To Every Hundred Men, Forty Women: Traces of the Female Indentured Labour Experience in Naipaul and Nandan

Research output: Non-textual formFilm, Digital Media or Visual Output


In V.S. Naipaul’s Finding the Centre, he describes visiting his father’s sister in Trinidad in 1972 and hearing from her the story of his great-grandmother’s journey from India as a single, pregnant woman in about 1880. Elsewhere he describes meeting in 1962 the woman who accompanied his maternal grandfather back to India from Trinidad in 1926: ‘she had had a great adventure’.
Satendra Nandan’s fine poem ‘Lines across Black Waters’ tells of his grandparents’ voyage from their village in India to the ‘lines’ or barracks of the sugar cane fields of Fiji, where their fellow workers, ‘without the grammar of grandmothers / … died in hope and dread’. There were, however, women in those barracks: ‘mother India’s daughters / Trapped, caged like birds, wings clipped / Mourning.’
For both these two writers, being descended from the Indian diaspora of the British Empire is a formative element in their literary sensibility. In this paper I will consider how this sensibility is manifested in Finding the Centre and ‘Lines across Black waters.’ In particular, I will discuss the way that they represent women’s experiences in these two works, in the broader context of Indian women’s presence amongst the indentured labourers of the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationIndia
PublisherS.R. Fatepuria College
Media of outputOnline
Sizeapprox 40 minutes
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2020
EventGender, Sexuality and Postcolonial Literature: Trends, Issues and Perspectives - S.R. Fatepuria College, Murshidabad, India
Duration: 23 Jul 202025 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Invited talk presented online to Webinar at S.R. Fatepuria College in West Bengal, India.
Gillian Dooley's presentation is from 3:55-44:14.


  • Indian indentured labourers
  • Women
  • V.S. Naipaul
  • Satendra Nandan
  • Kavita Ivy Nandan


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