Mirror Magazine

Piecing it together
He has identified his goals in life. Having just accomplished one of them, what’s next for Afdhel Aziz?
The idea of ‘serendipity’…“It’s a big thing for me,” he says going on to explain the history, the context and the significance of the word. He talks of traders of the past, stumbling on an island; an island of treasures found by accident. Serendib – the happy accident. And that’s his philosophy for life, “You stumble across something and you realise it’s good for you…”

They are almost philosophical, his words. But look closely and you certainly don’t see the sage. Instead you see the grin that reaches up to his eyes and explodes in the laugh one gets used to in his company – Afdhel Aziz, once Colombo’s much raved-about and most-read columnists and popular radio show hosts, is today based in London, finding his way back home to Sri Lanka every six months, “My way of keeping in touch,” he smiles.

With a Masters in Media from the London School of Economics in 1997, a venture into the ‘brand management’ world, a stint at Max Factor where he “learnt more about make-up than any man should ever know,” and one foot in the marketing unit at the radio station KISS 100 and the other in the London-based magazine EMAP at present, Afdhel’s life seems to always find its way into the worlds of writing or music, both significant albeit “different parts” of his life.

Recently short-listed for the Gratiaen Prize, 2003, for China Bay Blues Afdhel’s latest project is – Blurred. Blurred, a collection of short stories, takes the form of an anthology of new Sri Lankan writing in English he is in the process of trying to compile. The anthology comprises works of Sri Lankan writers, under 30, living here or abroad who haven’t yet been published. The book is to be the second book published by Serendipity Unlimited (his own being the first), the publishing company he has set up with his father and is for him a means of maintaining a link with home.

“My father and I are the type of guys to say ‘we should do this’ and ‘we should do that’,” jests Afdhel emphasising that finally here was something they actually did. With some distinct publishing possibilities in hand which are “interesting”, the new project is set to go. The new writing is brave, says Afdhel, “it grabs you by the neck and really shakes you up.” And thus, the name ‘Blurred’, telling of the blurring of lines and boundaries the works actively take on.

His book China Bay Blues, a book of poetry and possibly the first ‘big’ writing project Afdhel took on was nearly ten years in the making. “It took a really long time,” he says, “But I had promised myself that I would get published before I turned 30...” and, says 30-year-old Afdhel, “I made it.” In such a situation the only way to get about it is to publish yourself. “Nobody publishes works of poetry unless you are dead and famous or young and really something, so I pieced my book together, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle; you change one piece and the whole picture changes.”

And today it’s out on the racks and, “selling slowly.” Just the way he likes it. Not an overnight bang, but rather a book that you stumble over, pick up out of curiosity and find that it grows on you. So much so that you would buy five copies of it to present to your best friends (and that’s a true story!).

“Writing poetry is like running a 100-metre race,” says Afdhel who maintains that, “everyone has a certain amount of words in their head”. And you just use them up depending on what is at hand. As a journalist it was a different kind of writing, “fast and snappy”. Poetry was a gradual step up. And from there?

A novel. “Of course it won’t be out for another three to four years, as I have only completed one-third of it. But the structure is done; it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks. I am optimistic it will get done, perhaps if I set myself another deadline – maybe to have it published before I am 40!”

And then there’s the musical – pulled out from the back of his drawer and worked on. It’s a musical about musicals and people who love musicals, not heavy duty stuff, he says, admitting that he’s being purposely cryptic. But it’s certainly something that will soon see the light of day.

With so many things to look forward to, Afdhel stops to think back to the time when he was just a boy who wanted to study English Literature. And lots of people found that strange. The support came from his mother, “my agent, my publisher, my manager” and his father who prompted him with, “you’d better win a Booker prize or something.” His grandmother, on the other hand, took a firm stand with, “You speak English, why do you need to study English…” But he did. A life that has been a series of happy accidents? Clearly it is. - Ruhanie Perera


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