However, if like me, you look at the face again after reading the 450-page tome, you would be forgiven for losing yourself in sheer rapture of the woman who has made you fall in love with her story, her spirituality, her love for nature and art. Why? Because male writer has given birth to her in his book and clothed her with the spirit and the ghosts and memories of Kenya’s history past. She is connected the many ghosts past of some of the earliest Khojas, South Asians, white colonialists and, more importantly, generations of African ethnic men and women who are no longer with us. Sadly, these early Kenyans now rest in oblivion. New Kenyans know nothing of them except for some dry text book histories of land and oceanic migrations, settlements and their interconnectivity through trade.
I went to school with the author but I cannot claim to know him other than as a classmate. In any case, I left school at the age of 12 hence this near romantic sojourn into Khoja life in Nairobi, Kenya, is uplifting to say the least. Similarly, glimpses of the other South Asians, Europeans (including colonial British settlers) and the wonderfully complex and often brilliant as well as racially distant African communities are exhilarating to say the least. I found Sakina's wonder-eyed journey into the lives of the Maasai stunning, especially, since I got to know the Maasai in their own environment as a young reporter. Hence I could appreciate the connection with the land and Maasai bead art that overwhelms Sakina as she comes to understand it, and Somjee, through Sakina, paints a picture almost dripping with religious and artistic fervour. I always felt that it was very easy to get intoxicated by Kenya’s flora and fauna, the Earth (Kenyan Earth in the novel is capitalized and mother Earth legends interwoven in the story and art), its villagers and their customs and traditions, especially their music and natural rhythms that one senses in the reading of Bead Bai.
If it should dawn on the reader, enjoy the book for what it is: a celebration of ethnic art, the country and its people, many of whom have vanished in tradition and custom, never to be seen again, like the animals that have gone before them and today we do not know that many of them existed. When I asked the author if he was not being too sentimental, he replied an artist has to be emotional to create, that he looks over the technicalities while writing prose as in curating exhibitions he staged because to him to reach the heart is more important. As Sultan Somjee pays tribute to his own kind with buckets of love and respect to history and traditions but also points to conflicts in family stories and to the clan divided over allegiances to Saheb, the Aga Khan as the world would know him.
I have feasted at Sakina's banquet and I can boast an elegant and eloquent sufficiency. I am filled with even greater anticipation for the next book in the trilogy which will probably begin just after I was born in 1943 in the Kenya of Sakina and blow some winds of change into my nostrils as I lie dreaming … of Kenya and the most wonderful time of my life … in happy and contended slumber.