“But Dantala . . .Dantala is not a name. To say someone was born on a Tuesday, is that a name?”
When you come across a book called “Born on a Tuesday” your first thought is that what is so special about Tuesday? Or to be more precise, what is special about being born on a Tuesday?
Where is the meaning in this title? Is it something I will find as I keep reading?
Dantala has a name, at least. Not just one name. He has the curious name and the name of the prophet. The thing we must note is, Dantala is a boy. A boy with a curious relationship with his siblings, a strong relationship with his mother and an absent relationship with his father.
I keep thinking to myself as I read this novel, from the time Dantala has a stint with a gang in Bayan Layi to the time he finds tutelage in a religious leader, there is an absence of a father. Dantala is looking for direction, for belonging, for firm ground.
It is something he initially finds in the gang, especially in Banda who shares his “wee-wee” with him, but he later finds in Sokoto, with the Sheikhs and the Malams. Later, it is with new friends such as Djibril.
Banda reminded me of Reza in Season of Crimson Blossoms. In fact at the beginning, I feared this would be a similar story until the unforeseen happened.
Sometimes they say our names are bound up with our destiny. Good names produce good lives, bad names bad lives. That would mean ambiguous names like Dantala would produce ambiguous lives.
The trajectory of his life, if you look for meaning in it, perhaps maybe as meaningless as the name. Maybe his name could have been better. Maybe he would not be found at the end of a riot, a shooting, an assassination each time.
“A name should have meaning. Like Ahmad, the name of the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wasallam…”
The story Elnathan John writes covers sensitive issues in a country like Nigeria. How does religious extremism rise? Is it formed by the ambiguity of religious text? Dantala questions in humility, that perhaps were there answers for every query a man could think of , there would be no difference.
However, can religious text be blamed? Maybe it is the nature of man? Dantala, for example, at some point starts to masturbate. Different things lead him to this. However, he is well schooled in Islam and knows this is wrong. Nonetheless, this is something he finds hard to stop. His beloved Sheikh at one point finds him in the act and says
“‘if every man were to be instantly judged for their sins, there would hardly be anyone left standing…”
This seems to be the source of the different factions that rise up. Essentially, Dantala’s world is an Islamic world, however it is not universal in agreement. Much like all religions in the world. As a boy growing up, you can sense the earnestness in his devotion to Allah, how he questions things like Malams keeping a percentage of donations for themselves yet preaching truth.
It is interesting that even though the novel is written in English. We must note that Dantala probably thinks in Hausa, which is a major language in Northern Nigeria. He prides himself in reading not just Hausa but Arabic. As he learns to read and write English, he shares notes in a journal with not so perfect English, sharing terms which mean things to him. Terms like familial. Obsess. Terrify. It’s interesting how he uses these words to talk about what’s happening in his life. When he’s obsessing about a girl, terrified of losing someone, etc.
I must say, sometimes the scenes change, and story moves very fast or unexpectedly but the characters are very well built. It is as though we grow as Dantala in his understanding and assessing of people. While in the beginning he seems to like Malam Abdul-Nur, later his feelings towards him change . As did mine.
It’s interesting to see the things that drive men. Is it really the need to be correct or the need to be respected? Or the need to be loved?. Why does Malam Abdul-Nur treat his wife so? Is it because of his beliefs or his irredeemable nature as a man? Why does Dantala’s uncle take a second wife even though he can see that his wife is too devoted to her dying sister to pay full attention to him?
Are there blacks and greys in life?
What determines friendships? Is it presence or presents? Why is Djibril more dear to Dantala than Malam Abdul-Nur? The latter provides necessities and gifts, the other time but Dantala is more bound to one than the other.
A pertinent question that keeps coming up in the books I read from Northern Nigeria is, is peace possible? Is corruption stoppable?
As policemen and the army abuse human rights in broad daylight, are the forces that give rise to extremist movements avoidable?
Dantala is navigating his way through politics, religion, love, friendship and family but nothing is ever straightforward. His trajectory is like the meaninglessness of his name. His story tells quite well a general picture of what’s happening politically, religiously but when it comes down to him and how the story ends…..maybe the only meaningful thing in this life is that there are some who love you regardless whether it must mean something or not.