Soon after my arrival to the United States as a student, I went to a football game in Hartford, Connecticut. At half-time, the guy sitting on the bench in front of me got up and turned, beer can in hand, half his shirt hanging over his jeans.
“Where are you from? India or Pakistan?” he said.
“Neither. I’m from Mauritius.” I spelled it. “M.A.U.R.I.T.I.U.S.”
“Mo…Mori…Where is that?”
“It’s an island in the Indian Ocean.”
“So it is part of India.”
“No, it is off the coast of South Africa, 2,500 miles from Cape Town.”
“Africa,” he said and paused for a moment. He gulped down some beer. “What kind of government do you have there? Tribal government?”
I remained calm and replied, “It’s a parliamentary democracy, based on the British system. You have a President, we have a Prime Minister.”
The man took another swill and took his seat.
A few minutes later, he was back on his feet with another question. “Who civilized your people?”
This and similar incidents, and how I dealt with them, inspired me to write my novel Silent Winds, Dry Seas, a coming-of-age story of a descendant of Indian indentured laborers. He confronts an authoritarian father, a family feud, and corrupt politicians as he forges a future. The story starts in multiracial and multilingual Mauritius during a period of political convulsion and ends at Yale.
My paternal ancestor arrived in Mauritius in 1853 from India at the age of seventeen. Like most of the 454,000 Indian indentured immigrants who came to the island from 1835 to 1910, following the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, he was dispatched to a sugar estate. My mother’s ancestors arrived in 1873 at the age of nineteen.
Today, many Indians have moved from laboring in the fields of the white sugar barons to owning their plots of land, and have branched out into the civil service, the liberal professions, and business. Unlike the Creoles, descendants of African slaves who were brought earlier during French colonization, the indentured Indians were allowed by the British to keep their names, language, religion, and traditions. They maintained a strong sense of Indian cultural identity, even though most never saw the land of their ancestors. I was the first descendant of my ancestors to visit India, in 1978.
I grew up amidst multiple traditions — Indian, French, Creole, and Chinese, a unique cultural mix that is the setting for Silent Winds, Dry Seas. Like the novel’s protagonist, Mauritians of Indian origin face the question: What traditions do we transmit to the next generation and which ones do we modify or reject? A question that resonates with the Indian diaspora worldwide and is one of the major sources of conflict in the book.
I hope you and your friends enjoy reading Silent Winds, Dry Seas. Through the lives of what one reviewer has called “a terrific set of characters,” you’ll get acquainted with the people, places, and politics of a country with a vibrant Indian diaspora. I am thankful that the novel has received endorsements from a Pulitzer Prize winner, a finalist of the Man Booker International Prize, a finalist of the French Renaudot Prize, and two New York Times bestselling authors.
Details of the book, including links for ordering online, can be found here:
Book Launch on Thursday August 26 at 7pm: https://www.solidstatebooksdc.
Vinod Busjeet has spent twenty-nine years in international finance, economic development, and diplomacy, holding positions at the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the Embassy of Mauritius in Washington DC. He attended the Université Charles de Gaulle in Madagascar and holds degrees from Wesleyan University, New York University, and Harvard University. Vinod can be reached at Vbusjeet@gmail.com.