Connecting to Eternal Truths Through Storytelling
I was born in 1955 in Tanzania to East Indian, Muslim parents. My mother, who possessed no education but held impossible dreams, divorced my father when I was five, and was immediately ostracized by her community. She moved to England and took me with her.
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August 19, 2020
“Emil, why do you carry a tattered plastic bag around with you?” People ask.
If they paid attention, they would notice how often the bag was changed. That each replacement bag bore the name of some obscure emporium from the far corners of the world. It didn’t bother me whether someone noticed or not. It was a game I played with myself. Would this person notice the bag or not ? How many times did I get it right? How many times did someone notice?
What do you think?
Banksy – Messiah of Messaging
Banksy pays tribute to ‘superhero’ nurses in new piece donated to hospital
I viewed this era of COVID with anger and disdain; for the fear and anxiety driven into us by the 24 hour news media and our governments . That was until I saw the drawing by Banksy given last week to Southampton Hospital as a thank you to its staff. I cried immediately when I saw it.
The drawing portrayed a boy in dungarees ,on his knees, holding a toy nurse in his hand, like an aeroplane. The nurse has a red cross painted on her uniform , her cape flies behind her turning her into an angel. To the side of the boy lies a wire-netting waste bin full of action heroes – Batman, Superman etc.
The message hit me viscerally. I had no explanation save, to me, it was a masterpiece depicting, in one scene, the horror ,and the waste of COVID rescued by the miracle of compassion displayed by those who work each day solely to save us.
What does it have to do with my writing? Everything.
The books I write are a patchwork quilt of individual stories, labelled as chapters. Within each short story (“chapter”) a mini plot is developed and turned into a conclusion drawn at the end. There is little room for latitude to waste words.
Banksy does this in such little space with total genius.
AN ILLUSTRATED NOVEL
by EMIL REM
How far would you journey
to rediscover your past?
CHASING APHRODITE: Chapter One
The Exquisite Shambalaya
He smiled politely at her and nodded, wondering if she’d ever even been out of her village. As a child, summers had always been red banner days for him. He would leave his adopted English family to fly home to his father in Africa. His school exams finished on a Thursday, and by Friday, he was on bus B, leaving Maidenhead for Heathrow: his family had no car. Once at the airport, he was on standby ‘til the very last minute — a privilege of his father’s employment with East African Airways Corporation, endearingly referred to as “Europeans, Asians, Africans and Chaos” by its captains and stewardesses . . .
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VIDEO: Emil Discusses 'Chasing Aphrodite' with Wes Pohl
How Do You Find Inspiration?
It took forty years for me to pluck up the courage to write.
My second chapter was now finished. It had taken twelve weeks to write. A time of struggle and toil. Then doubts crept in.
Do I really need this?
How long can I go on for?
What am I trying to prove?
The story revolves around a Filipina passenger on a rickety, springless bus travelling through the heart of Cyprus. She had worn a beige T-shirt with the words ‘Blessings from Baguio’ emblazoned upon it.
I thought my writing career was at an end. I could think of nothing else to follow my second chapter. Why bother? Me a writer? Who was I fooling?
Going to the mailroom in my building, pinned to the notice board, I saw a toque. It was beige. Along its edges was written ‘Baguio City’ in bold dark letters.
Twenty years I had been living in this building. During the winter I had observed the occasional glove which, when found by the caretaker, was pinned to the board. I waited a week. The toque was still there. I had never seen one from the Philippines, let alone Baguio. The Philippines baked in heat and humidity all year round. What need was there for a toque?
And another week. . .
It was still there.
I knew most of my fellow residents and asked if they or their caretaker or nanny had lost such an article. I received a universal “No”. I had never seen a toque from the Philippines, let alone from some place called Baguio; and of all the colours, beige!
I took it. And still have it. What were the chances on completing a story on Baguio, a minor provincial town, I would find a toque bearing its name staring at me from a notice board?
Serendipity or an oracle ?
Foolishly, I took it as another blessing from Baguio. From my guardian angels exhorting me to carry on.
I continued the weary process of creating yet another story and proceeded to venture through another round of obstacles and setbacks on the way to completing my book.
Have you too found your own Baguio and succumbed to the tide that leads to fortune?
What I mean to say is;
What surprising things have you found inspiration in?
“As your marketing team we would like you to write a weekly blog.”
If I have to do this, then let me make it the best possible.
My writing isn’t just story-telling. It captures a philosophy of how I live and the values that are important to me.
I love to entertain, build a ‘prejudiced ‘ view of a person or incident at the beginning of each story and come to an opposite conclusion
Each day I walk along a tight rope separating my past from my present. I’ll see a face and tell myself it’s my aunt come to greet me, then realize that aunt died a decade ago and the face I see today was really the face of my aunt all those years ago. How does that help me to steer through my life today? And pass on values that are priceless to me yet seem archaic to my two sons in their early twenties?
My stories and blogs crystallize what those values and beliefs are. Each story has its own destiny and sometimes it shows me how prejudiced I am when I take those prejudices and treat them as values or morals to hand down to my boys.
A visit to my birthplace in Africa
I last visited my birthplace in Africa six years ago and devoted a chapter ‘ Paradise Unravelled’ to my homecoming.
The story was preplanned in my head. It was to be one of loss of all the people I knew in the community and buildings and shops and tree-lined avenues all destroyed until, in this mess, I found the building my nanima had lived in. There, I found cousins who knew of me but whom I didn’t.
‘Paradise Unravelled’ was to end in a happy reunion. But the ending became totally different. It was in accepting that end that I began to realise I could never find that past. That it lived only in my mind.
It convinced me to write the stories down to pass on to my boys to give them an understanding ofmy values and how I came by them.
To me words are mystical. Each carries its own weight and vibration.
Each story has its own destiny and sometimes
. . .
How many books of others have I read ?
Of all those books, one ending stands out. It’s from ‘The English Patient’ by Michael Ondaatje.
It’s a love story of a Canadian nurse and a Sikh army sapper in the Italian Campaign in World War II. But it was the ending that has haunted me since reading it.
The Sikh goes back to India becoming, I believe, a doctor. The nurse returns to Canada. At the end, she brushes against a glass which falls to the floor. At that very instant, the Sikh is sharing a meal with his family. His toddler daughter drops her fork . As it falls, her father catches it before it hits the floor.
I hope that one impression or a sentence from my writing remains to haunt you for the rest of your life.
For then, my job will be done.
– Emil Rem –