(August 20, 2022) The idea of a lost soul becoming a seeker, searching for meaning in life, but not in a way that makes it a cliche — was a plot that had been bubbling in Aman Singh Maharaj’s head for many years. Sitting in his plush home overlooking the picturesque Indian Ocean in Durban, South Africa, the Indian-origin author conceptualised a book, based on the plot, in 2006. Within the next three months, he penned down his thoughts, which ran into some 1200 pages. In between work, travel and extensive research for his novel, the nomad, as he likes to call himself, took 16 long years to edit it down to a more readable 400 pages. It ended up in a literary masterpiece, transcending the local and the global, in the form of his book, A Dalliance with Destiny published by Austin Macauley, which was released recently.
“The novel spans a century, and is set in South Africa and India. It follows the tale of the protagonist, Milan Gansham, who faces a series of distressing experiences in South Africa, which prompt him to ‘escape’ to India, seeking love, sex, a guru and mystical experiences,” Aman Singh Maharaj tells Global Indian, while his book is generating rave reviews. Readers will embark on a mystical trip to India, as the narrator sets out on a journey to rediscover oneself through his roots and history.
Born in 1973, Aman grew up in Stanger, a small town north of Durban. “Life in Stanger was like a bubble. I never interacted with White people under apartheid, except with one in my university years,” recalls Aman, who did his schooling from Isipingo Secondary in Durban. He later graduated with an honors degree in structural engineering from the University of Natal, Durban and continued with an MBA from Business School, Netherlands. He also did PhD in Development Studies.
“I am essentially 75 percent UPite and 25 percent Bihari, with my ancestors being relocated from the Eastern Gangetic Plain,” says the author, who visited various government archives, looked at actual shipping records as part of his research and managed to trace his ancestors to seven villages in India.
The 48-year-old feels that many people in India do not fully know of the history of indentured Indians from India, who were relocated by the British Raj from India between the years 1850 and 1911. “They were taken from United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh); Central Provinces (Madhya Pradesh); The Bengal Presidency (Bihar and West Bengal now), the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu); and Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) and relocated to South Africa, Fiji, Trinidad etc,” says Aman.
While his father Pundit Rubbikissoon Dwarika Maharaj was a businessman and a priest, his mother Dhropadhy Singh was a homemaker. His paternal and maternal sides came down as indentured laborers and pundits, choosing to become businessmen as well in later years.
The book, he says, is also a commentary on contemporary urban society in India, poking fun at Indian society’s need to put living in the USA and UK on a pedestal. “It is essentially a mixture of humor, history, philosophy, romance, travelogue, and is fairly raunchy as well, following the travels of a somewhat angry, broken man,” says Aman, likening the mixture of themes, interlinked by lyrical prose, to a biriyani infused with saffron.
Many early readers have indicated that Aman’s book made them uncomfortable to read, in the sense that it ‘cuts to the bone’, with nothing being sacred, but they could not put it down, as they began to share a love-hate relationship with the archetype. “Another reviewer loved the cinematic appeal of the narrative, and saw potential for a mini-series or a movie. A copy has already been sent to a screenwriter in India by one of the reviewers,” says Aman, who also writes articles on various subjects for national newspapers, focusing mainly on the Indian Diaspora.
Although, Aman is a South African and a third-generation Indian, he has a vast knowledge of India, having travelled to the country more than 15 times since the age of seven. “Much of the research was achieved through my travels in India. However, some of it was conceived in my brain, as I haven’t been to Calcutta since 1982, for instance, and it covers three chapters in my novel. “So, this required considerable reading and digging, trying to understand the local society and anthropology,” says the author, who travelled through various cities, including up the Ganges from the mouth to the source, as he went about tracing his ancestral villages.
Professionally, Aman dabbles in many spheres. Currently, he is involved in the development of a smart city in the Durban South Coast, which is being spearheaded by a hospital development. “It will run completely on renewable energy, and will leave a green footprint,” says the author. Likewise, he combines his engineering and economics backgrounds to develop infrastructure aimed at catalysing local economies. “I am also associated with a few Citizen-by-Investment projects, including one for Pune, India, and Grenada in the Caribbean,” says Aman, who also runs a company that is currently setting up a factory to manufacture biodegradable sanitary pads and diapers.
Coming-of-age tales are what interests this globe-trotter, who takes an avid interest in anthropology. “I believe that classical literature like Thomas Hardy’s was much more sweeping and detailed, capturing the true emotions of jaded men. However, in my older years, I lean more towards literature set in India,” says the writer, who takes great interest in documentary-style books set on the Bombay Underground, as Mumbai is a city that he simply adores.
Aman tries to make at least one annual visit to India, with Mumbai as his base, as he has many friends there and also does business. “I also import eco-friendly goods from India and distribute them to the rest of Africa,” says the entrepreneur, who is currently working on a project to provide a solar-powered clinic and library in the village where his maternal grandfather was born. In his paternal ancestral village, he also assisted with renovations at the local temple.
Growing up watching too many Amitabh Bachchan movies, Aman loves running on the promenade in the coastal city. “The calm of the nearby Indian ocean takes me into a different zone,” says this huge fan of music legends Muhammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar.
- Follow Aman Singh Maharaj on LinkedIn