BY ANOTE AJELUOROU
How much research did you carry out in writing Bombay’s Republic?
The narrative was part of a series which traced West African history from pre-colonial times through the Scramble for Africa and colonialism to post-independence. For this reason, a lot of research was done not only for ‘Bombay’s Republic’ but for the whole sequence.
All that research fed into ‘Bombay’s Republic’, since the narrative was set in the colonial era.
I grew up hearing stories about African soldiers who fought on the Burma front of the Second World War but it was necessary to augment that knowledge. Sensory details have primacy in all fiction so the most important thing for a writer working on historical fiction is to accumulate enough of these, in order to give the reader a feeling of complete immersion in the lived experience of an age gone by.
For ‘Bombay’s Republic’, I depended primarily on the direct testimonies of veterans rather than processed historical summaries. As part of commemorative activities for the 55th and 60th anniversaries of the end of the Second World War, a substantial number of interviews had been done with a broad range of veterans from all over West Africa and England about the Burma conflict.
These came in handy when I began work on the story in 2005. I was keen on getting a sense of how it was to be in combat and to get a handle on the attitudes of African soldiers towards their experiences in the Second World War.
The story is described as ‘darkly humorous’, which seems its winning style. How did you arrive at it?
To a good extent, that species of wit is a Nigerian thing. As a country, we seem to have a talent for countering grave adversities not only with anger but also with gallows humour, an ability which the Irish are also famous for. Some may see this as a mere coping strategy but it is an attitude which has proven highly effective in creative writing, if deployed effectively.
Because a writer is dealing with serious issues does not mean he or she should be sombre about it. Life is short so why not have as much fun as one can responsibly get along the way. This applies also to writing.
Oftentimes, humour, not dourness, is a more effective communicator of reality and truth.