I came across Khal Torabully’s work while I was writing Sea of Poppies. He is a prominent literary figure in Mauritius and along with Marina Carter, who is perhaps that country’s most eminent historian, he has edited a remarkable collection entitled: Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora (Anthem Press, London, 2002).

A poet and scholar, Khal is perhaps best known for coining the concept of ‘coolitude’ (which he explains below). Having read and admired the anthology (but never having met Khal in person) I was very glad when he wrote to express his appreciation of Sea of Poppies. I wrote back to thank him and he responded with another message, which I am posting below, with his permission.

Over the last couple of weeks I have had several inquiries from descendants of Indian migrants asking for suggestions for further reading. Coolitude is a very good place to start, and I would urge anyone who is interested in girmitiyas to seek out other works by Khal Torabully (and of course Marina Carter too).


Dear Amitav Ghosh,

Thank you ever so much for your kind response.

And please accept my regrets in delaying to reply to you. I have been so active and tired these last weeks in a big project on an indentured village in Mauritius. I also wanted to devote the necessary time and energy to writing to the writer I admire, you Mr Ghosh. I hope you will be so kind as to be lenient with me, thank you for your understanding.

Forgive me for my shaky English, as I have lived for more than 32 years in France and have basically written in French language, and of course in Kreol, my native tongue.

Allow me to tell you it is such a pleasure for me  to read your words and be able to exchange with the magnificent writer you are and who have been immersed in the “sea of memories” of coolitude, an aesthetics so dear to me. Yes, I started your beautiful poetic and forceful novel (I am presently in Mauritius, and unfortunately, I left it back in Lyon, and will soon go back to it by the end of October…). I need may be to leave the island to be able to take time to read again…

I confess that I have been moved while writing this email, as much as I have been impressed by the craftmanship you reveal in your books, mixing so many fields of knowledge, but more than this, you are a poet and novelist traversed by this rare gift of “la parole”, to quote Lacan, this dimension of language which entails truth, often said “unknowlingly”, breaking through the most sophisticated levels of discourse. This would not surprise any one, given the ideas and visions you pursue and defend with the greatest integrity, whether on the moral, intellectual and artistic levels.

I am a poet, basically, and have a profound respect for your art blending both narrative and poetry, in a very unique rendering of style (whichever “school” one would say it belongs to) and talent. You are a great soul and writer Mr Ghosh! As we say in French : “Respect”!

Allow me to say I particulary feel very close to the way you encapsulate History, so close to mine (allow me this parallel, as your work is infinitely of the excellence I would in vain ever toil for), specially when it comes to the “bricolage mythique” presiding over its enunciation, with the use of the “archives”, just in the way you would rewrite them, revisit them with poetic power and also through the voices of the muffled and silenced ones. In this respect, our poetics are nearly twins. This paradigm, which I deemed the coral imaginary, was at the forefront of my aesthetics of coolitude. I read about you on internet and discovered we were born in 1956, which friends say, is an excellent vintage. I do not know if this common year of birth means something, but I am really impressed by the commonalities we share in putting in words the worlds we explore, and specially, our particular standpoint, namely, our voices from the peripheries.

When I wrote Cale d’étoiles-coolitude, the founding book of the oceanic voyage of the coolies in 1989 (published in 1992), I wanted to pay homage to the “forgotten voices of the voyage”, the coolies’. At that time the word coolie was thought as base and derogatory, and it was a pleasure and duty for me, as a poet of plural visions and of the peripheries, to reclaim the coolie, and from this derelict history and identity, I used the term coolie to coin coolitude, very much as Aimé Césaire did for négritude (though I took my distances with any essentialist view from the outset). I carved it as the basis of a humanism of diversity born from the mosaic India migrating through indenture. I played with languages and archives, moved to silences of archives, sketched the centrality of the voyage of the coolie as a space of construction/deconstruction of identities, giving a primordial role to the ocean so as to move away from the “kala pani petrification”. In that sense, I also write about the sea and the Indian Ocean, just like you, with my own modest voice. This ocean, I am convinced, should be explored again and again, as it is a space where diversities meet, clash and emerge in new configurations of humanities. I believe time has come to gather interest on this ocean, I believe the Atlantic has had its fair share of narratives and studies, and we have to come back to Sinbad’s ocean, to re-discover it and allow articulation of other imaginaries in this matrix of globalization (with a different tinge!)..

