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Xenogamy at many levels

Kogila Moodley and Heribert Adam were in the City for a seminar at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society. The two specialise in academic fields that involve multiculturalism, ethno-nationalism, racial pluralities, and socio-political crossovers of various kinds in Canada.



Heribert and Kogila: a crossover life — Photo: K. Gopinathan

KOGILA MOODLEY and Heribert Adam: the pairing of the names suggests intriguing cross-fertilisation, so it is no surprise to learn that this couple from Canada specialises in academic fields which involve multiculturalism, ethnonationalism, racial pluralities, and socio-political crossovers of various kinds.

While Heribert was born in Germany, Kogila can claim Durban as her "native place" — for, yes, she is of South Indian origin — she thinks her maiden name, Moodley, is probably an Anglicisation (or would it be a Boerisation?) of Mudaliar!

In 1966, when Heribert (who was then a Research Fellow at the University of California in Berkeley) was visiting South Africa, Kogila invited him as a guest lecturer to her introductory sociology class at University College, Durban. Heribert returned to Durban a year later, as a visiting lecturer at the University of Natal, though it was clearly more than the academic that prompted his return.

Their professional association burgeoned to romance, despite all odds. Shakespeare might have modified his famous line about true love not running smooth, had he known of the impediments apartheid could put in its course! Though they taught the same subject, it was at two racially segregated institutions. The iniquitous "Immorality Law" not only made sexual contiguity taboo, even social interaction between the variously classified ethnic and colour groups was cruelly verboten.

Dating was hazardous since they could not be seen together at a restaurant, cinema, beach, or even in a taxi. Kogila's own extended family's expectations exacerbated the situation though, of course, their objections were untainted by any of apartheid's horrific racial isolationism. Instead, they were based largely on cultural proscriptions carried over from the motherland. However, the practices of the administration must have further reinforced any traits that traditionally demarcated a community: "Stick to your own kind", as the song has it. Kogila was expected to marry a nice Tamil boy, preferably also a professional.

The many critical analyses they wrote about the regime — on race relations, ethnic minorities and divided communities — was the public face of their protest. Privately, they could beat the system only by escaping it. They left the country to get married in Germany in 1968, a wedding attended by Kogila's family.

A few months later, the Adams emigrated to Canada, though they consider themselves "world citizens", as they continue to sustain frequent extended stays in Germany and South Africa, besides sojourns at universities the world over. Every year, the couple is invited to give about a dozen lectures nationally and internationally. Their cherished secularism has been passed on to their two daughters, who treasure the rich diversities of their parental heritage.

The Adam family lives in Vancouver, where Heribert and Kogila are professors at the Simon Fraser University of British Columbia and the University of British Columbia, respectively.

As Professor of Sociology, his current specialisations range from Comparative Racisms and Human Rights to Politics of Memory, though his areas of expertise sweep even further, for example to Equity, particularly Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.

Kogila is a professor in the Department of Educational Studies, where she is a social anthropologist working on Comparative Race and Ethnic Relations, and multicultural anti-racism education.

Their intellectual strengths in these fields, as well as firsthand experience of the dangers of ethnocentrism, enable them to make valuable contributions not only to groups in Canada, but back in South Africa too, where they were involved in the options of post-apartheid politics and dismantling racial domination.

For Kogila, particularly, the position of Indians in that country is a main concern, resulting in her writing at length on the subject. The lessons learned there are adapted in her work in inter-cultural education globally. Every year, the couple is invited to give about a dozen lectures nationally and internationally. Since 1989, they have held visiting Appointments at the University of Cape Town, and also serve on the board of "Divided Societies", an annual course at Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia, which has been held since 2000.

Recently, after giving four lectures in Japan (Kogila on Canadian multiculturalism, and Heribert on comparative immigration policies) and before heading off to South Africa, they stopped off in India. Since peacemaking in divided societies is a main area of concern, their observations gleaned from countries such as South Africa, Israel, and Palestine were relevant to India's current communally riven ethos.

In Bangalore, they had a seminar at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society. Though their stay in this city was short, it was a pity that no other organisation made it possible for them to share their experiences and expertise with a larger audience.

Exchange being a hallmark of their open-minded curiosity, they were as eager to learn as to impart, and would have enjoyed interacting with more people, discussing contemporary Indian society and views held here.

MALINI WHITE

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