‘A Dalliance with Destiny’ dissects human conditions in great details
South African author of Indian origin, Aman Singh Maharaj has come up with his debut book A Dalliance with Destiny (Austin Macauley) which dissects human conditions in detail.
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.
A storyteller and a columnist living in Durban, Aman takes a refreshing journey to rediscover oneself through his roots and history in A Dalliance with Destiny.
Following in an extract from A Dalliance with Destiny, Chapter 2.
The Relationship Shared by Black and Brown Crumbles
It was going to be an important day in history and Captain Schlebusch would play a meaningful role in it. His mind recollected an important meeting from the previous week at the City Hall with Police Commissioner Smith and the still powerful ex-Mayor Osborn.
“Now, remember, Captain Schlebusch, it’s very important that you ensure all your men paint their faces black when they begin the looting and arson. Let the Coolies think the Natives started it. I want the whole city to sparkle with the burning of their houses by tomorrow evening. We’ll teach those bloody curry- munchers a thing or two about stealing business from our people,” Commissioner Smith had said, his face turning a deep purple. He was of pure English ancestry, also categorised as a White, using derogatory terms to refer to the other races as he spoke.
“Now, now, Smithie,” ex-Mayor Osborn, another Englishman, had admonished. “It’s more than that. These Coolies have been joining forces with the Natives lately. It creates a potentially dangerous political situation, that wily Coolie brain and Native muscle getting together. We have to nip this in the bud to retain our way of life. I have direct orders from national government to take drastic action to suppress any alliance between them. These local Coolies have already created a storm in Delhi, sending word to Nehru, accusing us of abusing them. It appears that he’s already brought this matter up with the United Nations. We just can’t afford to have the world thinking such things of us.”
“All the same, we need to burn some of these Coolies, Percy,” Commissioner Smith had continued, a vein in his temple pulsating alarmingly. “What do you say, Boer? Turn these Coolies a darker shade of brown with the fire, eh what, yes?”
Captain Schlebusch hated it when Commissioner Smith called him a Boer. It made him feel unrefined. He preferred being called an Afrikaner. “Yes, Sir. All plans have been set in motion,” he had answered, suppressing his anger and resentment.
“You’ve paid the Native boy?” Smith had asked him, referring to George Madondo.
“I have. He knows what to do,” Captain Schlebusch had responded, wondering why they couldn’t just do the whole thing openly. Why go to all this trouble to hide the fact that they wanted to kill a few Coolies and Natives? These Englishmen were always engaged in such acts of unnecessary diplomacy when keeping the others in check.
“Good, Boer. If this is successful, there might be a promotion for you. Are you sure the shopkeeper will react the way we want him to?”
Captain Schlebusch reassured his superior, knowing that the news would spread, and somebody would tackle George for what he had been paid to do. The community had been simmering of late. If this failed, there was always the backup plan of paying a few African looters to create some mayhem anyway.
The meeting had ended with all three men happy. Captain Schlebusch, at the anticipation of a preferment; Commissioner Smith, because his wife’s shop would be patronised again rather than the Indian ones that undercut her prices; and ex-Mayor Osborn, because the White traders who had once financed his rise to public office would vote him back into power.
At midday, young Dhanragh, on his usual errands for his master, Harilal Basant, at the local market, was suddenly accosted by George Madondo and given two slaps to his face for not giving him any cigarettes when asked.
Dhanragh had been too stunned to retaliate as George ran away, the employee choosing to later complain to Harilal instead.
By midday, as coached by the policeman, George walked past the shop, taunting Dhanragh. Harilal, incensed at his employee being slapped earlier, retaliated by catching George and smashing his head against shop window. Dhanragh, feeling empowered now, jumped into the fracas, pummelling George’s face a few times, thereby heralding the lifelong moniker of ‘Fisticuffs’ being added to his name. In the process, a shiny shilling, recently cleaned with spit, fell from George’s pocket onto the macadamised road and rolled away.
The Casbah came to a standstill. Indian shop owners and their assistants watched the theatrics solemnly for all of its two minutes. A large settler from the Madras Presidency, known to all as Beaming Bala, came ambling along. He separated Dhanragh from the bruised Zulu boy.
That night, a mob of twenty White men led by Captain Schlebusch, their faces painted a darker hue with boot polish, carried paraffin supplied by ex- Mayor Osborn’s retail shop and went on a rampage. They went from suburb to suburb, burning Indian homes sporadically. Thereafter, the men went to African homes and committed the same arson. An orchestrated riot had begun between the darker races. Each thought that the other was to blame. A scenario had been set for rampant looting, burning and raping.
Elsewhere, north of this city of lies, hatred and deceit, where the riot had spilled into, Dharam Thakur, now a forty-five-year-old, defended his home with his young sons against pillaging Zulu mobs. Warriors of Jalaun now did what they were meant to do, defending kith and kin, along with their land that they had procured with blood, sweat and tears. For the rest of his life, during dinner, Dharam would warn his family with a sternly raised finger, “Keep one leg out of this bloody country.” His dismissive stance was sadly vindicated during a repeat of the riots some thirty-six years later.
Norman Jenkins assisted the Indian women of the town by sheltering them at the local church during the few days that the unrest had lasted. Every evening Norman would choose a helpless woman, with the absence of her husband, to satisfy the lust that he had inherited from his father. His teenage son, Matthew, would take his turn after Norman. This had become a rite of passage for the men of the Jenkins family.
The riot ended with the national government’s eventual intervention when a rumour arose that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had threatened his local counterpart, one Daniel Francois Malan, with military intervention from India; perhaps finally having shaken himself free from his memories of Edwina Mountbatten’s languorous limbs, to answer a plea for help after international diplomacy had failed. A legion of martially skilled Gorkha, Sikh, Jat and Rajput warriors landing on local shores was a troublesome thought for the national government. They were used to a more docile type of Indian.
A year later, ex-Mayor Osborn was re-elected by an exclusively White franchise. The relationship between Black and Brown would never return to its former camaraderie, a successful divide and rule tactic having played itself out. The riots were to be spoken about in hushed tones for years to come.