize the Canadian vertical mosaic, and/or simplify and exoticize the others and their homelands.

 Works Cited

Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Identity and Diaspora."  Colonial Discourse & Postcolonial Theory: A Reader.  Eds. Williams, Patrick & Laura Chrisman.  Harvester Whaeatsheaf, 1993.

Mishra, Sudesh.  Diaspora criticism.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh U, 2006.

van der Veer, Peter, ed.  Nation and Migration: The Politics of Space in the South Asian Diaspora.  UPenn P, 1994.

Requirements and Grading Policy --
In this course, you will be responsible for:
1) Attendance and active participation in class (Three absences constitutes reason for failing the course), 10%
2) a 30-minute report on a close analysis of a novel/short story, 20%
3) a 30-minute report on an issue related to South Asian disapora by using a film or a combination of different texts 20%

4) a term paper. 50%


A. The Other Possible Texts:

Novels and Short Story Cycles:
On the Main Street (Shani Mootoo)
On the Eve of Uncertain Tomorrow, Digging up the Mountains (Neil Bissoondath)
Funny Boy (Shyam Selvadurai)
The whistling thorn: South Asian Canadian fiction. ~ Ed. Suwanda H. J. Sugunasiri.
The Geography of Voice: Canadian Literature of the South Asian Diaspora. ~ Ed. Diane McGifford. Toronto : TSAR, 1992.

Novels by Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul, Hanif Kureishi, etc.

Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi)

Monsoon Wedding and other films by Mira Nair *
Pesepolis, Turtle Can Fly, etc.

* = films

B. Criticism

Huang, Guiyou. Asian American Short Story Writers: An A-to-Z Guide. Westport, CT Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.

Maver, Igor. Diasporic Subjectivity and Cultural Brokering in Contemporary Post-colonial Literatures. Lanham, MD Lexington Books, 2009.

Singh, Jaspal Kaur. Representation and Resistance: South Asian and African Women's Texts at Home and in the Diaspora. Calgary University of Calgary Press, 2008.

Mishra, Vijay. Literature of the Indian Diaspora: Theorizing the Diasporic Imaginary.
London, New York Taylor & Francis Routledge, 2007.

Rai, Rajesh.; Reeves, Peter. South Asian Diaspora: Transnational Networks and Changing Identities. London, New York Taylor & Francis Routledge, 2009.