Author Aman Singh Maharaj- The name itself spreads the fragrance of royalty. He is not just an author but an entrepreneur who accepts life very positively. Yes, he resides in South Africa but Dil ha Hindustani. The recent chit chat session with author Aman was very interesting. Take a look at what he said.
It’s a proud moment for me to have you here . Author Aman I insist you to introduce you to my readers. Please share a brief about you, your family, and education.
Of course, your insistence is my pleasure to answer. I am a third or fourth generation South African of Indian descent, depending which side of my family one looks at. I come from a large external family, with my mum having ten siblings and my dad having seventeen siblings (don’t ask why, it was just the done thing back then.) I just turned 49 on 21 July, some would say I am a confirmed bachelor, but I’m still unsure… it would be nice to have my own lineage. I guess I waited too long to find a Zeenat Aman or Parveen Babi type equivalent in South Africa. I stay with my brother, Suman, 2 years my junior, and his twin daughters, who I dote upon and spoil. My brother is the real medical doctor, whilst I am a civil engineer, MBA, PhD in development economics. I see myself as a jack of all trades, honestly, probably a master of none too.
I am now a businessman, so I wasted all those years studying, maybe, or perhaps it taught me to think and analyse better. Writing has always been a passion, but it doesn’t pay the bills, so I guess I gave it a secondary role in my life. I am a typical Mamma’s boy, as all Indian boys are, and do miss her very much, as she played the role of both parents to my brother and I. But such is the way Life unravels. I have a close-knit group of friends, always out and about. I forgot to add, I stay in Durban, South Africa, a coastal city, so great weather, and fantastic quality of life. Love travelling, locally and abroad, and am always in India. 27 years as a vegetarian, enjoy my Indian food, exercise daily, and live a super chilled life. Love provoking people on social media as well, as my city is very conservative.
You are based out of Durban, South Africa … How did you actually reach there? How different is life in South Africa from India?
Well, as above, I am a third generation or fourth generation South African of Indian origin, on my mum’s side and dad’s side, respectively. The British Raj lied to many rural villagers in India during 1852 to 1911, sending them to work on sugar plantations all over the world, including South Africa, Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad, Fiji, etc. Promised them that they would find the streets of South Africa paved with gold. In some cases, people were simply kidnapped in villages and sent overseas. So, basically, there are 1,2 million Indians living in South Africa now, who came here expecting a much better life, and it was actually slavery. It took many generations for life to become better for some.
My maternal side (Kshatriyas) is from a district called Jalaun in UP and my father’s side (Brahmins) is from Allahabad (Prayagraj) in UP – note that caset stopped being practised amongst Indians in South Africa around the early Nineties. My father’s side also came down as pundits. I am glad to say that I have visited both my ancestral villages, and got involved or am involved in projects there. I am also keen to visit a fort that my maternal ancestors built in India, and plan to do so on my next trip.
Life in South Africa is different from India in that I think South Africa has a greater environmental awareness, but I attribute this to the population density. The middle class in India and South Africa live comfortable lives as, perhaps sadly, labour is cheaper, so one gets the comforts of domestic assistance. South African cities are a lot less congested than Indian cities, and perhaps much more modern as well. I am increasingly feeling that whilst Indians in India feel a sense of ownership about their mother country, in South Africa, due to an inept government and affirmative action policies, it has severely affected the morale of Indians.
Having said that, we are an enterprising community, who has done very well, and produced some sterling stalwarts in all fields. We eat similar foods as Indians in India, except, when I am in India, I sometimes tire of rich, restaurant food, and want something simple, like green beans in a dry curry, or okra, loofa, bitter gourd, etc, but they don’t make these in restaurants in India, so I end up eating way too much paneer.
I heard that you consider yourself a nomad. Why is that so?
Because I love travelling so much, I consider myself a citizen of the world. Truth be told, as do all descendent emigrants feel, we are always searching for a place to belong. Added to that, I feel that the quality of conversation that I can get from a taxi driver in India, sometimes surpasses my own brethren back home in South Africa. There is something truly backwater about my home town that needs to change. Thirty years after the end of apartheid, we still live and play in our own racial enclaves here. This distresses me.
You travelled across nations… What attracts you the most as a traveler when you land in any nation of the world?
Honestly speaking, I am a real foodie, so I am always looking for different tastes and experiences. For example, I love all types of mushroom, so I also tend to go foraging for mushrooms in European cities. I love those kind of authentic experiences. But I have to admit, you still cannot beat Bombay for its fusion food… it really is amazing, even the chaat, which I eat on the street, and end up being sick for a few days after. Added to all this, I enjoy the nightlife of cities, so I tend to go to nightclubs, cabarets, theaters… anywhere where I can see a pretty, exotic face of a beautiful woman, as I am designed to very visual, sad to say, which is my Achille’s Heel. I also enjoy adventure sports, so you’ll often see my quadbiking across the deserts, or hiking, paragliding… I am a bit of a daredevil.
