Last week, Bangalore’s brightest and best stirred themselves out of their post-Diwali hiatus to be present in large numbers at Saad bin Jung’s launch of his latest book, Matabele Dawn, at the ITC Windsor. The evening was a big success. Copies sold out in a flash, as he signed for friends at an antique desk, quill in hand. I thought it would be interesting to hear more about the book – besides, as I pointed out to Saad’s amusement, his book was priced higher on Amazon than Booker prize winner Richard Flanagan’s. Quite a start.
Besides his cricketing background, Saad is known for his perennial grin, his razor-sharp wit and his lovely wife, Sangeeta. He is also known as a royal with roots deep in India’s culture and a love for wildlife, which he has turned into his passion. This passion is now a canvas for his writings. This is Saad’s third book, a novel which crisscrosses continents and centuries, mixing cultures and narratives with a sharp insight stemming from his fascination for history.
In his room surrounded by African busts, books on Africa and his dogs, Saad looked quite the bestselling writer in residence. What followed was a conversation full of typical witticisms, cross referenced with historical issues (I believe India can be the world’s saviour, unless politicians mess up), philosophy (teach children to follow their passion. Life isn’t about money), cultural anecdotes (the external sex of the Bantu tribe), and a few off-the-record cracks (‘you can’t write that!’).
Here’s what I can: Saad credits his ability to write to mentors MJ Akbar and Rajan Bala in his early days of cricket writing for The Asian Age. He soon became known for his blunt, no-holds-barred style of cricket commentary. This led to his first book, Wild Tales from the Wild, which he describes as an ‘Indian’ Jungle Book. His next, Subhan and I, centred on his love for angling. “I could see Matabele Dawn coming even as I wrote my earlier books,” he says. Old books in the family archives revealed facts of British Indian history which proved valuable, like the British killing of tribal women, described in disturbing detail. Facts which needed to be told, he says.
Africa, to him, has been a love story since the 90s. His travels around the continent over the years; the people, customs and tribes he encountered became fodder for the book. “I didn’t want to let it go without telling,” he says. But with the Matabele Tribe, he found a ‘karmic connection’ and a compelling starting point for his saga. His two protagonists took birth on their own ‘in troubled times’ in their countries. “They are moulded on people I know,” he grins. Shaaz is named after his son, and Chenjerai is based on his nephew, actor Saif Ali Khan. Which aspects? I ask. “Read and you’ll see,” he grins wider.
The book was written in spurts over seven years and 700 pages, edited down to 416. Now it’s done, he’s on to his next, on ‘a sensitive issue’, planning his travel to Syria to meet ISIS commanders for the story background. Never a dull moment, I tell Saad. He guffaws. “Arnab (Goswami, of Times Now) told me I lead the perfect life – appear on TV when I want, write when I want, go into the jungles when I want.”
One has to agree.
Ruma Singh presents a
column on observations, insights and what’s buzzing in the city.