A blessing and the fighter's laceBy: Jane Rosenthal
Coolie, Come Out and Fight
Mohamed F (Mac) Carim (Porcupine Press)
This engaging and interesting read is a politically modest “struggle” memoir, which may have been written primarily to please the author, and for his family and friends.
It reasserts the notion cherished by many, including this reviewer, that each individual life is significant and interesting. From humble beginnings in South Africa he and his family, including his siblings, parents and his own wife and children, have achieved remarkable success once they had emigrated.
Carim’s parents had a relentless struggle to establish themselves as traders of one sort or another, always beset by legislation restricting the business operations of South African Indians, and further complicated by the mixed-race status of Carim’s mother – a great beauty who raised six children in conditions of hardship and insecurity.
His memorable and often nostalgic account of his boyhood includes a period in Troyeville, where local white boys liked to call him out of the shop on to the pavement to fight (hence the title of this book). They also spent some time in a flat with a balcony overlooking Market Street in Jajbhai’s Building, in the Johannesburg central business district, and a stone’s throw from the Library Gardens in which they were not allowed to play even when the city centre was deserted over the weekends.
Carim enjoyed these, but points out the contrast with the extremely larney school in Pakistan to which he and his two brothers were sent for a while when the family’s fortunes were in an upswing.
The high adventure of the journey there by ship, and his experiences at the school, showed Carim that life could be better than it was for his family in South Africa.
On his return to South Africa he found the Johannesburg Indian High School in Fordsburg such a comedown that he left before matriculating and started in a variety of jobs – finally ending up with Pepsi South Africa, which led to work all over the world.
In his late teens he and a group of friends led a socially active life (with a few lapses of judgment and brushes with the law) in which good clothes, a cool hairstyle and dancing played a big part.
Luckily one of them had a car, a 1949 Chevy. When Carim was just 22 he married Hajoo – the start of a long and happy marriage.
The text shows signs of a battle to compress and streamline the narrative of complicated life events; a more ruthless edit may have produced a more elegant book, but lost its special savour.
Carim’s storytelling is a lively mix of fact and opinion, and he has an eye for beauty.
I especially enjoyed his little riff on white lace curtains as a symbol of Hajoo’s determination to keep things good and tranquil in the family home.
Similarly enriching are his meditations on people in his life from whom he learned something useful – such as the stupidity of racism from his friendship with Sally van Rensburg, a poor white girl in Troyeville, and from a Jewish teacher in Pakistan he learned that confidence and good planning lead to success.
From Johannesburg to Lahore, and later on to Nigeria and Canada, this is a rich and memorable story.
For obtain your copy, click on: http://www.porcupinepress.co.za/shop/porcupine-books/coolie-come-out-and-fight-detail.html