Determined to dedicate myself to writing after I retired from teaching in 2000, my first thought was to capture the history of Marabastad (The Asiatic Bazaar), the location in which I had lived as a child. I immediately set about interviewing people who had lived in the location. During my interviews with Sinthumbi Naidoo, he made me aware of his concern that Tamil religious practices were losing their meaning for Tamil South Africans and suggested that I work with his son, Ronnie, a poosari, to put together a manual that explained the meaning of the rites. That is what we did and A Little Book of Tamil Religious Rituals was published in October 2004. In between interviews for my book on Marabastad, I began recording my experiences as a teacher in Limpopo Province and day-to-day happenings, my friendships, my hijacking, a wedding in the family, among other things and compiled a book of short stories, Jail Birds and Others , which was published in December 2004. Soon afterwards, I completed Stories from the Asiatic Bazaar and it was published in 2007.
In 1994, South Africa became a democratic country but the racism into which we had been socialised did not disappear at the stroke of a pen and writers continue to reflect experiences gained through racial and cultural balkanisation. Consequently, varying racial, ethnic and cultural experiences, do not find affinity across the board. And publishers, concerned only with markets, are unwilling to takes risks with unknown writers. They told me time and again that there was no market for my work so I decided to go into publishing. I have published A Little Book of Tamil Religious Rituals, Stories from the Asiatic Bazaar, Monkey Business by my sister, Seetha Ray, and am working on a book of children’s plays by my brother Seeni Naidoo, a short story that he has written, more short stories, a novel and three novellas and children’s stories that I have written.
I spent the years 1977 to 1983, involved in Anti-SAIC and UDF campaigns, which inspired me to write a number of plays: We 3 Kings, a farce about ‘Indian’ elections, Ikhayalethu, about dispossession, Masks, the search for African identity. One of my revues, The Masterplan, a comic interpretation of separate development and the Tricameral Parliament, was banned in September 1983. My last play Flight from the Mahabarath, written sometime in the 1990s, is a feminist critique of the epic.
All my plays have now been published under the title WIP Theatre Plays. (WIP = Work-in-Progress)
Going through my papers, I discovered a number of articles written over the years so I revised them and put them all together with new articles. They include reflections on drama, reactions to apartheid, reflections on writing, my joy at discovering Milan Kundera and my attempt to understand the functions of religion and democracy in a society.
Harper Lee’s book Go Set a Watchman around which there is a furore involving: capitalist exploitation by opportunist publishers, an eighty-nine year old author who apparently does not know what she is doing, publication sixty years after the book was written, the book as the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, a clever editor who helped to shape it into the more conventional novel that became a hit and was made into a movie, confusion about the book as a prequel not a sequel, and most of all, Atticus Finch, the noble Hero of To Kill A Mockingbird, shown as an idol with clay feet. Readers want:
to dazzle the eyes
cause and effect
we need the lies
Jekylls not Hydes
the art of fiction
the fiction of art
The general consensus is that Go Set a Watchman is inferior to To Kill a Mockingbird. It does not follow conventional expectations; it does not have the logic of cause and effect that turns a story into a work of art, unlike To Kill a Mockingbird with its wonderful hero who in the deep south stands up against racism and espouses the cause of a black man’s human rights.
Some reviewers criticise Go Set a Watchman on the grounds that it does not conform to the standardised formula for a novel. For me, the novel is like the character in it of Dr Jack Finch, Atticus’s brother, who does not present his arguments in terms of abstract principles of logic. He creates his own logic which is made up of personal references, to which we may or may not have access, that are strung together requiring us to make connections and find personal meanings. Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, which fulfills standard expectations of good versus evil, Go Set a Watchmant presents good and evil in a human mixture that applies to us all.
It plainly requires us to work out for ourselves where we stand. We are not, like Scout, to follow blindly where Atticus leads. Atticus, himself, has worked through what he believes and his undeerstanding of the situation is not idealistic; it is based on what he has observed. We may or may not agree with his estimation of the situation and that is what makes him human. His daughter in seeing him as a model of integrity reduced him to something unreal, a Platonic ideal. When she becomes aware that she can no longer agree with him, it is the moment of her liberation, a liberation that encompasses both her father and herself. She need no longer be dependent on him for what she believes and does and he can be a human being who makes mistakes.
There is no such thing as perfection in the human condition; human beings are limited by their perspectives. When we become aware of our limitations, we become capable of change. Atticus’s understanding that people without experience of governing, cannot make good governers, is logical. When such a perception becomes conflated with race and leads to continued exclusion on the grounds of race, it requires more consideration than Jean Louise’s condemnation of it as racist. It requires a whole new perspective. It is true that black people have been discriminated against and cruelly treated but their suffering does not automatically endow them with the ability to govern; suffering is not the basis for such a responsibility. Jean Louise’s arguments are based on emotion not on reason; not on what is practicable.
And so are Atticus’s arguments; he has always responded to unfair treatment of black people and has been compassionate at a basic level of interaction. But when blacks want to be in government, he finds them not ready. Instead of devoting his efforts to making them ready, he becomes involved in keeping them subservient. Deep down he is responding to his conditioning in a racist society. He is what we, in South Africa during apartheid, referred to as a white liberal.
What is needed is a situation which changes the kind of governance that has been in effect. The new insights that black people bring to governance requires such change. Government, however, being such a complex form of administration cannot easily be changed and ways have to be found to incorporate the new with the old. That is very difficult as we in South Africa have been learning for the past twenty-one years. Affirmative action which simply means being inducted into existing forms is not the answer. Both Atticus and Jean Louise are thinking in terms of affirmative action – one for, the other against.
For me, Go Set a Watchman is a modern novel, deep, intriguing, challenging and satisfying. It is different in style from To Kill A Mocking Bird, which is romantic. Go set a Watchman is realistic.