Locating Hybridity

Creole, Identities and Body Politics in the Novels of Ananda Devi

by Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy (Author)
©2015 Monographs X, 198 Pages
Series: Modern French Identities, Volume 117


Despite its inherent negative implications as a purveyor of essentialism, the concept of hybridity holds a great deal of critical purchase in the postcolonial world. Hybridity allows identities and cultures to be conceptualized as different and manifold, allowing for the undermining of the binaries of self and other, centre and periphery, colonizer and colonized. In Mauritius, a country where numerous civilizations (African, European, Indian, Chinese) coexist and have constructed a new society, linguistic practices, culture and the body are all intrinsically linked to the concept of identity. The author of this study provides a timely discussion of hybridity in the novels of Ananda Devi, perhaps the most famous name in the Mauritian literary landscape. The book analyses various linguistic practices through the lens of linguistic criticism and theory. It then shifts its attention to psychological dislocations suffered by postcolonial subjects having a hybrid identity, as extolled by theorists such as Glissant and Bhabha, and offers an alternative interpretation of identity. Finally, the physical repercussions of hybridity are discussed in order to gauge its relevance in a society such as Mauritius.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Locating Hybridity: Mauritius in Context
  • Hybridity: History, Reappropriation and Current Debates
  • Mauritius: A Sociolinguistic History
  • Chapter 2: Hybrid Contexts, Hybrid Texts?
  • Towards a Hybrid Language
  • The Changing Role of Creole in Devi’s Narratives
  • ‘High wire dancers of language’: French and the Poetics of Hybridity
  • Devi’s Hybrid Text: Towards a Dynamic Form
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Interrogating ‘Hybrid’ Identities: Doubling, Fragmentation and Schizoids in Devi’s Novels
  • ‘L’Inde me scinde’: Doubling in Le Voile de Draupadi and L’Arbre fouet
  • ‘Je ne sais pas qui nous sommes’: Fragmentation in Devi’s Creole Narratives
  • Writing the Schizoid and Schizophrenia
  • Writing Home: Diasporic Identity in Devi’s Les Hommes qui me parlent
  • Rethinking Identity
  • Chapter 4: Hybrid Bodies: Alterity in Devi’s Novels
  • ‘Almost white but not quite’: Ferblanc’s Hybridity in Soupir
  • Hybrid Bodies: Becoming in Devi’s Novels
  • Hybridizing the Human and the Animal: Language and Name-Calling in Devi’s Novels
  • The Human-Animal Hybrid Body: Towards an Ethics of Hybridity?
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion: Towards a Poetics of Hybridity
  • Bibliography
  • Works by Ananda Devi
  • Short Stories and Poetry
  • Secondary Texts
  • Websites and Online Resources
  • Index
  • Series Index


This book would not have been possible without the help and unwavering support of my parents and my brother who have given me so much. Merci de tout coeur.

The foundation of the book lies in the thriving academic community of the University of Nottingham, and the support of Dr Rosemary Chapman. Its initial stages were thought of under the supervision of Dr Nicki Hitchcott and the late Dr Suzanne Dow.

The School of Languages, Culture and Area Studies at the University of Nottingham supported my project financially for the duration of my time in the department and for this they have my deepest gratitude.

I am grateful to the editors of the various journals and publishing houses for the permission to reproduce part of the work in this book.

My heartfelt thanks to Ananda Devi who is always happy to answer queries and provide diverse pistes de réflexion. ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →


Works by Ananda Devi appear in references using the abbreviations indicated below.


Locating Hybridity: Mauritius in Context

[Je] me perds totalement dans mon propre corps démembré. Pagli. C’est moi. (P: 31)

[…] une femme seule qui cherchait un lieu où elle aurait pu se rassembler et redevenir entière et une. (P: 153)

Daya-Pagli,1 the eponymous character of Pagli (2001), highlights the quandary faced by protagonists seeking to negotiate their identity in Ananda Devi’s novels. The character’s yearning for a single identity stems from the inability to construct a stable and coherent Self due to the complex notion of belonging(s) prevalent in Mauritian society, where the novel is set. As the narrator describes the ‘mofines’, the bastion of Hindu traditions in Pagli, the notion of attachment to India is highlighted. Indeed, Daya-Pagli is burdened with her Indian ancestors’ will: ‘elles ont tissé des liens entre ces gens venus d’ailleurs et moi’ (P: 42). She does not acknowledge their values as her own, nor does she believe she is indebted to them: ‘je n’avais fait aucun serment d’allégeance à tant d’inconnus (P: 43). Daya-Pagli, in the text, remains the only Hindu woman who does not follow the ‘sentier tracé pour [elle]’ (P: 41). Daya-Pagli dwells in her own present and seeks a future with a man she loves. Conscious of herself as an inhabitant of Mauritius rather than the Indian sub-continent, she repeatedly denounces the insistence on clear boundaries being maintained between the different ← 1 | 2 → communities on the island. Her relationship with Zil is perceived as destructive, especially since he is Creole:2 ‘la Pagli et Zil. L’entrave. La transgression. La petite faille qui deviendra grande […]’ (P: 106).

