Winter was just setting in when I first saw the images of Ugandan Asians disembarking at UK airports. The weather was foul and l’ll never forget the look on the faces of the new arrivals, as they started their new, diminished lives.
The year was 1972 and I was a teenager leading a comfortable life in the English countryside. I knew little about President Idi Amin of Uganda, but here was evidence of his brutality. On a whim Amin had decreed that all Asians were to leave their homeland with nothing more than a suitcase and £50 each. Everything they had worked for throughout their lives had been stolen from them. They were now homeless refugees, and my heart went out to them.
Over the years, these images have stayed with me. I learned that many Ugandan families were prospering, running successful businesses, and becoming prominent members of the community. It was an uplifting tale of triumph over despair.
In recent times I’ve seen several of my friends struggling financially through no fault of their own, and I would remind myself that broken lives can be mended.
One friend in particular was beset with difficulties, yet every time an opportunity presented itself, or the universe offered a little ‘opt out’ clause, she would turn away. Why did she eschew the golden thread of serendipity and synchronicities that lay in her path? How could I term this gossamer thread that I believe can guide us to success and fulfilment?
I termed it Fortunicity.
How can you invent a word? Shakespeare did. He invented such words as Lonely, Gnarled, Bloody, and Obscene, to name a few. So, even though I am a grain of sand compared to the mighty Shakespeare, I went ahead and invented the word Fortunicity.
And if you can create a word then you can create a story, so I set to, and wrote “The Fortunicity of Birdie Dalal”.
The story follows the expulsion of a young Asian woman from Uganda, together with her Cambridge educated husband and their young son, Mohin. As well as seeing life in Uganda before the upheaval and their placement in a camp in London, it is also a tale of coming to terms with past traumas and following our true path. Most of all it is a tale of kindness and hope, something many of us need at this moment in time.
My husband asked me how I could write a story about a young Asian woman when I, myself am not Asian. I replied that I don’t go through my day labelling myself; that would be turning in. I try to turn out. I imagine. I aim to empathise.
During my extensive research for the book I read From Citizen to Refugee by Mahmood Mamdani in which he described being placed in a resettlement camp in Kensington, London. Now here was somewhere easier on the imagination. This was an area I knew well in the 70s. I used to love visiting Biba, which features in the book – the most stylish shop in London at that time. And whereas I would have seen it through the fresh eyes of a young adult, Birdie’s viewpoint would have been equally naive.
Whilst writing the book I looked into how I was going to get it out into the world. I read articles and listened to podcasts. I heard too many stories of small authors being taken on, given mild promotion by publishers, then left to fester in dusty store rooms.
Publishing is changing. Authors can gain control.
I wanted to write a book I would like to read rather than what was dictated by a publisher. I wanted to have autonomy over distribution rights. So, I set up a small publishing company, hired an editor and proofreader, and brought the book out in April – right in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Not the best time for marketing but perhaps a timely reminder that no matter how bad life can seem, we can always rise up again. Just ask the Ugandan Asians.
“The Fortunicity of Birdie Dalal” by Claire Duende is available in paperback, ebook, and Kindle Unlimited via Amazon worldwide and bookshops.
Claire Duende is a freelance lighting designer and lives in an old cottage in Cornwall, UK with her husband and four dogs. Her two children have flown the nest but have been home during the lock-down period which has been the silver lining on this dark global cloud. The Fortunicity of Birdie Dalal is Claire’s first published book.