Behind the Shadows – The Conception of an African-Asian Anthology

London Book Fair 2010. Focus Nation: South Africa. BEHIND THE SHADOWS(1) Thanks to the South African Department of Arts & Culture, the British Council, South African Publishers Association (these three are the ones that sent me emails) and let’s not forget FIFA World Cup. It was because we were hosting the World Cup that we became the nation focused on. As writers from South Africa, we were ambassadors of sorts. South African writers were there to show what Brits we encountered that we are normal, law-abiding, booze-guzzling writers – ‘just like you, see? We won’t kill you if you come to our country for FIFA World Cup.’ We were there to hopefully meet up with an international publisher who would say, ‘I love your book, can I translate it into English…wait…it’s already in English err, well, interesting book. Could you perhaps rewrite it a little, make it more err African?’ South African writers were excited about this one. Many of us were going. It would be a week of book discussions during the day, and partying at night with all our favourite friends and writers. What’s not to like? I was to leave earlier than others because of a fundraising dinner for Read SA (it never happened thanks to absence of writers). Prior to my departure, I had received an email asking me whether I wanted to meet up with a British writer. I am polite, so I said yes. In my mind though, I was hoping this was not another way of the Brits trying to neo-colonise me, ‘let’s give this poor African writer a mentor so she can write good Queen’s English. Not that South African English she writes.’ If that was their plan, they and their bloody agent writer would fail dismally. I would tell her it was 2010 and not 1910 – no more Union of South Africa as part of y’all. Sovereign nation (sort of) and very sovereign writer and all that. The n I flew out on a Saturday and the rest of the writers were to follow on Wednesday.
On arrival in London, I checked my email and there was an introduction to an English writer. Rohini Chowdhury. Phew. Not exactly English sounding name. I figured if conversation got absolutely dull and all else failed, we could always resort to talking about Gandhi in South Africa, the Dutch East India Company, and the caste laws… ‘oh my goddess, we also had the caste laws. We called it apartheid. We are still trying to get over it, really.’
Rohini was gracious enough to come to the hotel and meet up with me that Sunday. Our brief chat was fun and if she did not have to go home and be a mother, we would have talked for hours. She had already read some of my stories in short story format and she now took home a copy of The Madams to familiarise herself more with my work. Before she left, and I then thought, having decided that I would not corrupt her daughters because I was a model of virtue, Rohini invited me to her house for dinner.
Meanwhile, apart from Margie Orford, Njabulo Ndebele, Nadia Davids, Miriam Tladi, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Andrew Feinstein, Mark Gevisser and a few others, the rest of the South African writers were stranded thanks to the volcanic ash (remember it?). Their absence was sad on so many levels but it also brought with it one or two pleasant outcomes. I would never have been able to do that fun television interview for one of the BBC’s with Njabulo Ndebele had everyone been there. I was not scheduled to do an interview with him. Also, I may have ended up cancelling my dinner date with Rohini as South African writers tend to discourage any dates at literary events where one does not go with them.
And so I went to dinner at Rohini’s house. Her daughters were at school (so much for my saintly mien) and I would only see them briefly as I was about to depart. Rohini was not your typical British person because the food was delish. We talked books and more books. We talked men, women, children. We talked politics, though we did not get into BRICS. Yes, we satirized Mandela and Gandhi like any normal people of South African and Indian origin would. And then we talked about the possibilities of a collaborative literary effort.

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One thought on “Behind the Shadows – The Conception of an African-Asian Anthology

  1. Pingback: Behind the Shadows (An Anthology of Outcast Stories) is Available from Amazon « Writers & Writerisms

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