|The Heart Knows No Colour|
|Monday, 03 March 2014 15:51|
By Praba Moodley
Review by Rasvanth Chunylall
How does one describe Praba Moodley’s The Heart Knows No Colour? Is it a sweeping family saga? A soap-opera styled romantic tale of secret passions and forbidden love? Or perhaps the novel’s intentions lie within Moodley’s dedication to her forefathers; there is a strong awareness of the need to acknowledge the sacrifice and perseverance of previous generations and to preserve one’s culture and heritage.
The novel explores the life of Chumpa Suklal and her kin as they arrive in South Africa in 1879. With nothing but their hopes for a better life, the family begin work as indentured labourers on a sugarcane plantation in Natal. Moodley vividly paints the conditions synonymous with the experience from the humiliating bathing ceremonies undertaken after disembarking, the cramped living conditions, meagre wages, a lack of support structures for the sick and uneducated, to the brutal lashings received from Sirdars or overseers. The novel illustrates how strong family bonds helped Indians overcome these indignities. Chumpa notes in the beginning of the novel, “I have family with me, and together we will find the courage and strength to meet whatever awaits us” (15).
This family dynamic is challenged through subsequent generations. After their contracts expired some chose to return to India while some bought their own plots of land to cultivate crops with painstakingly saved wages. Others (especially young Indian men and women stifled by the confinement of their contracts) chose to try their luck in the city and this proves an interesting plot point for Chumpa’s son, Gopi, who eschews the banality of the farms, its hardships and lack of opportunities for the alluring cocktail of danger, prospects and freedom offered by the city.
Thematically, skin colour and its insignificance in matters of the heart is the focus of the narrative. In one of the most pivotal and possibly most touching of scenes in The Heart Knows No Colour, Sita rejects the discrimination of her mother, Chumpa, when she disparages Gopi’s choice of a darker-skinned partner. “We do not choose the people we fall in love with”, she declares. “It is something we cannot control” (67). The idealisation of lighter skin by Chumpa remains a troubling issue with how little we have evolved, as evidenced by the blooming market of skin lightening products in South Africa.
Readers will enjoy Moodley’s colourful use of language and her efforts in creating a piece that accurately reflects the time the action takes place. The rich tapestry of family dynamics may disconcert readers but Moodley remedies this in the equally compelling 2009 sequel, Follow Your Heart, which provides a family tree of the Suklal family.