Texte de M. G. Vassanji


The story takes place in Kenya in the early 1950s.
« A postcard came airmail from London: Dear Vic and Deepa, We're having a wonderful time here! Hope you have a smashing holiday too. Say "jambo" to Njoroge. Kwa heri! See you soon! – Bill and Annie On the reverse side, Picadilly Circus in full colour, a city scene grander and infinitely more bustling than our own modest and quite somnolent King Street roundabout. "Look", said Papa, who was holding up the postcard, "the biggest city in the world". "Where's the circus, Papa?" I asked him, our self-styled expert on matters English. "Maybe there was a circus there a long time ago", he said, trying to sound confident and unable to hide his uncertainty. Mother, Deepa, and I were gathered round Papa in the shop, poring with him over every detail of the glorious scene. The black taxis, a red double-bus carrying advertisements on its side, men and women in hats, a red mailbox, a newsagent, all the store and street signs. Papa turned a wistful eye to Mother, who acknowledged with a smile; it was his wish to visit that centre of the universe once in his lifetime. It was his Mecca, his Varanasi, his Jerusalem. A visit there conferred status, moreover: you became one of the select group, the London-returned. He tacked the postcard on the upright behind the table, where it stayed for more than a year, proud reminder not only of his yearning but also of his European "friends". Bill and Annie had gone without their parents. To my parents, it was a sign of European irresponsibility that they could send their children on an expensive voyage and yet run up sizeable debts in town. Though Mother remembered graciously that Mrs. Bruce did have a wealthy family in England. But how could she allow herself to send the children by themselves, unescorted, on a voyage that took twenty-four hours, with stopovers in strange places? Suppose someone kidnapped them? Who'd hurt a British child, Papa snapped in reply, they'd have every policeman in the world looking for them. That privilege comes from ruling the world. It was mid July, a month and a half since they had gone. Six weeks was an eternity to a child in those days. Saturday playtime at our shopping centre became subdued(1) and lacking in adventure. I recall Deepa, Njoroge, and myself sitting on the cement floor of the veranda outside our shop, playing a game of imagining by turns all the exciting things our two friends must be up to in London: riding double-buses and taxis, visiting all those castles and palaces and bridges we had read about, shopping at wonderful stores spilling over with comic books, toffees and chocolates. If you ran out of something to say in this game, you were "out". That postcard clinched the case for my mother: her children too needed to visit places during their vacation. And so it was resolved in our home that all of us would go to Nairobi(2) and Mombasa for the August holidays. The train from Kisumu had come in late and so we left at a little before dawn from Nakuru, which was as well because we could see more, though the Kisumu passengers were irate for having to wake up from their rocking slumbers. We reached Naivasha as dawn was breaking beyond the mountains. How can I describe that feeling of looking out the sliding window above the little washbasin, as the small second-class cabin jostled and bumped along the rails, and taking in deep breaths of that cool, clean air and, simply, with wide hungry eyes absorbing my world. It was to become aware of one's world, physically, for the first time, in a manner I had never done before, whose universe had encompassed(3) our housing estate and my school, the shop and my friends, the tree-lined street outside that brought people in and out of our neighbourhood. That scene outside the train window I can conjure up at any time of the day or night; I would see, feel, and experience it in similar ways so frequently in my life; in some essential way it defines me. This was my country – how could it not be? Yes, there was that yearning for England, the land of Annie and Bill and the Queen, and for all the exciting, wonderful possibilities of the larger world out there. But this, all around me, was mine, where I belonged with my heart and soul. »
Adapted fromM. G. Vassanji, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, 2003

Focus on the passage from "A postcard came…" to "… ruling the world."
"A postcard came airmail from London."
a) Say who this postcard is addressed to and who is actually looking at it.
b) Deduce the name of the narrator.
2. Describe the characters' dominant reaction when looking at the postcard.
"He tacked the postcard on the upright behind his table, where it stayed for more than a year…"
a) Who does he refer to?
b) Using elements from the text, find three reasons why this character decides to tack and keep the postcard. (50-60 words)
a) What aspects of Bill and Annie's trip to London do the narrator's parents discuss? (3 elements)
b) "Who'd hurt a British child, Papa snapped in reply, they'd have every policeman in the world looking for them. That privilege comes from ruling the world."
Explain what the father means by that. (40-50 words)
Focus on the passage from "It was mid July…" to "… the August holidays."
a) How does Bill and Annie's absence affect Deepa and the narrator's mood and activities?
b) What do Deepa and the narrator's activities show about their vision of London?
a) What decision does the mother make after the postcard has arrived?
b) Commenting on the use of "too" and "all of us" explain what motivates her decision. (40-50 words)
Focus on the passage from "The train from…" to the end.
a) Say where the narrator is in this passage.
b) "… taking in deep breaths of that cool, clean air and, simply, with wide hungry eyes absorbing my world."
What happens to the narrator at that moment and how does it affect him for the rest of his life? (40-50 words)
Choose one of the following subjects.
(250 words approximately. Write down the number of words.)
1. "… it was his wish to visit that centre of the universe once in his lifetime."
Is there a place in the world that you would particularly like to visit? Explain why.
2. "Leaving is more important than arriving". Discuss and illustrate, drawing from your experience or your readings.
Translate into French from "It was mid July…" to "… you were out."
(1)subdued: quiet, lifeless.
(2)Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Naivasha are all places in Kenya.
(3)to encompass: to include, to contain.


