International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
A. Athiappan  
How does the individual pull up cultural roots and retain a sense of life’s significance; how can one not  

divest oneself of a specific group identity in this modern age of levelling multiplicity?” (Sharrad, x)  
Ethnicity is vital to all races. A race claims to possess its heritage and culture through the maintenance  
of its own ethnicity. No race claims to have the homogeneity in ethnicity. Over the passage of time, the  
homogeneity is rather despoiled by various political and cultural factors. During the colonial era, the  
non-whites attempted all the ways to retain their originality in ethnic identities. After the colonization, the  
natives strained hard to reclaim their ethnic identities, which were spoiled by the colonizers. The post-  
independence brought the fresh complexities in the life of the natives. Throughout the world, the ethnic  
groups within a nation’s boundary came into conflicts after 1950s. It is hard to achieve the homogeneity  
of identity and culture in the event of globalised cultures. It is harder for the migrants to maintain the  
unhybridised culture, when they are displaced in an alien land. While maintaining their own identity and  
indigenous culture, they become a part of the multicultural society. Hence, the New Diaspora encompasses  
the kaleidoscopic dimensions of multitudinous cultures. In a multicultural country like Malaysia, diversity  
becomes not the cause for unity but a cause for communal rivalry. Though there is discrimination resulting  
in the exchange of values, there is collective ‘oneness’ giving way to separate individualism. This paper  
tries to excavate the experiences of various ethnics whom are in the paradox of being Malaysian and  
becoming Malaysian.  
Key Words: K.S.Maniam, Tamil Ethnic Identity, Malaysian Tamil Diaspora, Multiculturalism, The New  
Diaspora, Diasporic Transformation.  
Subramaniam Krishnan, also known as K.S. Maniam, a Malaysian-Indian writer, was born in Bedong, a small  
town in Kedah situated in the rural north of Malaysia. Like many immigrants, his family had migrated from India  
to the Malay Peninsula around 1916. As a prolific writer, Maniam wrote novels, plays and short stories. His first  
novel The Return (1981) is autobiographical. The narrator, Ravi, is a representative of the first Malaysian – born  
generation. ‘Ratnamuni’ was his first short story that depicts the experience of a semi – literate estate worker  
Muniandy. It also depicts the deep Indian cultural roots of South India with the special emphasis on the  
symbols of ‘uduku’ and ‘thundu’. Maniam wrote his second novel In a Far Country (1993) which narrates the  
story of Rajan. It portrays the life of poverty-stricken rubber plantation workers. It also faithfully records the  
events of Rajan’s father’s escape from India to Malaysia. After many hardships, his son Rajan achieved success  
in business. Maniam’s wrote a few plays and short stories. They are published in the anthologies such as  
Sensuous Horizons, (1994) Haunting the Tiger (1996) and The Loved Flaw (2001) and recently a novel Between  
Lives (2003). In his novels he never fails to describe the region of estate life. Like William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha,  
Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, R.K.Narayan’s Malgudi and V.S.Naipaul’s Trinidad, Maniam records about the life in  
K.S.Maniam, is the descendant of Tamil ethnic groups in Kedah. Indenture labour system was evolved out of  
nineteenth century imperial policy to get the cheap labourers in the colonized countries. Indenture labourer  
system is called ‘girmitya’ system. In his In A Far Country faithfully records the memories of many Indian  
especially Tamil indentured labour of Malaya’s rubber plantations. Tamils in Malaysia do not feel themselves  
alienated. They celebrate their existence with the other ethnic groups. They face identity crisis in the Malaysian  
multicultural society. Maniam’s works are the documentary reference about the transition from British Malaya to  
Malaysia. They show the insight of both personal and cultural life of a Tamil Indian society living in the north of  
the peninsula. They also work as an epitome of the lives of the proles working in tea estate and rubber plantations.  
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Maniam is living with the sensibility of an intense Hindu spirituality as well as a passion for the English language.  
His works are the authentic Malaysian mosaic and furnish the condition of the marginalisation of Indian Malaysians.  
In A Far Country, according to Paul Sharrad, it is a “compendium of notes, letters, memories and  
meditations,…enlivened by dramatic snapshots of memory, jerkily and briefly flashed up, often intense in their  
In the beginning of the novel, Rajan, the narrator begins to narrate about his family. He describes about the  
atmosphere of the Indian proletarians living in Malaysia. They are often seen in rubber plantations and they  
spend time in toddy shops. Rajan envisages that his father has done only one adventure in his life –‘his escape  
from India to Malaysia’ (IFC,4). He recalls his grandfathers’ revelation about their travel from India to Malaysia  
which reminiscences the African-American experiences of ‘Middle Passage’. He presents vividly to his grandson  
The ship we came in was crowded and foul. The hulls were rusted. When I drank water from the taps there was  
only a taste of rust. And the human dung – all over the place. The men not even closing the door. The door too  
rusted to be closed. The women with just the saris over their thighs, to hide their shame. Sometimes no water  
even to wash, to flush away the human filth. (IFC,5)  
Rajan’s father likes to read the Tamil newspapers recollecting his past. He also speaks about the Indians who  
came to Malaysia as the family members. But ‘Look where we are now. Shadows in the darkness, not even  
hearing the other person’s breathe. Not even caring…. Like blind bats we come to the fruits trees. Then we’re  
caught in the net” (IFC,6). Afterwards, their settlement in rubber plantations also bring them only suffering. It  
shows the Trishanku state of the migrants of the “girmitya” system. Rajan’s father says, “Our lives just small  
handfuls of dirt. Dropped into the Ocean, they just disappeared” (IFC,7).  
