The prose, “The In-Between World of Vikram Lall” by Moyez Vassanji explores a society challenged by racism and sexism through a targeted “Nairobi Punjabi Hindu”. Moyez Vassanji writes to highlight the objectification of women in Tanzanian society, which is dominated by masculinity. The title suggests a confliction of ideologies which creates, for the reader, a sense of ambiguity prior to the body of the text. The narrator familiarises the audience with contrasts of emotion, colour and fortune which link to powerful themes of retribution and cultural discordance. The protagonist and his sister are introduced as they are railroaded by six youths in an adrenalin charged encounter. The fear is tacitly represented by way of ‘a tremor in his sister’s arm.’ Their exposure and vulnerability is épalpable, as their plight seems unavoidably doomed. The writer emphasises the intensity of the situation and highlights the impending “intersection” through the use of power imagery.
A Tanzanian town is revealed as the setting for the prose, and its imposing religious heritage is demonstrated as the reader is informed that a “mosque stood towering in all its grandeur.” Although the author describes the mosque, the nature of what is going on inside, is described as a “some celebration.” This subtle disconnection from the town, shows the reader that the narrator has insufficient knowledge of the celebration observed. This was done to signify the power of understanding all religions and their culture. Immediately, Vassanji mentions to the audience of a religious division that plagues the people of the town. Religion is the first major theme introduced to the audience as though to allude to its significance and its tense effect it has on the town.
This paired with sharp sounds of “a dog barking” and “a bicycle bell”, creates a scenario filled with adrenaline and cautiousness. The writer then lifts the tone from a tense tone, to a sudden and fast paced tone to symbolise a change in the environment. Vassanji now contrasts light versus dark for the first time with the introduction of a “terrifying, unearthly squeal [that came] from the shadows”. This is the first scene where darkness swarms the light. The intersection has now been amended to suit the evolving situation. The “six youths” are described as “wild dogs” to create the perception that they are illiterate as though to justify their barbaric nature. The description of the “leering Elvis face, shirt open, pants crotch-tight” amplifies the ruthless connotations by introducing the thought of a society dominated by masculinity. Their presence causes Deepa to start “digging her fingers into [the boys] arm” which signifies the insecurity felt particularly by the sister. The hopelessness of the situation takes an immediate change with the introduction to the “white Mercedes”.
The intersection has been encompassed with shadows creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for the reader. They are reassured however, by the introduction of a “white Mercedes”. It relinquished the two from what is seemed like an unavoidable fate and introduces the reader to the use of colour as a powerful metaphor due to its associations with being the hero. The Mercedes pierces the “gate” in to a world of darkness. The White Mercedes holds an element of reassurance and safety that alarms the youths and therefore spares Deepa and her brother from the “horrifying checkmate”. The white Mercedes is juxtaposed with the dark despair of their encounter with the racially loaded youth and in some ways, this could be interpreted with connotations of racial discrimination, where white is considered pure and saintly and black is synonymous with evil and gloom. With the added presence of the white Mercedes, the six youths that had “leapt out” of the shadows, had become “cockroaches” that “scampered away into the darkness”. This creates a childish image for the reader regarding the youths and their reaction to an authority figure. The calm and precise language utilised by Mr Bapu contradicts the “howling” of the attackers as though to demonstrate his heroic deeds to conclude the encounter.
The narrator identifies the cultural clash that engulfs the Tanzanian society with the mention of a “mixture of Cutchi and Swahili”; Indian and African cultures that reinforce the idea of conflicting cultures. There is a bitter tone used when the boy describes the attackers as being “that bucked-toothed horse, the curly-haired half caste chotora” which implies that the boy is not a victim, but instead a participant in the violent conflict being shared between two cultures. By having the boy identify himself as being a “Nairobi Punjabi Hindu, the reader can begin to comprehend that the conflicts arose as a result of a difference in religion and culture. By making this revelation, the audience can then think of the effect that one’s religion can have on society. Vassanji goes from discussing the masculine dominance in society, to giving a representation of the sexism plaguing the town as he reflects “when men develop contempt for a woman, the vilest, filthiest language escapes their lips. This line signifies the brutal prejudice on women in the town and it depicts the way in which male dominance over “their girls” contribute to a backwards society.
Mr Bapu’s presence causes a tonal shift from the violent displays of terror on the streets to the calming atmosphere created inside of Mr Bapu’s “wonderful garden”. His house provides protection for the protagonist which allows for a more honest and simplistic view on society. It creates a greater understanding of society outside of just the intersection. His use of a variety of languages demonstrates his understanding of a variety of cultures therefore making his presence crucial in understanding that there are people in society that have the ability to view both perspectives. His greater level of awareness and understanding creates an environment where the children are having the “job of keeping up straight faces” rather than having the feeling of “hysteria” engraved in the back of their mind. This memory of fear is what holds back the society that the protagonist lives in. The use of memory is also seen to be of importance during the conclusion of the text. Memory’s significance in the prose aids the writer in making the conclusion that perhaps the “wild dogs” were not actually “demons” as perceived. The use of Mr Bapu demonstrates the necessity of viewing both perspectives. It forces the audience to consider that by understanding another person’s perspective, you can avoid a “terror filled eternity”
In conclusion, the criticising piece created by Moyez Vassanji concludes with the realisation of the prejudices in memories. The prose explores themes of racism and sexism in a Tanzanian town that share clashing ideologies. Vassanji concludes that the reason for cultural tension is due to a lack of understanding between feuding cultures and therefore comes to the realisation of the importance of communication and acceptance to eradicate cultural attacks in society. The protagonists’ inability to understand his rivals is the root of their feud and this is reinforced when he speaks of “some celebration. It is this carelessness to appreciate other peoples thoughts that Vassanji attempts to expose through this prose.