Born in Durban, Ishara Maharaj graduated with degrees in Linguistics and Organisational Psychology from Rhodes University and UCT.
Her debut novel, Namaste Life, launched in Cape Town in July 2016 on a stormy winter’s evening and she did not expect many people to turn up. Fortunately, she got to share her insights about growing up in a close-knit Hindu community and the inspiration behind the characters of Namaste Life, to a full-house at The Book Lounge.
Recognizing the need for relatable fiction in the South African market, Maharaj wished to tell the story of the South African Indian woman growing up in the modern-day context. During her Book Lounge launch, Maharaj revealed:
One of the initial sparks for writing this novel was reading fiction by other local authors. Rayda Jacobs’ Confessions of a Gambler tackled deeply held beliefs within the Cape Muslim community and got me thinking about how very little has been written about the Durban Hindu community in modern-day terms. While the Hindu community remains strong in terms of its Indian roots, many young people like myself left Durban for better employment prospects, and our lives have changed. I wanted to write about those everyday struggles that young people from this community face, and to express that, as South Africans, we all experience similar struggles irrespective of our cultural or religious backgrounds.
Namaste Life was also borne out of her love for magical realism expressed through Hindu mythology and dream interpretation in the novel.
Maharaj currently resides in Cape Town with her husband and daughter where she is working on her first start-up venture to better connect youth with employment opportunities.
Excerpt from Namaste Life (2015:105):
The INN – Indian News Network: a broadcast of a different kind
Ashok was disappointed in his wife and her mother. Surya had made the effort to reach out to them. She needed their support. Whether the pregnancy was unwanted or not, it was a new and overwhelming time in Surya’s young life. Ashok took comfort in the fact that Anjani was close to her sister, but the whole experience would take its toll on her too. He continued to send extra money to his daughters, but he had to think of a way to keep them protected, especially when the baby arrived.
Mrs Naidoo couldn’t have asked for a juicier situation. She was in the right place at the right time to find out the truth about Surya that day. Promise never checked the washing once she’d hung it up. Mrs Naidoo had to go and turn the washing so that the sun would dry everything, and the Naidoos’ washing line hung conveniently close to the fence that overlooked the Harsinghs’ mansion. And Mrs Naidoo caught a glimpse of her.
Surya was crying and holding her stomach. Her grandmother was shouting at her. Mrs Naidoo’s ears pricked up. What was she saying?
‘Go from here. And take your shame with you. Your mother has had enough of you. We don’t want any baby from you. You want to keep your baby? Then you have to go!’
Did she hear right? A baby? Surya was pregnant? That must be why she was holding her stomach. But her stomach wasn’t showing. She must have just found out and come to tell her mother. What a thing! And now they had kicked her out of the house.
Mrs Naidoo ran into her room. She was going to choose her best sari for the prayers at the temple tomorrow. She couldn’t wait to tell her friends what she’d seen and heard next door.
The next evening, Mrs Naidoo arrived early at the temple. It was a weekday so there wouldn’t be too many people, but she’d telephoned Mrs Pather and Mrs Chand to make sure they would come. She had big news for them.
As people filled the temple hall, the priest began reciting his mantras. A large wall hanging of Lord Ganesha hung from the ceiling to the floor of the stage. The smell of beans curry and puri cooked on open fires outside filled their senses, along with the agarbathi that wafted around the hall. Mrs Naidoo sat right at the back so she could easily spot Mrs Pather and Mrs Chand. When she finally saw them, she beckoned them to sit next to her.
‘So what’s all this big news you got?’ said Mrs Pather.
‘Yah, why you didn’ say over the phone?’ added Mrs Chand.
Mrs Naidoo took a deep breath.
2016. Namaste Life. Cape Town: Modjaji Books.