The novel also depicts the story of second generation of immigrants. Rajan comes to know about Tamil roots  
from his parents. His childhood life centers on in a rubber estate community. But later he grows away from his  
ancestors by an English education. It promotes his earlier estate life and enters into the life of the professional  
middle class as a businessman. He marries Vasanthi and they gave birth to two sons. In the opening of the  
novel, Rajan is in the mood of despair and he himself questions his existence in the multi-ethnic Malaysia.  
During his life in plantations, he has many multi-ethnic friends namely, Zulkifli, a Malay villager, who takes Rajan  
far into the Malaysian country. Lee Shin a Chinese is Rajan’s uncommunicative neighbour and colleague.  
At the outset of the novel, Rajan, the protagonist, according to Paul Sharrad, faces ‘an existential void’. Rajan  
says, “I’ve been, until a few months ago, a successful businessman with my own firm. But now I’m filled with a  
terrifying emptiness. Everything has come to a stand-still (IFC,25)”. He wants to forget his past but the past  
does not allow him to forget. At the same time, his wife Vasanthi maintains her adherence of her past. She has  
a simple room in their house in order to recollect their earlier condition of poverty ear. He also differs from his  
father as he is more concerned with ‘land’. Rajan says, “My father’s words kept recurring in my mind as I  
trudged with others : “We must leave the estate. We must ‘go to the real land’” (IFC,44). But the son is not very  
much concerned with the land.  
Later Rajan extends his memory of the Tamils’ cultural festivals. Both Maniam’s The Return (1981) and In A Far  
Country (1993) faithfully record the Indian ritualistic prayers such as Deepavali, Thaipusam, Pongal and so on.  
He also preserves Tamil ethnicity through the statue of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer of Hindu mythology or Siva,  
Saraswathi the Hindu goddess of writing and learning. Maniam also weaves his narration with the South Indian  
cultural symbols such as ‘vadai’ (Indian doughnut), ‘murukku’ (Indian spicy tidbits), ‘Kumkum’ (Red powder  
worn as a dot on women’s forehead), ‘amma’ (mother), ‘thambi’ (brother), ‘Kanji’ (Rice gruel), ‘sireh’ (leaf eaten  
with betel nut shavings), ‘Kerambu’ (Indian spice), ‘vesti’ (cloth worn from waist downwards by Indian men).  

Kavadi’ (Small structure carried by devotees on Thaipusam day), ‘Pottu’ (Red/Black dot worn by women on  
their foreheads) and so on.  
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In A Far Country (1993) depicts the elite Indian festival ‘Deepavali’. It also weaves the incidents of goat slaughter  
in detail. All the Tamils are in a celebration mood and Rajan exclaims, “they shuffled, whistled sang old Tamils  
and drank toddy from dirty flagons while waiting for the carcasses to be brought to them” (IFC,12). They  
named a goat as Mani which will be sacrificed on the day of “ Deepavali” to Lord Kaliamma. The villagers call  
it Mani as if it is one of the family members. They feed delicious food and vegetables to Mani and the boys of  
the village observed all the happenings around them. Rajan remembers his childhood days of Tamil ceremony.  
Through the character named Muniandy, Andy for short, Maniam paints the poverty stricken Indian immigrants  
in Malaysian landscape. Rajan describes his appearance as he wore dirty brown shorts. He was darker than  
other workers because of the environment smoked in his work place. Rajan also adds that if he spent a long  
time in the smoke- house one could hardly separate him from the smoked rubber sheets. He spent his maximum  
time in the smoke-house. Rajan did not know when he came home. He was influenced by Andy’s movements.  
After some enquiries, Rajan came to know about his past. His father and Andy came to Malaysia with his wife  
and she died a year later for some mysterious reasons. She was a traditional Indian woman. She became  
introvert for some mysterious reasons. Rajan says,  
For a time it looked as if Andy would follow in her footsteps but recovered sufficiently to volunteer to take  
charge of the smoke-house. From then on this dark shed next to the estate factory became his entire world.  