I am sorry to say that I write mainly in French, specially my two poetry books which developed the poetics of coolitude. And I don’t know if you read/speak Molière’s language.

In any case, I would very much like you to read some of my poetry. I would like to suggest to your attention some recent poems in English I have written in a kind of mock post-structural/post-modern style springing from the Aapravasi Ghat and indenture memories here, and the “non-coercive History” paradigm you encapsulate so forcefully in your books. This triptych is quite different from my previous poetry books in French.

I am hereby attaching attaching the first part to this present email, if you can spare some time… Thank you for your kind attention and perusal.

I would very much like to exchange with you, specially on the themes of revoicing History in the Indian ocean, of indenture and coolitude.

I wish you the very best energy for your masterly work.

Be assured of my profound esteem and admiration master Ghosh!

Sincerely yours,

Khal Torabully

17 thoughts on “‘Coolitude’ and Khal Torabully”
  1. Dear Amitav and Khal Torabully, I’ve just come across this exchange between the two of you, and am delighted. Am teaching an MA course on literature of the Indian Ocean region at NTU (in Singapore) which includes ‘Sea of Poppies’ and ‘Coolitude’. Had thought they link up usefully and even thought I was being original! Amazing! So pleased that my brain wave has now the authority of your exchange behind it.

  2. Hi Amitav, hi Shirley,
    I have just come back to the blog of Amitav and am glad about the bridge between our paradigms. Well, as you can see, this is not a figment from your imagination, in any case never shun being original! I would like so much to read about your course… Sincere regards, Khal

  3. Hi Amitav,
    I hope you are fine.
    Just to tell you that on 2 November, a public holiday here in Mauritius to celebrate the arrival of the indentured, Navin Ramgoolam, the PM underlined the necessary dialogue between the memories of slavery and indentured, sparked by coolitude, as a necessary step in nation building. He also reminded the country of the Indentured route project we initiated some ten years ago. I would like you very much to be able to come over to Mauritius one day… Where are you now? Best regards from Port-Louis, Khal

  4. Ha! I can’t believe it. I was just about to order the Khal Torabully book — that explores Coolitude after digging around a bit, and like the one who gave the comment above, was thinking I had arrived at some serendipitous connection (such are the delusions of a Hong Kong PhD student…) that I was planning to reference in a paper. Glad to see the connection is real. (Such is the google pairing of Ghosh and Torabully that it comes right to this spot). Looking forward to the Torabully book and just finished reading the second of the Ibis trilogy which resonated much given my locale in Hong Kong…the mystery of the aesthetics of rows of potted plants finally understood…

    1. Thank you Stepahie Han for this fortune of the net. I hope I will be able to know more about your work. Sincerely, KT

  5. So delightful to see an exchange between two of my favourite writers. I am actually teaching texts by both of you, which have also helped to inform my own scholarly and artistic work. I am actually wondering if Dr. Torabully is in France, where I an installed on sabbatical over the next three months. Would be lovely to connect.

  6. I am doing a phd programme in French at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University with Indian Ocean Literature at the base of my research. For my m.phil programme i have worked on Nathacha Appanah’s Le Dernier Frere nd for phd it will be Carl De Souza and three of his works. Mr Khal Torabully, j’ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que votre Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora m’a donne pas mal de pistes de reflection dans mes recherches. En ce moment-ci je compte publier un article sur la Coolitude, et je vous remercie ainsi que Marina Carter pour cet ouvrage sur la Coolitude

