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Sushila?s Bhakti

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“Sushila’s Bhakti” is a short story in an anthology of short stories entitled “Out on Main Street” which is a collection of other stories by Shani Mootoo an Indo-Trinidadian-Canadian writer. Almost all the stories in this particular collection have a very strong association with both the Caribbean and Canadian cultures; they are diasporic and continental in the way the author has tackled various issues highlighted in this collection. In ‘Sushila’s Bhakti’, the main character is a Trinidadian-Canadian artist who constantly works hard to deal with her skewered self-perception as ‘a good Brahmin girl’. She is faced with the challenge of being in a community where she is subjected to bow before a patriarchal, and all knowing God. In this regard therefore, Sushila opts to embark on a journey of prayer and a practice that will however not contradict her innate desire of not bowing before a god.

Throughout her life in this new city, Sushila wrestles with trying to understand her origin not from God but in terms of what really makes her Indian, she is interested in knowing the authenticity of her origins which she believes is deeply engraved in her Indian culture. In a section of the story, she is quoted as saying “I want to connect with my point of origin. Not the point of origin as in ‘Who-made-me-God-made-me,’ nor the point at which we are said to have flipped over from animal to human, but rather the origin of Indian-ness. … What is my point of origin? How far back do I need to go to feel properly rooted (Mooto, 1993)?”

Sushila clearly identifies that culture is indeed a multi faceted concept capable of transforming the way a society co-exists (Maver, 2009). Despite the fact that she lives in a place with cultural pluralism where there is some kind of discrimination against the people from the Caribbean, Sushila finally gets her identity from deeply engaging in a journey of soul searching with the sole intention of identifying what is unique about her origin. She engages in “Bhakti” a term derived from the Sanskrit which basically involves a devotion to a personalized God. She comes to question the fact that the only thing Indian about her is her name “Sushila” and her skin colour; all these she argues is like a lie to her identity. She does not allow herself to get assimilated in the new culture. She does not allow herself to be carried away by cultural brokerage which was the norm in Canada. She comes to the full understanding of the reality that life in this land is after all not a bed of roses as she thought when she first migrated to this strange country (Maver, 2009).

As Sushila stood at a distance to watch and marvel at her great piece of work, she saw her identity in the t-shirt. It was at this point in that she wondered whether she was Hindu, Indian or Trinidadian.  It was hard for her to separate herself from the tree since she believed that she had some elements of them all. She is of the opinion that she is faced with this challenge of identity since she is out to come up with her own identity based on her own definition and tools and not on any past written history or social order. In as much as at some point she feels obliged to follow her past cultures and experiences, at the end of this story Sushila feels like she is a free bird at last who’s identity can only be found within the richness of her artistic designs. She is contented with her new found image of being an independent being in a society filled with slavery to history.  

Sushila has been portrayed as an artist in this story. She uses saffron for her art; she uses deep orange colorings on her hands while at the same time wearing traces of white or pink from her fingernails. She is of the opinion that, the art of mehendi which originated in her early Trinidadian life during which it was unused is a very important asset in her business. She channels it into her work; she uses henna which was traditionally used for decoration especially for brides. By mixing it with water just like her grandmother back in Trinidad used to before kneading flour for baking, she is of the opinion that that was indeed a true reflection of her identity. Through her continued business which she defines as an art of freedom, she begins to emancipate herself from societal discrimination. She feels contented working unlike many other immigrants who struggle with fusing in the Canadian culture. Her act of Bhakti triggers many memories that she believes should be the ideal way of defining a true culture. She is particularly interested by the fact that she does not have to struggle to be like “the others” but instead believes in her own principles of self identity (Maver, 2009). Through her art, she feels more organically connected to herself. According to the author, the search for an identity can be its own reward devoid of heartache. Ultimately, Sushila realizes she does not have to conform to any documented history but instead believes that she can get her identity from her own experiences.

In conclusion it is important to understand that the focus of Indo-Caribbean literature has always been centered on theme of indentured systems, the divide and rule tactics of colonial government, the status of Indians in relation to other races as well as the birth of the second diaspora. There is a misconception among the supporters of the second diaspora that life in North America is all easy and luxurious; this has led to massive migration from the Caribbean into North America. However, as illustrated in among other stories “Far From Family”, “American Dad” and Sushila’s Bhakti, it is evident that life in North America is just as hard, there are problems of identity and economic struggle while new ones like family disintegration still develop (Maver, 2009).

 

 

 

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