Trade Secrets contributor Kamil Naicker on the dynamics of co-dependence, Alexandre Dumas, and the messiness of life
Kamil Naicker was born in London and moved to Cape Town with her family in 1991. She holds an MA from the University of Leeds and has just completed her PhD thesis on postcolonial crime fiction at the University of Cape Town. She is currently working on a novel about the lives of young South Africans born into exile. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award and Kamil recently spoke about her Trade Secrets entry, friendship, and the dynamics of co-dependence:
The threads of your story, ‘The Liberator’, of politics, of ageing, of looking back into the past, of personal need, are seamlessly woven into what could be described as a relationship drama. Would you agree?
I think so. I liked the idea of the main character beginning with a mission of sorts, which is gradually revealed as being the result of a very complicated relationship instead of anything overtly political. Dhaneshree is essentially recruited by Isaac, and it struck me that recruitment depends on there being some kind of unfulfilled need on both sides. Obviously this is also true of friendships and mentor relationships, albeit in a much less manipulative way, so I decided to explore a dynamic where there seems to be genuine attachment between the characters in addition to this imperative that’s carried out in the course of the story.
Was there an initial inspiration for the story? Are you personally interested in the stories of struggle heroes?
I think we all are as South Africans. It’s a great part of our cultural mythos, so it just naturally found a place in this story too. The initial inspiration was a bit more weird and ephemeral, a strip of corridor that reflected all these fluorescent lights. I pictured a character trying to walk sedately through this place that felt like a sort of creepy, submerged disco without being able to break into a run.
Your protagonist, Dhaneshree, regularly visits a care home in order to read (which could be considered her ‘trade’) to Isaac, an elderly struggle hero who has a ‘trade secret’ of his own. As the story develops, how does the close relationship between them unfold?
Their story unfolds in reverse, so we don’t see a chronological relationship as such. Isaac is a consistently difficult guy, very brusque and angry with his circumstances. As we learn more about Dhaneshree’s past it becomes clear why she appreciates Isaac. They’re both lonely, and she’s never met anyone who is willing to trade difficult truths with her instead of just pretending everything’s all right.
Then there’s also the reading itself, which kind of introduces her to a new world and different way of thinking, even though her job as a paid companion is ostensibly for his benefit. I think Isaac is also impressed that Dhaneshree doesn’t let him bully her. He senses an inner strength there.
Is the literature that features close to your heart, or chosen to show us more of Isaac’s ‘character’?
Both. It’s what I was reading at the time, but I like the idea of something as distant from our context as Dumas’s writing being used to understand the way we live now.
What is the particular significance of The Three Musketeers?
The enduring appeal of The Three Musketeers is the fact that it’s actually about a group of extremely messed up, but oddly lovable, individuals. None of them are able to achieve any kind of stability in their personal lives, but as a fighting unit they’re unstoppable. Athos is the most daring fighter in France, in part because he actually doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. They’re able to turn their brokenness into strength, which plays back into the dynamic I was discussing earlier. Tom Burke, who acted in the recent BBC adaptation, describes the bond between the musketeers as ‘co-dependence’ rather than simply friendship, and this describes the dynamic in my story as well. It’s this relationship of great depth and extremes, but not necessarily one most therapists would approve of.
The relationship between the unlikely pair, Dhaneshree and Isaac, is also one of courage and compassion. Is this a story of redemption?
Redemption is maybe too strong a word. There’s a darkness to the story that never really goes away, an undercurrent of distrust and ethical unease. There’s no resolution as such. Courage and compassion, definitely, but it’s all very much embedded in the messiness of life. Everyone continues in their complexities rather than transcending them. At the very most, it’s a piecemeal kind of redemption. Glimmers of grace.
What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?
Can I steal one from Emily Dickinson? ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.’
- Trade Secrets edited by Joanne Hichens
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