Pagli underscores the enduring attachment of Indo-Mauritians to their ancestral ‘home’. This has prompted some critics to refer to the island as ‘Little India’, given that 70 per cent of the population is of Indian origin.3 However, Mauritian society is multicultural and multi-linguistic. It has been referred to as a ‘hybrid’ space by a few critics: Hawkins’ The Other Hybrid Archipelago (2007) opposes the Indian Ocean islands, including Mauritius, to the Caribbean islands. In her book Hybridity: Limits, Transformations, Prospects (1997), Prabhu examines Mauritian society through the lens of hybridity, which she finds is reflected in the novels that are written by Mauritian authors. In Mauritius, the population is a mix of descendants of mostly French colonizers, African slaves, Indian indentured labourers (Hindus and Muslims) as well as Chinese traders, who have cohabited in relative harmony since the colonial period. As a Mauritian, I was taught from primary school that our ancestors came from different countries and whilst it may have been deemed a celebration of multiculturalism, it also fostered a sense of difference between all of us.4 ← 2 | 3 →

Culturally speaking, there are different ethnic groups each allocated a public holiday in an attempt at showing equal rights for all communities. Similarly, there is proportional representation in the National Assembly, ‘So, no matter what the result by party in the general election, this guarantees seats for ethnic minorities such as the Chinese and Muslims’ (Srebrnik 2002: 278). This system has been criticized by Raj Mathur who asserts that it involves the ‘constitutionalisation’ of ethnicity (Mathur 1997: 60–4), which exacerbates the existing divide between the different communities on the island. Nevertheless, each community participates in the cultural festivals of the other. It is not uncommon to find Creoles celebrating Cavadee, the Tamil religious festival, and many people, who are not necessarily Biharis, walking to Ganga Talao for Maha Shivaratree, while members of the Chinese community also make cakes for Diwali, for example. Yet, there is still a marked rift between the communities given that they do not want to lose their ancestral identity through intermarriage (except for the Creoles who have mixed ancestry). Similarly their place within Mauritian society’s hierarchy has been established since independence, with Hindus at the top and Creoles at the bottom, although Franco-Mauritians remain the wealthiest.

English, French and especially Creole are the languages that are employed on a daily basis by the majority, but most individuals are associated with a community through an original ethnic language (Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telegu, Marathi, Gujrati and Hakka) that almost nobody speaks fluently or frequently.5 Some Sino-Mauritian families use Hakka, in various villages Bhojpuri is still spoken by the older generation, but in most towns and in the capital, the use of Creole is widespread. Moreover, given the proximity of Mauritian Creole to French, it is unsurprising to see school teachers explaining English medium subjects in French. The official language remains English while French is spoken to establish a more formal context than Creole, which is used for mundane interactions. In Eisenlohr’s words, ‘few of these languages are actually used in everyday ← 3 | 4 → life, and among them Mauritian Creole is by far the most dominant and is known by practically all Mauritians’ (Eisenlohr 2006: 30). This paradox highlights the nature of culture and language in Mauritius: one that is highly mutable and constantly being interrogated by Mauritian authors like Ananda Devi.

Hailing from the Mauritian Telegu community, Devi writes from the Franco-Swiss border, where she has lived for thirty years after completing her education in the United Kingdom. She holds a PhD from the SOAS and is a translator in Geneva. Devi’s corpus is constantly growing and increasingly garnering success worldwide. She has thus far written twelve novels, two poetry anthologies and several short story collections. Devi has won accolades for her literary works since she was fifteen, culminating in the Prix des Cinq continents de la Francophonie for Eve de ses décombres in 2006, le Prix Fémina and Le Prix Guilloux for Le Sari vert in 2009. Devi’s rich background and her immersion in different cultures have enabled her to grapple with a variety of themes and settings, including India in Indian Tango (2007) and London in Les Jours vivants (2013). According to Devi, ‘je considère l’hybridité comme un processus essentiel pour reconnaître ce qu’on est, parce que ce qui nous réunit c’est peut-être justement le fait d’être issus de composants différents’ (Corio 2005: 149). She states:

Je me sens bien le produit d’une telle coïncidence de cultures: j’ai puisé de toutes les ressources culturelles et créatrices qui m’étaient ouvertes dès l’enfance du fait que j’étais née à Maurice […] pour devenir aujourd’hui quelqu’un d’hybride dans le bon sens du terme. Je me sens Mauricienne parce qu’un peu Africaine, un peu Européenne, un peu Indienne. C’est une richesse formidable dont je suis pleinement consciente, tant est immense le bonheur que je ressens à détenir les clés de ces grandes civilisations. (Interview Indes Réunionnaises 2003)

Thus, for her, hybridity is inscribed in the very fabric of Mauritian society. However, there are different kinds of hybridities as evidenced by ‘dans le bon sens du terme’ and even the positive type of hybridity is not lived in a similar fashion by everyone. In fact, many resist it or deny it. Given Devi’s statement regarding her own hybridity stemming from the society she was brought up in, and the influence of all the ‘ressources culturelles’ on ← 4 | 5 → her writing, this book considers the forms of hybridity that appear within Devi’s text and their significance as representations of Mauritian identity.


X, 198
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
essentialism postcolonial world new society linguistic criticism
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. X, 198 pp.

Biographical notes

Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy (Author)

Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy is a modern foreign languages teacher in Nottingham. She holds an MPhil from the University of Nottingham. She has published widely on hybridity, corporeality, postcolonial madness, gender and identity issues, focusing on Ananda Devi’s writing as well as engaging in comparative analysis with Caribbean Francophone writing.


Title: Locating Hybridity
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