IFC, 19)  
Rajan asked many questions about Andy’s condition. On one occasion, Rajan went to the estate factory along  
with his mother. There he watched Andy’s movements. There was a communication between them with their  
wandering eyes. Rajan sometimes wondered if he was in occult secret communication with his wife. When  
Andy was in is home, Rajan says,  
The cooking and the eating were conducted silently, the spirit of his wife all the time beside him. We never  
heard him grumble, mutter or talk to himself signs that would have shown he needed and understood the  
language of our world. (IFC,21).  
He wore a white ‘vesti’ and shirt on pay day and then he went to buy the month’s provisions. He returned from  
the town after taking toddy. On festival days, he was in solitude, in the silent smoke-house. Andy’s life is  
inseparable from the smoke-house and solitude. Andy stands as one of the symbols of Indian-Tamil who is  
destroyed completely by the ‘grimityas’ system.  
Rajan shares his study of Lee Shin, a Chineese. He observed the Chinese keenly. The memories of his father  
must have shaped his relationship with Lee Shin. The concept of ‘home’ is revealed through the characters of  
Rajan and Lee Shin in multicultural Malaysia. Rajan says, “ Even though we led separable lives, we seemed to  
be joined together by some deep-rooted desire for a home”.(IFC, 28). He observed Lee Shin’s activities, when  
darkness came. What was he? This question obsessed Rajan for a long time. He went on watching him but he  
understood only a little. Rajan made an extensive record on Lee Shin. In A Far Country contains a separate  
chapter on Lee Shin study. It was an attempt to understand Lee Shin’s behaviour, thoughts and motivation.  
Rajan first observed him as an independent. He had been observed by an observer for more than a month, but  
he had not said even a word to the observer.  
In the evening, Lee Shin was seated for some time. He was almost immobile in the varandah. He had a bright  
object in his hands. He started to play a ‘harmonica’. During some weekends, Lee Shin went into the jungle to  
catch the butterflies. He often played the flute which was made up of bamboo. He and Rajan worked in the  
same office and they spent more time. On one day, Lee Shin invited Rajan for dinner. He ordered a number of  
dishes without thinking about the taste or expense. His repulsive behaviour came out, when the waiter brought  
‘the Chinese tea’. He liked and gulped it down so hastily and he spilled some on his shirt. He spoke all the while  
about this and that as if he did not care whether Rajan wanted to hear him or not. Then Rajan did not see him  
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for a few days and the clerk wanted to know his whereabouts. Rajan went to Lee Shin’s house and found him  
dead. Lee Shin attained a kind of mysterious death.  
Maniam weaves his multi-ethnic net through the comparison of both Rajan and Lee Shin. Both of them belong  
to different ethnic groups and come from different background. Like Rajan, Lee Shin dislikes his father. They are  
unhappy with their homes and seek a kind of ‘rootedness’ and ‘performance’. They seem to be joined together  
by some deep-rooted desire for a home. It shows that both distinct ethnic races are living in a country which is  
not originally a country of their ancestors. Lee Shin is fond of collecting antiques, banners, tiny shoes and etc.,  
which are imported from China and also, he saves money for a real Chinese festival. He even wants his new  
fiancée to change, to be Chinese. He says, “ He had filled his room with furniture imported from China or  
Taiwan, which was revealing: it bore no relationship to the dull waking up every morning and taking into your  
consciousness the unyielding landscape behind the houses”. (IFC, 46) In Paul Sharrd’s terms, “His (Rajan)  
attempt to help his colleague by asserting their common manhood on a ‘dirty weekend’ with some prostitutes  
downplays ethnic differences and attacks another stereotype of the Chinese male as lusty epicurean. This only  
drives Lee Shin further into neurosis….”(Sharrad xiii). Finally Rajan resolves, “ Looking at his grotesquely  
twisted body, I resolved I wouldn’t let anything rob me of my life. Nothing would distort my body or mind”.(IFC,65)  
Rajan starts a business and earns to build a house. He worked in the settlement of the lands. After the settlement,  
he resigned his position and moved to south. He sat himself up in the property business and it was registered  
as the Apex Co.. It dealt with all kinds of transactions, chiefly buying and selling of cars, houses and lands. He  
remembered another two important characters, Ramasamy and Kok. The former was the bookshop proprietor  
and the latter was the rubber-dealer. Kok liked to call himself Jimmy. Maniam describes Kok’s longingness to  
become an Englishman as, “” Latex has always run in my family blood you know”. He spoke a peculiar brand  
of English that bordered on being half-British and half-Chinese. But in his clothes, he was unpredictable”  
IFC,69). Both of them talked about the purpose of demolishing the colonial buildings. The concept of building  
and land are frequent in this novel. He says, “My land aesthetics grew. There was no need, I realized, to get too  
involved with the land. That only led to despair and futility….”(IFC,77). He also confesses that the land has  
nothing to do with emotional turbulence.  
