|Azad at KLM 2013; (bellow) the cover of his book. Picture: Anindya Shankar Ray
The “desktop terrorist” had quite an agenda in Calcutta — try Bengali food at Kewpie’s, roam Park Street, take a trip around the Maidan. South African journalist Azad Essa did all this and more in between his sessions at the Kolkata Literary Meet 2013. Essa’s first book Zuma’s Bastard: Encounters with a Desktop Terrorist was adapted into The Moslems are Coming (HarperCollins, Rs 299) for India. A t2 chat with the soft-spoken Doha-based author.
Desktop terrorist... what is that?!
The idea of the desktop terrorist came from a play on Muslims. It was about being classified over and over as a Muslim in Europe and not enjoying it. I was continuously tagged and ragged about it when I was travelling. That irritated me. I was a voice lost in between. There needed to be something else, a different kind of engagement. That’s when I realised the need for words.... I wanted to write in a way that would speak to me, make me think.
From being an ‘accidental academic’ to a ‘desktop terrorist’ to a journalist and now an author…
Don’t call me an author, I am not that comfortable being tagged as one (laughs). In my final year of bachelors at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (in Durban, South Africa), my lecturer suddenly asked me to teach his course the next year and I didn’t even know what I was doing! That’s how I accidentally became an academic.
The transition towards journalism happened when I became totally frustrated with academics. Looking at what the papers were saying regarding our politics and economics, and knowing the facts and contexts, I realised it was not represented in the papers. That’s why I started writing. But none of the papers would take a look at what I wrote. I thought screw the papers, I might as well start a blog as that is the future. In 2008, when I managed to get the blog associated with a newspaper, I got super-serious.... I used that platform to publish all the stuff that couldn’t be taken by newspapers. Within 10 months I won the Best Political Blog at the 2009 South Africa Blog Awards. I have also been blasted for my posts — lots of brutality on the desktop!
How did the book happen?
It was never a well-thought-out book but a compilation of whatever was on the blog. Zuma’s Bastard is basically a bastard of the new country, a country which has no political allegiance. And Zuma (Jacob Zuma is the President of South Africa) is my illegitimate father, he is my present and I can do nothing about it. Zuma’s Bastard wouldn’t have worked in India and we found the other predominant idea in the book was the Muslim issue, so we named it The Moslems are Coming.
Who should pick up this book?
Senior high school students would find the book appealing. Some of the essays have found their way into schools in South Africa.
What global issues do you want to write on now?
Two issues. First, the umbrella of Muslim masculinity... the way in which Muslim men are portrayed and their understanding of themselves. Also, it’s related to gay Muslims, their sexuality and how they treat their children. The second issue — Pakistani girl Malala, who was shot in the head, and the gang rape incident in India.
What do you think the young minds of today should actually talk, read and write about?
They should get off Facebook and focus on personal relationships. The problems of the world start in the house. Being able to cultivate proper relations and responsibility pushes them to become educated. Secondly, they need to read what society forbids them to read.
What’s your India connect?
My grandfather is from Gujarat. My grandparents moved to South Africa around 1925. There we were literally brought up with an India within our house, from the food to the cultural nuances.
Potter’s new look
So which book cover did you like better? The lanky boy perched atop a broom, with a silver unicorn flashing by in the background and a three-headed dog (Fluffy) looking on from the Hogwart’s Castle or the towering figure of Hagrid in the middle of Diagon Alley, a creamy white owl (Hedwig of course) and a bespectacled Harry Potter.
Scholastic announced on February 13 that the seven-book series by J.K. Rowling is all set to have new covers in celebration of its 15th anniversary, this September. The new covers for their US trade paperback editions will be released in September 2013, while Scholastic just revealed a sneak peek of the first book cover — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of the New York Times best-selling Amulet series of graphic novels, has taken over from original illustrator Mary GrandPre.
Scholastic has also announced that in November 2013 the first boxed set of the complete Hogwarts Library in the US would be launched, including Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Well, hoping they fly this way soon enough!