  7. Dear Amitav, dear friends of coolitude,
    I hope you are in sound health.
    I am a bit worried, though, dear Amitav, having had no response from you following the news that VOICES FROM THE AAPRAVASI GHAT- INDENTURED IMAGINARIES was launched on November 2, during the national commemoration day of Identure. It was a simple and moving act of the Mauritian President and Prime Minister anchoring our aesthetics in the “patrimoine” of the island of Mauritius, the nerve centre of the coolie trade in the 19th century. Please tell me if all is fine dear Amitav… I cite you in my Acknowledegements and would like to tell you how much your Sea of Poppies still resound in me.
    My regards to you also Andil, Shirley, Asha, Stéphanie – I would like to read more from you. I may ask Amitav if he may give you (you have it Andil and you also Shirley) my email address.
    From Lyon, in the brittle light of autumnal sunshine, where a part of me is still in the blue sky splayed over the gorgeous flame trees of my native island, before heading for Granada to speak spice routes, coolitude and convivencia…
    Many warm regards,

    Khal Torabully

    1. Dear Khal

      I am glad to learn of the launch of VOICES FROM THE APRAVASI GHAT. I did not know about it – must have missed the message. Good luck in all your travels.

      warm regards


  8. Thank you Amitav, I cited you and The Sea of Poppies in my acknowledgements. I am still amazed… I am now writing more on coolitude, after an article about fluidity and fixity in Glissant’s theories… How are you ? Any new book to come ? Warm regards, Khal

    1. Thanks Khal. I am working on Ibis III – ‘Flood of Fire’. It is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2015.

  9. Glad to learn this third part in the tap… Please send me your postal address through email, I will send you a copy of VOICES FROM THE AAPRAVASI GHAT. Take care dear Amitav !

  10. Dear Amitav,

    I hope you are fine.
    I heard from Gitanjali Pyndiah while you were in London.
    I am going there tomorrow, for the following events
    Ce vendredi 9 octobre, à Senate House, Londres : BACK TO THE FUTURE ‘?’ Interrogating the Contemporary Use of Imperial Terms in the Academy, with Gitanjali Pyndiah, Ashutosh Kumar… Je suis invité à explorer un terme, coolie, dans les études de l’engagisme, qui émergent de plus en plus. Coolitude, après 25 ans de poétique, de propositions, de créations…
    Speakers Abstract:
    Convened By
    Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London) and Dr Natalia Bremner, Institute of Modern Languages Research (University of London).
    In partnership with Dr Andrea Major, University of Leeds, Professor Crispin Bates, University of Edinburgh and Dr Ashutosh Kumar, University of Leeds
    Registration, TEA/COFFEE
    Introduction and Welcome
    Maria del Pilar Kaladeen & Natalia Bremner
    Opening Lecture,
    Professor Clem Seecharan, Emeritus, London Metropolitan University ‘’The Great Escape’? North Indian Migration to British Guiana’
    Panel 1 – Chair TBC Words and Things: Reflections on Problematic Terms in the Archive, the Academy and Beyond, Part I
    Natalia Bremner, Institute of Modern Languages Research, ‘Being Creole in Mauritius: Reflections on Race, Social Class, and Academic Language’
    Gitanjali Pyndiah, Goldsmiths, University of London, ‘Koulitid: eski kreol sa?’ ‘Does the term Coolitude contribute to creole culture?’
    Reshaad Durgahee, University of Nottingham, ‘’Coolie’ Lines and ‘Native’ Villages: The Geography of Indenture in Fiji’
    12:30- 2:00
    LUNCH (Not provided)
    Panel 2 – Chaired by Tina K. Ramnarine, Royal Holloway, University of London Words and Things: Reflections on Problematic Terms in the Archive, the Academy and Beyond, Part II
    Andrea Major and Ashutosh Kumar, University of Leeds, ‘Times and Places: Imperial Terms and Historical Contexts’
    Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, ‘’He has had the Agent in Calcutta on Toast’: On Walking Away from the ‘C’ Word’
    Jeremy Poynting, Editor, Peepal Tree Press, “Phoebus, Surya and De Blasted Sun”
    3:30 – 3:45
    Group workshops and discussion
    Closing Lecture – Khal Torabully ‘Coolitude: Experiences, Reflections and the Way Forward’
    By invitation only.
    To request a place please e-mail olga.jimenez@sas.ac.uk
    09 October 2015, 10:00 – 17:30
    Event Type:
    Conference / Symposium
    The Court Room (Senate House, first floor)
    Venue Details:
    Senate House Malet Street London WC1E 7HU

    You will be very much on my mind, and I will refer to your work.

    Best regards,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *