The Magic of Saida (Vintage Contemporaries)
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From Giller Prize–winner M. G. Vassanji comes the story of Kamal Punja, son of an African mother and an Indian father, who has been living in Canada for forty years. Despite his material wealth, Kamal finds himself longing for the place of his birth—Africa—and of a girl there he once loved. As a child he was certain that Saida—granddaughter of a great Swahili poet and his constant companion—would become his future wife, but when he was just eleven Kamal’s mother sent him to live with his estranged father’s family in India. Now, decades later, Kamal journeys back to the village he left—to confront his long-unresolved racial identity and the nightmarish legacy of a broken promise.
Zanzibar. But for this maji to work you must follow instructions. You will not loot. You will not eat meat. You will desist from relations with your women. And word spread through the country like the whisper of the wind that the white man could hear but not discern. Have you heard? There is a mganga in Ngarambe. This is the year of war. We are suffering, and there is this fundi in Ngarambe called Kinjikitilé who has the medicine. The people made war; they uprooted cotton and threw it on the
the bone with gusto. Taking a moment to look up, he ordered an extra mandazi. Kamal ordered a chai just to keep him company. At this moment two women who had long stood uncertainly outside the entrance drifted in and stopped before him as the manager scowled and grumbled about unwanted beggars. “Daktari …” the older one said. “Yes?” He feigned sternness, their plaintive tone provoking his formal response. “The girl is sick.” He took the younger woman’s hand, acknowledged fever, then told the
his country seemed incomprehensible to the boys. But he did teach them the Black Power fist salute. The following week the boys went around giving the salute to each other until Palangyo announced in assembly one morning that anyone caught raising his fist would get caned on the back of his hand. But what should they see on the front page of the paper a few months later but a picture from the Olympic Games in Mexico City of two black athletes standing on the medal podium, their fists raised in
is sweet and brings joy to my heart … This song now played punishingly in Kamal’s head, its sentimental patriotism—as he would describe it later—as false and empty and saccharine as his promises to Saida. What was true was that he was taking the easy way out, abandoning his country, absconding to another world via Mr. McDougal’s office in the Canadian consulate. McDougal was a clean-shaven man in his thirties, strong-jawed and athletic, and not very tall. He shook hands and eyed the couple, and
AIDS test.” “I won’t, brother.” How does one respond, Kamal asked himself driving home that night. All these years later. I am a different man now, inside and out, I have transformed, I have moulted. I have acquired an accent and an idiom, and a way of dressing and grooming, a liking for Scotch, an appreciation for wine and good food; everything that goes with wealth and standing. My world view, my faith are different. She would not know me now. Would I know her? Three decades—and more—have