Asian Studies in Africa

Looking for Lakshmi

Rajan Soni
Unisa Press
USD: $ 19| GBP: £12 | Euro: €14

The story begins at high seas on a 12-day voyage across the Indian Ocean in the bowels of the SS Karanja bound for Bombay. It is February 1972 and the author has £200, stitched into the inside pocket of his trousers by an Indian tailor in Mombasa ‘wise to the embraces of Indian pickpockets’. The 1 000-mile journey to his ancestral home in North Punjab lies ahead.

Rajan Soni weaves together aspects of both his African and Indian inheritance to fashion the tale of his search for his anonymous Indian grandmother, Bibiji, whose legacy is shrouded in silence. The political and spiritual entwine, as the writer traces the shadow of Bibiji through generations of his family dispersed across continents. His is a search for meaning that conjures universal themes, which will resonate for readers who see their own migratory histories etched on familiar canvases of social turmoil, latent lines of fate, family and political history shaping personal destiny. This evocative narrative straddles the emerging discipline of Indian Ocean Studies and the popular genre of life writing. By turns restless, sardonic, lyrical, reflexive – always quietly compassionate – Looking for Lakshmi is an engaging new contribution to diasporic writing.

‘Rajan Soni’s gentle lyricism gives content to the abstractions of provenance and becoming. While we are all aware of the constitutive intersection of the roots and routes of identity, Looking for Lakshmi maps vividly the various journeys that ushered the author into being. Its portraits – of different times, contexts and people – transform cultural history into lived reality. As readers, we are blessed by Soni’s invitation to travel with him.’ Michael Titlestad, Professor of Literature, University of the Witwatersrand.