Tag Archives: Coolie Woman

What I’ve been reading and listening to: February

I didn’t read much this month, but I did listen to more podcast series than usual.

Gaiutra Bahadur is an American journalist, born in Guyana. Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture revolves around the story of Bahadur’s great-grandmother (Sujaria) who travelled from India to Guyana in 1903 as an indentured labourer. Bahadur acknowledges that the book’s title may offend some, but she explains that the word (which originated from the Tamil word kuli, meaning wages or hire) is ‘true to her subject’. Sujaria left India as a high-caste Hindu, but being swept up in a mass movement of people, the power of her colonizers to name and misname her formed a key part of her story. According to Bahadur, the word coolie ‘carries the baggage of colonialism on its back.’

Bahadur’s research is exemplary, but the book suffers from her desire to include what seems like all of her findings, rather than to pick out a few examples. This makes the book a ‘dense’ read. I found myself skipping over sections, trying to pick out the memoir aspects (I was fascinated by the author’s own story of emigration from Guyana to New York), and Sujaria’s storyline. The reality is that Sujaria left little trace in her village in India, or even on the journey and in her new life in the Caribbean. So Bahadur does what any good historian would do, and researches around the life that Sujaria lived to permit some educated speculation. The result is a brilliant history of indenture-era Guyana and late nineteenth-century India, with a focus on women’s lives in both places. I was interested in the history of Guyana post-slavery, and was also fascinated in the more modern-day insights into relations between different elements of the Indian diaspora.

I read the latest John le CarrĂ© novel in a day. I love a good spy novel – this one is set in contemporary London, with forays into Eastern Europe. I highly recommend it.

I still haven’t read Kate Fullagar’s The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist in full yet, but I went to the launch this month, which was very exciting. I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments, and I feel as though I’ve read a lot of it, having seen Kate talk about the book at various points of its development. but I’m looking forward to putting it all together in March.

In addition to my regular podcasts*, I enjoyed these series:

  • The Catch and Kill Podcast – Great series which covers shocking material in relation to Ronan Farrow’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein, published in the New Yorker in 2017. The podcast is a great companion to She Said, the book written about a parallel investigation by two New York Times journalists.
  • A Podcast of One’s Own – Julia Gillard’s round-up of the first year of her podcast with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London… the interviews are always fascinating, I’m so pleased to hear it will continue through 2020.
  • WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork – shocking/hilarious/unbelievable – even if you know nothing about this outrageous story from the business world, this podcast is well worth a listen!
  • Broken: Jeffrey Epstein. Another shocking account of an utterly despicable person and the people around him. Like Catch and Kill and She Said, the podcast details the process of researching and breaking the news about Epstein. This is probably the strongest element of this particular podcast. Maybe I’m cynical, but I honestly didn’t find the extent to which people like Epstein are embedded in our society shocking in itself.

And to end on a high note – my favourite thing this month was watching Cheer on Netflix đŸ™‚

*My regulars include: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Happier in Hollywood, the Daily and Satellite Sisters.