‘Sugar In My Blood‘ is a poignant story by South African author, Naufal Khan based on the life of the late, Muniamma Naidoo & the Khan family of Mount View, Verulam.
A heart-wrenching tale through her eyes as she documented life & the people around her during the colonial period of British occupation & apartheid South Africa. A time that was painful but even in those moments there was some joy to be found.
Her story as shared through her journals dates back to the early 1900’s which were unearthed after her death in 2006 speak of her early life in Glendale where she spent years working the lush sugar cane field’s then becoming a house slave to a British family.
A humble journey of love, pain and deep-set religiosity during the avatar periods of Shirdi Sai and Sathya Sai. A brown girl with little schooling who made the most of her teen life, she learnt as much as she could through spoken history around the hearth of coal & wood that kept the family warm at night.
After her marriage to a boy from the city, she moved to Verulam where her life as a proud South African Indian woman began. Her story represents the journey of a woman who dedicated her life to the well-being of her family.
No job was ever below her standard, a maid to the Pakco family then as a nanny to another intertwined along her journey with painful secrets, happy moments & everything in between.
“Muniamma Naidoo, a daughter of the Tugela Valley, a witness to the Cato Manor 1949 riots, a songstress but most of all she was my Goddess.” ~ Naufal Khan
Here are two extracts from the book, the first extract deals with the Khan family and the second with the Muniamma Naidoo.
80 Jacaranda Avenue, Mt. View Verulam
You see the thing is that I lived with my orthodox Muslim family from my father’s side. My parents lived in Phoenix township and due to my schooling I was left at my grandparents’ home as a matter of convenience.
It was decided I need to live with them and not with my mother’s parents (who lived a few doors away from them) as they were Hindu.
I could visit them after school and weekends but I had a rigorous schedule of school and madrassah to attend. I felt like I was a victim of a partition, Pakistan where I lived on one side and India was a few doors away.
Life was taxing at my age, I had to attend school at Mounthaven Primary which I loved. My teacher was god to me, – Miss P. Bagalu was the reason I woke up and rushed to get to school everyday and then after school I had to rush straight into Islamic studies at Madrassah Ashrafia, I despised going to Madrassah – I honestly hated it. Kids and the teachers treated my sisters & I differently.
Islam seemed to be a frightening religion that I silently rebelled against in my head. I loved my ‘Apa Gulbenaaz’ who taught us everything she had to, she was a beautiful woman in her traditional hijab and hair tucked away always under her scarf.
When she was in a good mood she used to dance a little and always loved sharing jokes with us. I missed her on the days she was ill, it meant the supplementary teacher or Hafiz would step in.
So back to disliking Islamic studies, everything that was indoctrinated to us children from that tender age was riddled with disturbing visuals of ‘Jahannam’ or Hell as we all know it. I was told that when I die, I would have to tread on a single thread of gut that belonged to a sheep and if I faltered in my balance I would drop into the decrepit pits of fiery Hell where I would burn for eternity.
And in order to ensure you have a strong thread to walk upon, it is my duty to have sheep slaughtered at Eid in my name to ensure I have a thread that can take me across safely.
I used to wonder about that and it frightened me terribly, my parents made ends meet with just my father working at Rainbow Chickens as a book-keeper & my mom was a housewife. He did his absolute best to make sure we had the essentials for an education, he worked hard.
We never slaughtered sheep annually in my name or anyone for that matter, we just couldn’t do it with the state of finances to keep me in school and my 2 siblings with one more popping out a few years later.
So, I had this continuous vision of my thread of gut being thin as a strand of hair and that I would definitely fall into the pit of Shaitaan or Lucifer . I was fucked according to this fantastical doctrine of Islam that terrified me but there was nothing I could do about it.
Five Kalimahs or prayers were some of the initial teachings I needed to memorize daily as well as learning to read, write, speak Urdu. Then let us not forget the Holy Quran that is in Arabic, we had to study and learn how to read with perfection. Muslims pray 5 times a day and this was obligatory and there are a variety of prayers or surah’s that one needs to master. There’s a prayer or set of verses from before you eat your meal to one for you take a dump.
There were so many things to remember, my head felt like it was going to explode!
My grandfather was not just any normal Muslim, he was in my eyes, a saint. I love my Dhadha, Mr E.A Khan immensely, he is my hero and my source of inspiration for so many things. Dhadha was a Hafiz and the founder of the Madrassah Ashrafia which I attended, apart from that he dedicated his life to Islam, he spent many a nights writing books that eventually became the syllabus of our Islamic studies across the continent.
His work was impeccable and I was witness to some of the best works being crafted in front of me from Deenyath to Islamic History these were some of the books that I still remember and was so proud to have in my knapsack. When kids at Madrassah used to pick on me, I would remind them that books we used were authored by ‘Khan Saheb.’
My Dhadha’s words were pearls of wisdom that every child had to study from. So you see, I had a burden on my shoulders being the eldest grandson of Khan-saheb and so did my other two siblings. But there was one problem with this – in the eyes of J.K Rowling fans the three of us were Mudbloods.
