A happy dalliance into the written word

Dr Aman Singh Maharaj with his novel A Dalliance with Destiny

Dr Aman Singh Maharaj with his novel A Dalliance with Destiny

Published Oct 22, 2022


In his debut novel “A Dalliance with Destiny”, Durban author and engineer Dr Aman Singh Maharaj is making waves in India and Britain, where it is published.

It tells of a local Indian man, disillusioned with his lot in life and being fired from a local investment bank for whistle-blowing on dodgy deals, who decides to trace the roots of his indentured family in India, and seek enlightenment, love, sex, a guru, an identity. Through a variety of startling twists and turns it ends up with almost a race to the source of the holy Ganges.

In the process it paints a picture of indenture and South African history many don’t want to think of, including rapacious sugar barons, and city councillors that deliberately stoked the Cato Manor riots. His description of Stanger (now KwaDukuza), a town in which he grew up, is a delight.

Singh Maharaj studied civil engineering before doing an MBA. His doctorate is on public private partnerships in development economics.

Today he consults in the infrastructure and development space with projects as far afield as Pune, Grenada and the KZN South Coast. He is also involved in a company manufacturing biodegradable sanitary pads and nappies, both of which cause pollution problems in their present form.

He started writing the novel in 2006 when working for a high profile government agency where he became a whistle-blower himself.

“It blew up in my face,” Singh Maharaj says. “I had to be at work and was earning a good salary, but I couldn’t do anything. After a week of staring at the walls from 8am to 5pm, I started writing. I’d always had a tale bubbling in me.

“I looked at it as like, when life gives you lemons, make lemon atchar,” he says.

It took three months to write 1 200 pages, but another 16 years to edit it down to a more readable 400. He tells of reading the original text countless times to get it right.

“Every time I read it I wanted to add to it,” he says. And then of his difficulties getting it published in South Africa, where they were constantly wanting to edit out his observations, before finally going to the UK. “I had to stand my ground,” he says.

Growing up in Stanger, he says he lived in the library.

“There was either sport or reading. My mom took me to the library when I was 5 years old. I’ve been a voracious reader since then.”

He laments that South Africa doesn’t have a larger reading public. He notes in India you can have book clubs of up to 250 people, all informed and all with a view on what they’re reading.

Regarding the Cato Manor riots, he points to Professor Ashwin Desai’s Inside Indian Indenture, that says there is evidence the riots were started deliberately.

“The combination of Indian brain and African muscle was seen as dangerous,” he said, pointing out that the novel is a dramatisation of events as they could have unfolded.

Singh Maharaj is pleased with the response to his novel, although he admits “it’s not for everyone”. A lover of the lyricism of Indian literature, he’s been compared to VS Naipaul. Another compared it to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, calling it bawdy. “I took that as a compliment,” he says.

He admits his lead character is “not exactly an exemplary fellow” and many back in Stanger “may be shocked by the boldness of the themes”, describing it as part travelogue, philosophy, romance and adventure. “It’s had some pretty provocative responses on social media.”

Is there a second book waiting? Singh Maharaj is not sure, but certainly doesn’t rule it out. He points out that “a writer never finishes a book, but eventually abandons it to the publisher to be finished by the reader”.

The Independent on Saturday