Mansoor Ladha’s compelling and topical if somewhat uneven Memoirs of a Muhindi chronicles his struggles—similar to those of many itinerant people today—to find a home in unwelcoming lands. He writes that “as an East African Asian, and especially as a journalist, I felt compelled to write my memoirs, to tell the story of a descendant of immigrants, brown in colour, living in a black society (Tanzania), who later became a brown immigrant living in a white society (Canada).”
Born in 1943 to a third-generation Indian family on the island of Zanzibar (soon incorporated into independent Tanzania), Ladha began life as a middle class Asian in an African country under white colonial rule. The racial hierarchy was such that “while the Asians could play tennis in European clubs, they were not allowed to enter the club premises for a drink after their games.” Despite his family’s success in business and their belonging to a tight-knit Ismaili community, Ladha’s early life was influenced by the “informal segregation” of society.
This theme is further explored as Ladha recounts his life following the wave of African independence movements in the mid-20th century. In Tanzania his family was forced to pay “tea money” bribes to local African strongmen, and Ladha didn’t get promotions at the newspaper where he worked because of racial discrimination. He recalls that by the early 1970s, “despite… having lived in East Africa for generations, [Asians] were seen as people without a country, without a home.”
Ladha and his young family immigrated to Canada, settling in Alberta. He arrived with little understanding of the local culture, but with an earnest belief that merit would earn him a place in society. Tellingly though, discrimination persisted. From co-workers at the Edmonton Journal asking to call him “Mike” because Mansoor sounded too foreign, to hearing “Paki” yelled at him on the street, Ladha discovered that “one had to tread skillfully” through the racial landscape of his new country. “Despite having Canadian citizenship, and despite having lived in Canada for over 45 years,” Ladha writes in the book’s final chapter, “I still have to explain my being here.”
If the book has a drawback, it’s that Ladha tends to digress. Passages that begin with descriptions of the days before Tanzanian independence end with meandering warnings to modern-day tourists to watch for pickpockets in local markets. These tangents distract. Nevertheless, Ladha gives depth and perspective to the experience of feeling displaced—both in his country of birth and in Canada—and this anchors his story, giving voice to this experience and making it a valuable read.
—Daniel Mullie is a graduate student in journalism at Ryerson.