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Looking Back on Fifty Years of Indian Delights with Thembisa Waetjen, Goolam Vahed and Zuleikha Mayat

Khatija Mall, Shameena Mayat, Mana Rajah, Zuleikha Mayat, Fatima Mayat, Ayesha Vorajee

Gender, Modernity and Indian Delights: The Women’s Cultural Group of Durban, 1954-2010 was published last month – and last night it was the focus of a book signing ceremony at Exclusive Books in Westwood, Durban. The academic work counts as something of a sequel to Indian Delights, one of South Africa’s most successful cookbooks, first published in 1954 and which has sold over 400 000 copies, we’re told. Compiled and edited by freelance writer, community organiser and editor Zuleikha Mayat, who founded the Muslim Women’s Cultural Group, Indian Delights is unusual in that it brings together various kinds of South African recipes, from all cultures, rich, and poor. It’s a true Joy of Cooking, SA style!

Thembisa Waetjen and Goolam VahedGender, Modernity and Indian DelightsThe idea for the second book came from a comment Mayat made when a book examining a group of Durban men who studied the Koran was published. “You’ve airbrushed the women out!” she said, and so co-authors Thembisa Waetjen and Goolam Vahed, both historians at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, decided to address this omission.

They note that the publication of Indian Delights was financially important for the Women’s Cultural Group as it helped the women choose their own work “creating a modern citizenship for themselves, when previously they had been excluded from religious and political life”. Gender, Modernity and Indian Delights analyses the ways in which this women’s group has grown and changed during the last half of the twentieth century, negotiating both local and global transformation, while charting a course through apartheid, feminism and doctrinal shifts in Islam.

As Isabel Hofmeyr, Professor of African Literature at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa at Wits University, said, “the book maps a little known area of SA history, and simultaneously speaks to wider international concerns with themes of diaspora and transnationalism”.

Six of the women from this group were present at the signing, including the matriarchal Mayat – all exuding satisfaction that their efforts have been recognised.

Interestingly, another book by Waetjen and Vahed was on display too, one called Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn (Jacana, 2009). It is a collection of letters between Zuleikha Mayat and Ahmed Kathrada, written during the time that Kathrada was imprisoned on Robben Island. “We’re groupies!” joked Waetjen.

Shameena Mayat, Mana Rajah, Zuleikha Mayat, Fatima MayatThembisa Waetjen, Goolam Vahed and Zuleikha MayatZuleikha Mayat with first edition of Indian DelightsZuleikha Mayat with Fatima Meer drawings in the first Indian DelightsFatima Meer drawings on first page of Indian DelightsZuleikha Mayat, the old book and the newAslam Mayat (Zuleikha's son) and Deena Padayachee

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