Rajan wanders all over the country “presumably in pursuit of wealth and stability he knows that there is something  
else to life beside money and success” (IFC,102). His search for his roots and belonging takes him to search for  
a tiger with Zulkifli. Rajan recollects his experiences with a Malay Zulkifli. The Zulkifli episode is highlighted by  
the problem of ethnic differences induced by colonial capitalism. Zulkifli complained Rajan that he worked  
only for earning money. Zulkifli says, “”You don’t know real land” he said. “Otherwise you won’t be selling lots  
of the land like this””(IFC,81). Rajan aslo confesses that as the people came to him their land, he sold them to  
others those wanted to buy. He also insisted that he only helped them. Zulkifli replies, “That isn’t helping” he  
said. “ You must see the real land”(IFC,81). In a conversation with Rajan, Zulkifli insists that Rajan should stop  
selling the land. But Rajan replies that he does not worry to sell the land because it is not his mother land. Rajan  
never agrees with Zulkifli. Zulkifli asks Rajan that he should see the “tiger” which is symbolic of the spirit of the  
land Malay and also indigenous authenticity. Zulkifli insists this because Rajan wants to search for a tiger like  
his (Zulkifli) ancestors. When they are in the forest, Zulkifli tells Rajan that he knows everything about the tiger  
through in the instinct of his ancestors. Rajan confronts him and asks “Are you saying I can’t have such an  
instinct? (101). Zulkifli adds that the (Rajan) has no ancestors here. Later Rajan realizes his “othernesses’.  
Finally Zulkifli tells him that everyone has a past so ‘you must surrender yourself to be the other self’ (101).  
In a multicultural country like Malaysia, diversity becomes not the cause for unity but a cause for communal  
rivalry. Though there is discrimination resulting in the exchange of values there is collective ‘oneness’ giving way  
to separate individualism. The word ‘Malay’ is associated with Islam. In Malaysia even Indian Muslims prefer to  
be known by their religion rather than their race. Therefore, Rajan’s circle is a multi-ethnic one. He is aware of  
the individual opinion rather he longs for common manhood. Rajan also stives to escape from the stereotype  

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of Malaysian Indian. So, that he alters himself from coolie to businessman. Maniam’s ‘far country’ is one which  
public and private identities are always shifting.  
Paul Sharrad puts it, Maniam is trying to become a Malaysian even though he is a Malaysian. “This paradox of  
being and becoming” (Sharrad,ix) evidently represents a social reality. As Homi. K.Bhabha rightly points out in  
Location of Culture, that “the characteristics of a particular diaspora can change over time: they are ‘temporal’,  

transitional’ and ‘transnational’”(Bhabha,224). It has been already perceived that the diasporic transformation  
is evident in Malaysian writings or writers of Indian origin. Rajan’s father, the first generation immigrant suffers a  
lot. The citizen of the nation i.e the protagonist Raja wants to be a Malay and also the citizen of the world. It is  
replica of the typical second generation immigrant.  
In an attempt to define his concept of ‘The New Diaspora’, Maniam answers the question which is posed by  
Paul Sharrad. Maniam says, “Multiplicity in thought, memory and space seems to define individuals and societies  
everywhere. It is no longer possible to retain the view that you come from a single-strand dominant  
culture.”(Maniam, ‘The New Diaspora’) He also concludes that there is no possibility of “monocultural, ethnic  
and political being when multiplicity is one’s true nature. It is this multiplicity that the new diasporic man (Rajan)  
is trying to regain.” (Maniam, ‘The New Diaspora’)  
Works Cited  
Bhabha, Homi.K. The Location of Culture. Routledge. London, 1993. Print.  
Lim.C.L.David. The Infinite Longing for Home: Desire and the Nation in Selected Writings of Ben Okri and  
K.S.Maniam. Rodopi. New York, 2005. Print.  
Maniam.K.S. ‘The New Diaspora’ Globalization and Regional Communities: Geoeconomic, Sociocultural  
and Security Implications for Australia, Ed.Donald H McMillen , University of Sothern Queensland Press,  
997, pp. 18-23. Print.  
Maniam.K.S. In A Far Country. Skoob Pacifica. London, 1993. Print.  
Mishra, Vijay. “Diasporas and the Art of Impossible Mourning.” In-Diaspora Theories,  
Histories, Texts Ed. Makarand Paranjape. New Delhi; Indialog 2007.Print.  
Sharrad, Paul. ‘Introduction’: In A Far Country By K.S.Maniam.London: Skoob Pacifica, 1993.ix-xvi.Print.  
*Assistant Professor of English PG & Research Department of English Thiruvalluvar Government Arts College,  
Andagalore Gate,Rasipuram, Namakkal(Dt)637401. Tamil Nadu, India / e.mail: [email protected]