You ended up becoming an entrepreneur after exploring various profiles. So what is your entrepreneurial project all about?
So, I have many finger in many types of businesses. These include developing hospitals with hybridised malls, smart city developments, energy projects. Also, I am currently working on a few Citizenship by Investment projects, which includes one for Pune in India, as I find Pune to be an excellent quality of life for South African Indians looking at returning to India.
What attracted you towards writing and who identified the potential of an author within you?
I was born in a small town in South Africa in the early Seventies, and there was only sport as a form of entertainment or reading. Despite the fact that I am 6 foot 4 inches, and I have brute strength, I am tremendously clumsy, so I took up reading instead. My mum first took me to the municipal library when I was 5 years old, and I just started burying myself in books, as it resonated with a different world for me. Reading about India was my favourite, as it all sounded so different from life in South Africa.
What genre of writing do you like the most?
Honestly, as this is my debut novel, I guess I cant really say I have a genre. But I do appreciate a little bit of magical realism in my writing, just enough to tickle the tastebuds, without becoming too bizarre. My own love of literature lies in the classics, the likes of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. That era of writers were truly magnificent at their craft, the way they could delve into such sweeping epics and convey such deep emotions of their characters.
A Dalliance with Destiny– Is your debut work…. Please share a brief about the book.
The book is essentially contemporary fiction, and can be termed as a ‘bildungsroman’, or coming-of-age, tale, where the protagonist searches for an identity whilst experiencing a spiritual evolution. It is about a crass young man in South Africa, who experiences a series of distressing events, some that he does not fully understand, and these all compel him to seek solace in India, where he searches for a guru, spirituality, sex, love, salvation… whatever may come, whilst visiting various metros in India and then travelling up the Ganga.
How did the plot come to your mind? Any past experience behind that?
The plot always bubbled in my mind, as I believe that I am a seeker, so the idea of some guy seeking an identity seemed to come naturally. As 75% of the novel is set in India, and Ive been to the country probably 15 times or so, it was easy to write from the heart. However, certain places, like Calcutta, I last visited in 1982, so I had to do a bit of research. However, the story is truly a work if fiction.
I learned that this book received immense appreciation in South Africa…. Can you share a few feedback from the readers there in South Africa?
I have been compared to VS Naipaul in terms of my themes and style, who was also descended from Indian emigrants to Trinidad. However, honestly, that does make me feel shy. Another comparison has been made to The Knight’s Tale by Chaucer, for the spiritual quest mixed with raunchiness. Just yesterday, I had one of my female friends call me, crying, as the prose had moved her so much. Again, I was unsure how to react. Some older people have contacted me and asked me why I wrote about such naughty things. I have been very curt in saying that none of us are here through immaculate conception, so why do we need to act as if carnality is not a major part of human existence? Some have commended me on the lyricism of my vocabulary as well. As the book only came out about 3 weeks ago, it’s still early days, so I expect the reviews to begin coming out soon.
Are you a reader? If yes, what type of books do you love to read?
As indicated earlier, I love my classical literature, so the likes of ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, etc. I tend to read mainly novels set in India, as I believe that Indian writers pen their English in a much more lyrical way. ‘A Passage to India’ was also a favourite of mine. In terms of contemporary fiction, I love the style of Gregory David Roberts… I think I read Shantaram in a week or less. Rohinton Mistri’s books are so lugubrious, but excellent. I also love the wit of Khushwant Singh.
Any books in the pipeline for the readers?
There are a few books bubbling in my head, but, honestly, I was to assess the international reaction to this one first. Maybe these will be of a different genre. Write from a female perspective perhaps?
What are other passions in your life?
My passions…. Hmmm… an exquisite face on an angelic girl… I appreciate symmetry and etherealness on a women’s face, which, I guess, kind of makes me a tad misogynistic. Ive tried wine a few times… hate the taste and cant understand the whole ruckus about it. Other passions? Honestly, other than very tasty food, I have none, which kind of makes me seem like I suffer from the affliction of the seven deadly sins. Perhaps I need to have all my heads of desire cut off like Ravana.
Any suggestions for the newcomer writers?
Sure. Have a fallback plan. Chase that dream, but don’t expect writing to pay the bills unless you win a prize of repute, or sell pulp fiction, which I hate. For me, I wrote and edited my novel in tandem with building businesses, as I had to be practical about making a living. So, one should not just be whimsical and delve into writing without developing a parallel profession.
In one line describe – Author Aman Singh Maharaj.
The quintessential Agent Provocateur who thinks he knows it all and probably does.