by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos
Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with Canadian writer Alnasir Rajan’s book “Invisible Birthmarks.” We follow the same Q/A format as our recent presentations of books written by Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We encourage Ismaili authors to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to the editor of Simerg, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.
Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book?
Alnasir Rajan: Invisible Birthmarks – This is a unique name for the simple reason that it captures the essence of the characters in my book. These characters lived through some of the most horrid times and their pain and scars are in most cases hidden from the rest of the world, they are Invisible. So, I called it ‘Invisible Birthmarks’ because pain is not a visible scar. It lives in the heart, in the eyes and in the memory. Sharing it through stories brings it to light.
Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?
Rajan: Most families have been through migration. However, the places they settled into, did not always be their destination homes, even though their families lived there for generations. Similar stories of such migrants who lived for generations in Zanzibar had to flee for their lives. However, the regimes in Zanzibar at the time were restricting any form of travel while persecuting the minorities. This resulted in loss of lives and people found creative ways of getting off the island. You will always relate to the characters as you read through my book. This is not a history of my family.
Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?
Rajan: I was always writing short stories and just let them gather dust. However, after moving from Tanzania for 18 years and residing in Kenya and studying there, fate took me back to Dar es Salaam. I had some old friends and I met some new friends who inspired me to write a book to honor people who had no choice, no voice and no hand it what transpired during their struggles in Zanzibar. I had never been exposed to real life tragedies. It was a calling.
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Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?
Rajan: They are available in Paperback, Hard cover and eBook formats. I am contemplating to get an Audiobook version created as that seems the future of readership for me. This book is available from all online book sellers including iUniverse and Amazon.
Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?
Rajan: Traditional publishers are very difficult to please. They kept returning my manuscript saying it was not a Canadian content. I have no idea what that meant. So, I opted for a self-publishing route because it is a very fast process of getting a publication online.
Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?
Rajan: I did all the writing by myself. I hired an editor but because my book had some Kiswahili language in it, I had to make sure that it was not edited out by error. I had to read the edited version over and over for this reason. The self-publishing company that I had to pay dearly, did the cover page and some esthetics like selecting the images and preparing the book descriptions etc.
Simerg: Which was your first book and how many have you written?
Rajan: Invisible Birthmarks is my first book about the survival of minorities in the pre and post independent Zanzibar. My second book is Unfolding Africa which is a story of my family’s migration history from India to Africa in 1897 and the shared history of the generations that followed.
Simerg: How long did it take you to write Invisible Birthmarks — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?
Rajan: When I came to Canada on 15th November 1995, I already had a hand written manuscript that was very raw. The journey to rewrite it began while I was working in Canada and it came into fruition after 15 years in 2010. I went through a learning process. I realized writing a book is just like any other job. You have to sit and work.
Simerg: Tell us something more about the book and its main character(s).
Rajan: Some of the people I met when I returned to Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania after 18 years, were originally from Zanzibar. How they ended up living in Dar-es-salaam became an interesting topic but one which was full of sadness. I listened to many people and I realized that tragedies had happened in our beloved Zanzibar that no one was talking about. It was like a dark phase no one was ready to talk about. People in Tanzania are very forgiving. But the pain still exists. I began writing down these events and the writing bug in me was awakened. I had to share these stories with the rest of the world.
Shiraz is one of the main characters who faced rejection from family and society. He is a very humble person with no bitterness as he still loves his homeland Zanzibar. In my book, I have mentioned Ramzan Bhaloo who was from Zanzibar. Before he came to Canada, he was the care-taker of the Mombasa Ismaili Rest house. A very popular and loved man. Mohammed Meghji is also mentioned in my book. He had shared some of his experiences. I used their struggles and the struggles of some other families to show in totality what the system did to harm them as a minority. I have not used any real names of my friends as characters as the characters are a combination of several characters. However, I tried to do justice by relaying a shared history of sufferings that the surviving families told me about. It is never enough to write about it, but at least it is a start.
Date posted: April 13, 2021.
Alnasir Rajan lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada where he and his wife, Narima, own a flower shop called Fairview Florist. They have two sons and a daughter. In his spare time, he loves to give life to the pen and paper affair. He treasures his childhood and adulthood memories as a long path of learning.
CALLING ALL ISMAILI AUTHORS
We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji have done in their respective interviews. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at Simerg@aol.com. All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.
The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):
1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji; (article published on February 10, 2021)
2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff; (February 25, 2021)
3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha; (March 6, 2021) and
4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
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