Many journalists steer a conventional path seeking stardom and acclaim by their peers. Few have the courage and the confidence to pursue seemingly obscure subjects and bring them into mainstream media focus. Lainy Malkani was one who did; she looked at the hidden story of the relationship between migrant workers and the production of sugar.
Lainy is the author of ‘Sugar, Sugar Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers’ published by Hope Road Publishing.
Background London- born Lainy Malkani’s parents arrived from British Guiana in the early 1960s. “Their ancestors left India in the late nineteenth century to work on sugar plantations in the colony. I know little about them. They probably worked as cane cutters and domestic workers,” she told us. In London, Lainy’s mother did several jobs from home – sewing and working in a biscuit factory - until finally settling at the British Library. There, she worked in the reference library in Chancery Lane until she retired. Lainy’s father, a teacher in British Guiana (now known as Guyana,) worked for the Civil Service.
Lainy continues; “I was close to my mother. Her stories of reading unusual and intriguing manuscripts and archive material at the British Library rubbed off on me. We always read the newspapers and watched the news on TV. Perhaps her influence led me to journalism.” Lainy did a Communication Studies degree then won a scholarship from LBC radio. She did a Post Graduate Diploma at City University. “Before moving to BBC News and Current Affairs, I worked in the Community Affairs Department where I covered British Asian stories.”
She carried the topic into her next post; at the BBC World Service. But she still had hardly any opportunity to cover stories about her own Indo-Caribbean heritage and upbringing. Forging Her Own Path Lainy left the BBC in 2012 to explore ways of bringing her history and experience to a wider audience. “In 2015, with the help of radio production company Culture Wise Productions, we made a two-part documentary series for BBC Radio 4 about my family’s experiences as the descendants of Indian Indentured workers. Like thousands of others they worked for five years on the sugar plantations in British Guiana and then decided to stay. ‘Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas,’ was a success and seemed to strike a chord with British Asians who shared this history.”
Inspired by the success of the documentaries Lainy approached Arts Council England and the writer’s development agency Spread The Word, to write a collection of short stories that would reveal the wider Indian diaspora who share this history. “‘Sugar, Sugar Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers’ begins in 1838 when the first ships left Calcutta and Madras. The ten short story collection is based on archive at the British Library and memories of the descendants of indentured Indian workers. It includes stories about Guyana and Trinidad, as well as South Africa, Fiji and Mauritius where Indians also thrived. It took me six months to write; I worked with a mentor to help guide me through the writing process, and an amazing illustrator, Mireille Fauchon. Her family history rooted in Goa and the UK helped influence the creative process and the end result is magical.”
About the Book
“’Sugar, Sugar Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers’ is written for the elders in our communities and the younger UK audience that is intrigued by their past. I chose fiction because I wanted to create new voices, allowing the reader to place themselves at the centre of the story. There is an absence of first person narrative in the archive material at the British Library. Most of it is written from the perspective of the British: the plantation owner, the manager of the sugar estate or the doctors who were supposed to care for the Indian workers. I wanted to write these stories now before our elders pass away. It is sad that we are in danger of losing our histories.”
Lainy has inspired others with her work. In September, she will run creative writing workshops for the community and other budding authors who want to use their past to write their own stories. Enrol at the @sugarsugartales FB page or
email Lainy at [email protected].
Lainy is researching her second book and is looking forward to sitting down at her desk to write. “I am hoping that this time I won’t spend a whole month sleeping on the sofa with just my laptop and cat, Marvin, for company. I’ve learned a few lessons throughout the writing process for ‘Sugar, Sugar.’ My family was so supportive of the erratic working weeks
that preceded publication but I’m not so sure they will be as giving the second time around!”
“It’s written for the elders in our community and the younger UK