The cover is as shockingly pink as the tale. Vivid, true to life and a definite page turner. These were my first impressions of The Story of Maha by Sumayya Lee, South African author.
For those who are regular commentators on this here blog, you all know her. She is none other than anonymous. And this is what she looks like.
Okay, guys, you can stop slobbering all over your keyboard. She is married, you know. Back to the tale…
Maha is quirky; she’s funny; and totally irreverent. The blurb reads, “A spunky tale of Romance, Rotis and Unsuitable boys,” and for hormones a-raging Maha, the unsuitable boys seem to fall into her lap.
Lee captures the ‘Durbanites’ - as we Jo’burgers refer to them - with startling clarity (she was one herself once upon a time). Right down to the ‘and all’ that punctuates the speech of so many of them. Prepare yourself for dialogue like: "Eh, Maha! What you naaching and koodhing outside like boy? Like junglee you? Gor and help your naani in kitchen like good girl!”
And it’s exchanges such as these that brought laughter bubbling out of me in many places.
My favourite passage in the book reads as follows:
Maryam was tall, pale-skinned and pretty, with a waist length sheet of silky , golden brown hair. A fair catch indeed, especially within the widespread yet close-knit Indo-African society where fair skin was the ultimate prize.
Unfortunately for my mother – sweet Maryam Maal , as everyone in the community referred to her – expectations were high. Not regarding her matric results or the number of folds in her puff pastry – although to be fair, these were important as well – but expectations regarding her marriage and marriage partner. And to say that she had disappointed everyone would be mild. The community was devastated.
This was enough to keep me up until the wee hours of the morn in a bid to eat the last one - em...page, that is.
But Maha is not all laughter and light heartedness. It is a tale that speaks of deep rooted prejudice, racism, caste- ism (if there is such a word) and a whole host of other ills that the Indian community in South Africa is plagued by. It brings the mirror up close to our faces. Scant wonder then that there are those in the community who have seen fit to question her faith after reading her literary contribution.
For someone who rarely ever swears though, Maha was a teacher of sorts. I found myself reading words that I have never ever thought of using. Except perhaps in my teen years, and that was a lifetime ago. And even then, my mouth was clean by comparison. So be warned, it is not for the faint hearted.
It’s honest, to the point and somewhat thought provoking. I enjoyed it. And I don’t say this because I know the author and have had the privilege of meeting her – hey, I’m famous now! Go out and get it. For non South Africans I doubt whether there is another book available which captures the Indian community of South Africa more succinctly. Not very flattering, but then again, being under a magnifying glass seldom is.