a) The postcard is addressed to Vic and Deepa. Vic, Deepa, the mother are all gathered around the father to look at it.
b) The narrator is Vic.
2. The characters are all very attentive and they are fascinated by what they see on it.
a) he refers to the father.
b) The father decided to tack and keep the postcard because going to London "It was his wish to visit that centre of the universe", moreover for him the place is like a sacred one "It was his Mecca, his Varanisi, his Jerusalem". Then he would feel important since "a visit there conferred status, moreover: you became one of the select group, the London-returned" . Finally he is proud to have "European "friends".
a) The narrator's parents disapprove of Bill and Annie's trip to London because the trip is very expensive and their parents have debts. Furthermore they think it is thoughtless to send children away on their own and the mother think there are risks for them to be kidnapped.
b) The father doesn't agree with the mother because he thinks that the risk of being kidnapped for the children is not real since the English have such power that they are ready and able to look for abductors and find a kidnapped child if that kind of thing ever happened.
a) For Deepa and Vic the absence of their friends has made life become dull and boring. They miss them and as a consequence their games are less interesting. They imagine what their friends can do in London.
b) They imagine London is a very attractive place where there are many things to do like in real adventure. It is like a dream country, a theme park.
a) The mother wants to offer a trip to her children too and decides to organize a trip to Nairobi and Mombasa during the August holidays.
b) She is kind of jealous and envious of the Bruces and she wants to show that contrarily to them she is more responsible. That is why the children won't go on their own but it will be a family trip. She wants her children to have a break and to discover new things too.
a) The narrator is on the train.
b) At that moment, the narrator discovers his country and realizes that Kenya is also a place where there are many things to discover and that it is not necessary to travel far away. He feels Kenya is his country and although he is full of admiration for England he also admires his home country.
1. I wouldn't say there is one place in the world I would particularly like to visit because although the world is now referred to as a global village it is composed of so many countries, people, landscapes, cultures and buildings that I think it is worth visiting most of them.
I often daydream about places I want to go to because of a book I read or a documentary I saw. All of those places seem so gorgeous and attractive that I want to go everywhere. They all seem full of promises that is why it is difficult to choose one destination precisely.
When you travel to a distant country you are curious and ready to open up to something which may be either a little different or totally different depending on the place where you go. You are eager to discover new things, to meet people, to visit places, to have new experiences.
Of course you have to make a choice and that depends on the possibility you have to afford such or such a trip. That's why if I had to choose one place I would certainly choose one which is totally different from the country and the place where I live. Being in a western country I think I would choose a country with radically different habits and way of life. I would certainly choose a country in Asia where people lead a different way of life and where sceneries are wonderful because I think that is a place where I would learn a lot more than where people share more common values with mine.
2. We may ask ourselves if leaving is more difficult than arriving. I think both are difficult but not in the same way.
Leaving means going away and everybody knows that it is difficult to leave people behind specially when it is your family and friends, the place where you are from, all the precious moments you have lived with them and above all your roots. It is clear that you already know that you will miss all of them and maybe feel homesick for a while.
Everybody has already experienced that kind of feeling even if it is not going away and leaving everybody behind to go and settle in another place or country but simply after spending a few days with friends. Then comes that terrible moment when you have to say good bye.
Arriving is another kind of challenge depending once again on the place where you arrive. If you only come for a few days it is not very difficult but if you arrive in another country where you know nobody and where you are going to spend some time for work for instance in that case arriving is difficult too.
You have to adapt to new customs, you have to start from scratch and sometimes it means to get used to speaking and understanding another language. You also have to make new friends and you are torn between two cultures and different ways of thinking. That is why I wouldn't say that leaving is more difficult than arriving but it is different. When you leave you are sad and when you arrive you are excited. That may account for the fact that people feel leaving is more difficult.
C'était la mi-juillet, un mois et demi s'était écoulé depuis leur départ. Six semaines, c'était une éternité pour un enfant à cette époque-là. Le samedi, au centre commercial, nos jeux étaient devenus ternes et ennuyeux. Je me souviens de Deepa, Njoroge et moi-même assis sur le sol en ciment de la véranda devant notre magasin, imaginant à tour de rôle toutes les choses passionnantes que nos deux amis pouvaient bien faire à Londres : promenades en bus à impériale (étage) ou en taxi, visites de châteaux, de palais et de ponts à propos desquels nous avions tant lu, courses dans des magasins merveilleux qui regorgeaient de bandes dessinées, de caramel mous et de chocolats. Si pendant ce jeu, l'un d'entre nous ne savait plus quoi dire, il était éliminé.