Novel Doomi Golo – The Hidden Notebooks helps the reader befriend Senegal

Doomi Golo- The Hidden Notebooks, a novel by Boubacar Boris Diop helped me a lot to get familiar with the social landscape of Senegal. Senegal does not seem to be an alien place anymore. The novel is in the form of notebooks (journals) written by a grandfather for his grandson who has left to live and work in another country. The notebooks include the history of both their ancestors and the history of their homeland. Diop says that we create our ancestors the same way that our ancestors create us. The novel has a very strong critique of the post-colonial ruling class, with satire targeting the President and armed forces of Senegal.

In addition to history and critique, the novel is very rich in spatial description and mythical imagination. The Senegalese and Dakar’s geography is described very well. There is black magic with monkeys behaving like humans, and gorillas uprooting the French-built railways. The story of Belgium’s colonization of Congo and the French role in the Tutsi genocide are also shared along with the histories and myths of Senegal. Those two aspects give the novel a Pan-African outlook.

The novel was originally written in Wolof, the mother tongue of Diop. Diop used to write in French. He started writing in Wolof as a mark of protest, after learning about the role of French forces in the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. Many writers from post-colonial societies preferred to leave their homelands for working and teaching in the land of former colonizers, and write in the language of colonizers while critiquing colonialism and colonization. The primary audience of such authors and even academicians seems to be the colonizers and not their own people. Such an approach of writers from post-colonial societies is very hypocritical. Like Kenyan author Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’ O, Boubacar Boris Diop seems to be very critical of this approach where one critiques colonization while sitting in the lap of colonizers. Diop lives his politics, where he creates post-colonial literature for the masses of post-colonial societies and does not limit his works to western audiences. He writes in his mother tongue and for his people and lives and teaches in African countries. His works wider audiences in distant parts of the world through translations, including in French.

Sex work is like any other occupation

In a capitalist society, where we sell our labour to earn wages, sex work is just another form of work. The recent observation of the Supreme Court of India hints at the same. Sex work, like all other forms of work, has exploitative labour relationships. Those who are keen to learn about what sex workers have to say about their work do read: The autobiography of a sex worker by Nalini Jameela, originally written in Malayalam and later translated into English and King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, written in French and later translated into English. Both are autobiographical works written by workers themselves.

They argue that sex work may look like a very exploitative arrangement of work, but it is no different from any other occupation. Nalini Jameela says that sometimes girls and women are forced into the occupation of sex work. If they would like to move out of the occupation, there should be a support system for them to move out. Many workers including Nalini Jameela and Virginie Despentes feel that they are better off in sex work than being in other occupations as it gives them a sense of autonomy, and control over time and resources. Jameela’s formula for those workers who are in sex work and would like to continue in the occupation, they should get organised in unions to end exploitative power relationships and to have more control over deciding who their customers can be, and sex workers should have pride in their occupation and own it up.

Further, both Despentes and Jameela shared that sex work for them is no different from the work of a therapist, where they end up giving a patient hearing to their customers and counselling them. Sex workers gratify the deep and hidden desires of those who are coming to have their sex services. A lot of adolescent men learn the art of sex and have their first lessons in sex education from the sex workers. According to both authors, sex workers are not passive recipients of penis advantages, they participate as equals in the act of sex.

The recent observation of the Indian Apex Court falls in the line of articulation of sex workers like Nalini Jameela and other sex workers’ organisations and should be welcomed.