Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Penguin SA

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

“Be loyal to your car, but don’t give a sh*t about it.” Haji Mohamed Dawjee celebrates her anti-establishment hero, her grandfather, in this extract from Sorry, Not Sorry

Published in the Sunday Times

Haji Mohamed Dawjee celebrates her anti-establishment hero, her grandfather, in this extract from her new book Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa.

He was an honest guy, my grandfather. A bit left-field with his thoughts, but always honest. His support of my creativity started when I was really young. I spent a lot of time with him at our old house in Laudium. Before I realised I liked writing, I sketched. All the time. He supplied pencils and paper, and I replicated Secret Seven book covers. SABC News was always on in the background and compliments for the Indian news presenters spilt out of him. They were all Hindu and he never failed to voice his disappointment and, well, disgust for the Muslim community, who he said never did anything with their lives. “Baby-making machines,” he called them. “Will never amount to anything,” he said. He admired women journalists and was frustrated that none of those he saw were Muslim. Subconsciously, I think this played a massive role in my becoming a journalist.

He was a writer too. He wrote poems. Lots and lots of poems. When he wasn’t reading them, he was writing them. They were really short, but he took ages to type them because he wasn’t used to a computer. He punched each letter in with two fingers and sometimes got the upper- and lower-case letters wrong, resulting in an ee cummings aesthetic. I assisted with formatting when asked.

The poems’ themes varied from religion to memories of his mother and his childhood. He was never published. Such opportunities did not exist for his generation, class and race. He bought a DIY manual on self-publishing and read it studiously, but nothing came of it. To satisfy his byline needs he got a printer and compiled the poems in files so that they looked like real books. The poetry anthologies of Cassim Mohamed Dawjee are still lying around somewhere in Pretoria.

Reading, writing and watching the news are just about the only conventional things about my grandfather when considered in the light of cultural and religious norms. With every decision, thought and opinion, he proudly lifted his middle finger to the world he found himself in and carved his own path. He didn’t care what anyone thought. In that way, he is my hero. He made me laugh without knowing he did. But he also made me think.

Once, when Muslim evangelists pitched up at the gate, he asked that the dogs be released from the back yard to scare them off. He went outside with a whip to do the same. I love that story.

What follows are a few things my grandfather did in his life, and the lessons I learnt from them.

Be loyal to your car, but don’t give a shit about it.

My granddad drove an ancient, massive, olive-green Mercedes-Benz. I don’t even know what model it was. It was always falling apart. It was an automatic and it’s the car he used to teach me to drive. He was always doing things to the engine that I am pretty sure didn’t need doing and only contributed to its demise.

At one stage, the window on the driver’s side gave in. It would stay wide open because it just slid right down into the door panel. Instead of having it fixed, Pappie, as we called him, used a butcher’s knife to hold it in place. This. Was. A. Terrible. Idea.

He drove me and my sister to school in that car every day. It was a long drive because we lived in Laudium and our school was out of town in Valhalla. He didn’t drive well because he always handled the steering wheel with one hand and had his other hand out the window, fingers tapping the roof of the car. In the summer when the whole window thing happened, he’d try to roll the window up and down while driving, constantly dissatisfied with the temperature.

Removing and replacing the knife required him to use both hands. The car went everywhere and so did the massive knife. It was quite a spectacle and quite a chore. The knife needed to be properly rammed into the side of the little window slit, which took some force. He endeavoured to keep his eyes on the road while trying his best not to miss his target and stab himself in the leg. He never missed, and I’m glad about that, but I often find myself laughing to stop from crying with fear of just thinking about it.

Lesson one: Sometimes in life, all you need is a huge knife to cut through the bullshit. If you believe in yourself, you can always make it work, no matter the risk. And screw the rest.

Book details

 

Please register or log in to comment