My mother being of Hindu descent and my father Sunni Muslim this was a problem for society but my Dhadha and Dhadhi never discriminated or held that opinion. I had to endure the first cross, that being of mixed religions, I honestly never knew there was such a big thing about it – but it was.
The more of Madrassah that I had to endure each slow and painful year, I questioned the concepts of Islam and whether it really was a peaceful religion.
Was all of this effort to attend Madrassah really worth it? I could not remember what I learnt the day before or how to execute salaah properly, I felt completely useless at being a good Muslim especially with the fact that I am a half-blood, child of a ‘ghercomb’. Yes, that was what my mother was called, a derogatory term applied to someone who is from another religion.
My Dhadha and Dhadhi were deeply religious and super orthodox but Islam at home was loving and peaceful – totally different from the scary Islam I was taught at Madrassah Ashrafia. I can still recall the scent of lobaan wafting through our humble 3 bedroomed council home at 80 Jacaranda Avenue, Mountview, Verulam.
I looked forward to going home everyday and spending time with Dhadhi while she read namaaz, I would sit on the bed and watch her from behind and listen to her hushed tone of reciting the prayers for salaah. After she would complete Salaah she would speak up in a high tone voice and announce, “Qul Fateha.”
That would signal me to stop my homework, pop on my ‘topi’ and hold my palms together as she read ‘fateha’ which is a prayer to give thanks.
We had daily routines of reading with our tasbeeh’s or prayer beads, which would ensure our passage to Jannat. I wasn’t too sure if I prayed enough being a ‘mudblood’ and whether I had extra prayers to do because of my mixed heritage. I never asked I was embarrassed by that fact as society made me feel this way.
Then we would sit together as she read Fateha at the end of each namaaz, she would NEVER miss out on times for salaah. ‘Qazah’ namaaz was taboo for her and she would avoid having to read ‘Qazah’ namaaz.
We spoke Urdu at home and everything was a practical lesson to enhance our Urdu ability, I loved Islam at home, it was Makkah for me.
Dhadha worked at the International Propogation Centre for Islam (IPCI) in Durban central, I would wait anxiously for Dhadha to return home, he would use public transport to make his way home every day walking 2 km’s from the main road to get home. I would look for his tall lanky figure to appear at the top of the hill and I would run to him and walk down with him giving him the run down of my day and what Dhadhi has prepared for supper.
I loved my grandparents with such passion, I love them so much but I never felt good enough for them – I was a mudblood according to people. But there was something special about being half and half – I could feel it in my bones. There was something fantastically magical around me and inside me.
I just had to be patient.
Dhadhi used to say there’s magic at home and when the time is right I would see, hear and feel it. I used to press her for more information, beg her to show me. What did she mean by it?
She would laugh with a squeaky bit with this broad smile showing off a gap tooth, her milky white skin would crack around her lips, with blue-grey eyes staring deeply into my hungry soul that wanted to know – what is this magic?
Dhadhi beamed with a smile that reminded me of the day she told me there was magic around us. She said I have to be patient and that Dhadha would tell me more when he was not busy.
Magic! Was my Dhadha a Dumbledore? Was Dhadhi a sorceress? Did we have magic wands somewhere at home? I had to know more.
I was 9 years old there were stories about my grandparents home that used to be spoken of in hushed tones. There was talk or should I say gossip of magical beings that visited at night and communed with some Dhadhi and Dhadha on divine affairs.
I recall Dhadhi telling me about the couple that lived in our yard, I asked her innocently where are they as I never saw anyone else. She then pointed to the lush green leaves the Bombay mango trees that heaved with weight of the sweetest ripening mangos. “That’s where they are”, she said with that smile again.
Magical beings presided in the mango tree in our yard, boy was I confused! Then Dhadhi explained that these beings were Djinns who looked after the family and have been with her and Dhadha for a long, long time. I longed to see these Djinns, these magical beings that she spoke of they had special gifts that they would use to help us when we needed it. I was afraid somewhat as everything I learnt at Madrassah was scary and destructive, I could imagine how terrible these two were.
“Dhadhi”, I called out to her as she stared into space in meditation, mumbling verses as she rubbed each tasbeeh bead bringing her back to the conversation.
“Jee beta?”, she responded with a slight jump of fright as sometimes I was sure Dhadhi fell asleep during tasbeeh time.
“Dhadhi, when can I meet them? The Djinns.”, I looked at her. I hoped I could meet them and they could answer some of the questions I had and hopefully give me something to help me remember everything in Madrassah.
She smiled again and placed her hand on my shoulder and said that when the time is right they will come visit me. I have to be patient. I eventually let her drift back into that space she elevated herself to when she sat with her prayer beads.
I took a walk outside to the mango tree and looked up to hopefully see these magical beings, I stared into the branches hoping that my chance to meet them was now. I then wondered if I should be looking up because if I do and if the lady Djinn was wearing a hijab I would be looking right up there, I hope she has pants on, it would be rude of her to sit like that. A sudden heavy gust of wind shook the tree, it was almost Magrib, I rushed inside. It was never a good time to be outside, bad things happen, well that’s what I was told.
There was always a curfew for us children to return to the house at Magrib for all intents and purposes we were told that Magrib was a bad time as the devil was about to cause mischief.
