South African author of Indian origin, Aman Singh Maharaj, has made a smashing literary debut with his book titled – A Dalliance with Destiny. Spanning a century, and set in South Africa and India, the novel captures the odyssey of a seemingly brash man in his thirties, who fights to remain lucid in what appears to be an irrational world. While everyone around him is still celebrating the euphoric entry of his country into the rest of the democratic world, he is at odds with it. After a series of distressing experiences, he attempts to extinguish the raison d’etre of his angst by embarking on an increasingly mystical journey to India with an unconventional best friend. Here in a upfront interview the Durban based author talks about his book and much more .
Q: The title of the book is very intriguing. Any specific reason for opting for it?
A: It was originally called “Chronicles of a Chauvinist”, which is a very provocative title, especially as the protagonist has some misogynistic qualities. But that would give a very unfair description of the book. Added to this, with the whole #MeTooMovement, the title would’ve been too risqué. I love the sound of lyrical words, and ‘dalliance’ is one of them. The main character is unsure if Fate is leading him, or he is leading his fate, hence, it’s kind of a ‘dalliance’ with who’s actually in control? ‘Dalliance’ can be interpreted as a ‘dance’ or a ‘duel’, and the protagonist undergoes both with Destiny. Also, I like the idea of alliterations, hence the two Ds in the title.
Q : What is this book really about and any message do you want to convey through it?
A : The book fits into the genre of what is termed ‘Bildungsroman’, which centres around a longing for self-discovery, as a character evolves. Examples of these include “Great Expectations”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and “Tom Sawyer”. There are a number of subthemes, however. These include the repetitive layering of descendants’ karmas being linked due to the action of the forefathers, which emerges throughout the book. There is a deep spiritual quest that pervades the book, which brings about the question as to whether one needs to suffer in order to find absolution, which ties in with the Buddhist idea that all life is suffering. Essentially, I wanted readers to appreciate a return to classical type literature with a contemporary twist. The messages are, of course, embedded in the many themes, some of which I have outlined.
Q : What is the main theme of the novel and how long did it take to write?
A: The main theme, from my perspective, is about illusion versus reality, and what part of the life the character lives is a self-inflicted journey of pain, and what is really him living out some type of pre-empted fate. It is about understanding who is really in control, and whether there is some super force in the ethers who controls the pattern of our lives, and whether we are limited by it.
The book took me some 3 months to write about 1200 pages in 2006, and for the next 16 years, I edited it down repeatedly to about 400 pages. I cant say that in my mind, my book is finished, as there are still plot tweaks I would love to do, and changes here and there, but, in the end, as do all writers, we simply ‘abandon’ our book into the public realm when we feel the time MIGHT be right, or we tire of it.
Q : What tempted you to make a foray into the literary world as an entrepreneur?
A: I’ve always been an avid reader as a kid, and used to win writing competitions, etc. I grew up in a small town, where there was not much entertainment, and I was not particularly great at sport, so reading seemed to be the only form of enjoyment for a young kid in the early 80s. Within me, I guess a book always bubbled, and it was about finally just taking that leap of faith and beginning to write. And, as I wrote, the next word just followed, so I am lucky not to suffer the afflictions of writers’ block.
Q: The debut according to reports is earning good reviews. How does it feel to get accolades?
One of the reasons that writers resort to penmanship, although they wont easily admit to it, is that it’s also an ode to their ego. Admittedly, it does give me a sense of thrill to get recognition. I don’t doubt that brickbats will also come in time, but I guess that one should learn to absorb the good, the bad and the ugly. One cannot be everything to everyone, it’s just not possible. So far, it’s still early days, but I am so glad that people are enjoying the novel, and fervently hope that it does not get typecast as an ‘Indian’ novel, as I really believe it caters for a taste beyond race, gender or community. Although, admittedly, the genre might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Q : The Indian diaspora has made its presence felt the world over. Do you agree with what Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently stated that the diaspora is acting as brand ambassadors of India’s success and promoting India’s growth story?
A: Absolutely so. For instance, in South Africa, Indians generally came here between 1860 and 1911. We still eat Indian food, watch Hindi movies, listen to Indian songs, and pray as Hindus, Muslims and Christians, with at least 60% of the 1,3 million people still following Hinduism despite the century and half that has passed by. Added to that, throughout the world, because of the stress on education, Indian kids have always been toppers in school, even under the most trying of circumstances. For me, personally, I have kindred bond with India, and it is likely that I would die there, as my linkages to India are beyond just a cultural pull. To me, India represents the very epicentre of the dawn of civilisation, and it makes me vaingloriously proud.
Q : After A Dalliance with Destiny, have you thought about or have a topic in mind for the next book to write on.
As indicated earlier, I fear being typecast as just another Indian stylised author. So I am thinking about other genres. I have a few ideas bubbling in me, but I would probably aim to go for a more light-hearted theme for a next novel. My debut novel is admittedly quite heavy reading. I’ve had people phone me and literally cry about my prose and the content. It’s wonderful in a way, but also makes me feel a tad awkward, as I really do not know how to react.
Q : Who are your favorite writers and why? Any latest book you have read recently and loved?
A: Undoubtedly, I prefer the classics of yesteryear. I think litterateurs like Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens captures the emotions of man in sweeping epics, which we do not quite have anymore. On a more contemporary level, I love reading about the Bombay Underground, and found Shantaram and the sequel by Gregory David Roberts to be quite brilliant. He write pretty long books in first person, which means that he is in every scene, but I never tired of that approach.