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Aziz Hassim PDF Print E-mail

Durban-born Aziz Hassim (1935 - 2013), spent most of his early years fraternising on the streets in Durban's Casbah area. The Casbah, a predominantly Indian - but also multicultural - area had a kind of romance and bittersweet lifestyle during the fifties and sixties, which lives on only in the minds of those that inhabited it at the time. Hassim's debut novel, The Lotus People, which won the 2001 Sanlam Literary Award for an unpublished novel, spans the events and moods of this era and served as a form of catharsis for Hassim. While he calls the cleansing process his "personal TRC", he also wished to record a past he is convinced has disappeared forever for the younger generation who think he is "making up stories" when he tells them about that era. Although Aziz Hassim carried the novel within himself, it is by no means autobiographical, but rather a product of the environment he lived in during those days. Of this novel, poet and author, Stephen Gray says, "Hassim's unputdownable tale is the sort that vindicates what Sanlam is doing. It is one of those one-off, unpredictable things ... an absolute masterwork that has never seen the light of day."  Hassim launched his latest novel, Revenge of Kali, which takes place in Durban's Warwick Triangle in the 1960's and 70's, in July 2009. This second novel, which has come under some scrutiny for the title's allusion to the Hindu deity Kali, tells the tale of indentured Indian South Africans and the infamous "Grey Street System".  The book is dedicated to the veteran struggle activist and author Phyllis Naidoo.  In Hassim's words, "While The Lotus People is a novel about what the apartheid regime did to the Indian community, Revenge of Kali is about what the Indians did to themselves".

Aziz Hassim passed away in 2013. His death received considerable media attention with tributes published by The Daily Maverick and Books Live. In 2015 a new annual literary award in honour of Hassim, the Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Awards, was initiated and sponsored by the Minara Chamber of Commerce (MCC).

 


Selected Work

From The Lotus People (2002)

Within a few minutes they were back on the street, at the corner of Commercial and Grey Streets. At last, Jake stopped and lit a cigarette. "The Casbah is another world, Sam. Another country. When you know your way around an army of cops wouldn't find you. You could disappear for weeks, move around freely. And don't ever think this is the only such place. You can lose yourself just as easily in the Dutchene or May Street or in any of a dozen other mini Casbahs."
"But we're not ducking from anybody, Jake. Why didn't we just walk on the pavements?"
"It's not wise to be seen all the time. The less anyone knows where you are the better. It's a good rule to follow."
Jake was on the move again. A hundred yards in front of there was the West End Hotel, at the corner of Pine Street, and he headed for it. After a few minutes, they entered the non-European bar. Sam saw Sandy, sitting on a stool. As soon as Sandy saw them he stood up and signalled to the elderly barman and whispered something in his ear. The barman nodded and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing to a room behind him. Sandy ducked under the swing top and Jake and Sam followed.
They settled around a rickety wooden table, the uncomfortable globe chairs creaking under their weight. Sandy wasted little time on preliminaries, getting straight to the point.
"Sam, there's something we would like you to do for us. It's very important and if you're game we'll make sure you do well out of it. It isn't anything heavy and, if you're sharp, you won't get into trouble. How do you feel about it?"
Sam simply shook his head up and down, feeling a little excited at the prospect of being a part of whatever Jake and Sandy had in mind.
Sandy studied him carefully for a long while before he spoke again, choosing his words with care. "How much do you know about the gangs in town?"
Sam's forehead began to crease as he thought about it. "I've heard of the gangs, we talk about them in school all the time. But I only know some of the Dutchene guys, to say hello to ..."
Sam had led a fairly cloistered life and was still too young to understand the structure of the many street gangs that operated in the various Indian and Coloured communities around the city. Their status was clearly defined and, although all of them were of mixed orientation, mainly Indian and Coloured, there were a few African members within each grouping. Regardless of which race group predominated, the leader was always the best street- fighter or the most fearless and daring amongst them. In the school-grounds it was these leaders whose names were mentioned in awe and a touch of hero worship.

 


Bibliography

  • 2002. The Lotus People.  Johannesburg: STE Publishers.
  • 2009. Revenge of Kali.  Johannesburg: STE Publishers.

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