68 Jacaranda Avenue: When A Monkey Steals My Thatha (Grandfather) In The Backyard
“Boya, you know how Thatha looks like a monkey when he get Hanuman trance, she would ask me. I would nod yes while munching on freshly fried bhajia’s prepared from leaves off the tree in the garden, darting my attention to her and to the television occasionally with the radio tuned into Lotus FM blaring in the background.
I knew Lord Hanuman was special, the avatar of Lord Mahadev he was – the force was strong with him!
Lord Hanuman was nothing like the monkeys in Verulam. Fuck it, I hated them, they pissed all over, stole the golden red mangoes from our trees and also some of the best paw paws from Amma’s garden, I would sit with a sling and a pile of stones ready to sting them if they got close to it.
I would never be able to win with these blue-balled motherfuckers, as soon as I released the shot from my sling, I would have one of them already striking back with a mango or sometime screeching and threats to attack me. But when they reached Lord Hanuman’s corner in the back yard, they knew that was their immunity idol. I would have to leave them alone as they feasted on the daily offering of bananas and other fresh fruit that Amma would make me leave at the sanctum.
I did not want to upset Hanumanji by striking his stupid cousins that gave me more work. It seemed a sense of calm would overcome these monkeys when they reach Hanuman’s corner and they would quietly sit and enjoy the offerings and then scatter once everything has been devoured.
When she captured my attention again she went on to explain the significance of the Hanuman Chalisa and why it was important to memorize the chalisa.
“There is magic in the chalisa of Hanuman, he will protect you always, Boya”, said Amma. MAGIC! Amma had just captured my attention one hundred percent. I switched off the television and jumped back on the couch.
“Amma tell me more about the magic”, I was now interested fully in her conversation forgetting the fiery burn of the chillies that she added generously to the bhajia’s. Amma smiled again explaining to me that Hanuman’s chalisa has immense power to protect those who recite the Chalisa with love.
It took me months to learn the Chalisa but it was worth it, Amma helped me every step of the way ensuring I enunciated the Sanskriti perfectly, rounding off here and sharp tones of peaks there.
Jai Bajrang Bali!
Some of the screams would arise from the packed crowd of visitors in the back yard. Thatha was fierce and his chest heaved with a deep growl, his mouth would fill up with air and he looked just like Sri Hanumanji.
I was never afraid of Thatha and his trance; I stood right next to Amma waiting for blessings and also to help her. Amma would be ready for him, the growing sounds of the bhajan group behind me rhythmically noisy, sounded very far away for me as Thatha’s ferocious scream filled the air with echoes into the valley below the garden of Mount View, Verulam.
He crouched very low as his face brushed close to the fiery smoke of the camphor from the clay pot. This is the exact moment when Thatha left his body and the Arul (spirit) of Sri Hanumanji took over.
As he roared and bellowed, I could feel the vibration in my chest, Thatha’s eyes are fixated on the Lingam of Mahadev across the yard and as he stood up, he pivots around to face the clay statue of Sri Hanumanji adorned beautifully.
Offerings of prasadam fit for a king would be spread out at Hanuman corner with everything prepared by Amma. I would giggle inside thinking of the fact that just yesterday I was smearing generous amounts of cow shit all over here and now there’s this amazing spread of prasadam all over the same floor. I found it so strange but never questioned this much as elders know best.
The ‘roht’ was particularly special, Amma would tie her mouth with a cloth and we would have to leave her alone in silence as she prepared this special offering. It was made with love for the monkey god, well everything Amma did was prepared with love.
I can recall that sacred act without having to think of what to say next always this annual veneration to Lord Hanuman was one of the major highlights of house number 68 Jacaranda Avenue.
People from all over Verulam and other townships would converge at the humble residence of 68 Jacaranda Avenue for this special day when Thatha gives himself over to Lord Hanuman.
I started to wonder if I recited it enough if that would give me the strength to climb the jhunda like Thatha did when he entered his state of trance.
But never mind, I have to memorize magical verses… Jai Hanuman gyan gun sagar, Jai Kapis tihun lok ujagar, Ram doot atulit bal dhama, Anjani-putra Pavan sut nama
“Victory to Hanuman who is the ocean of Wisdom and Virtues, Victory to the king of Monkeys who is illuminating three worlds “You are the messenger of Rama (to Sita), You are the abode of incomparable power. You are also called by the names of ‘Anjani Putra’ (Son of Anjana) and ‘Pavana suta’ (son of wind god)”
As I would spend my time cleaning Hanuman Corner, which I named his abode in the backyard, I would imagine flying like Hanuman, growing a tail that could set cities on fire, my mind would wander sometimes like this. I loved creating pictures in my head, it was an escape from my dark worries.
Like good secrets I had bad ones too – but Lord Hanuman & Allah would help me, I know they would.
About the author: Naufal Khan is the founding editor of IndianSpice, a passion for digital first publishing. keeps the thread of identity South African first, Indian by descent alive by sharing the best of South African Indian trending news & diaspora content.
This book will be his second published literary work. ‘Sugar In My Blood‘ will be available later this year for further information contact Naufal here