Jamil Khan’s memoir delves deep into moments and memories that have shaped his upbringing and life. Picture: Supplied
Jamil Khan’s memoir delves deep into moments and memories that have shaped his upbringing and life. Picture: Supplied

Cape author Jamil Khan bags second award

By Keshia Africa Time of article published Oct 17, 2021

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It interrogates the “messy intersections between Islam, Colouredness, queerness and the precarity of middle-classness”

If you have a story to tell do it because you never know how it may inspire or validate a shared experience.

This sentiment was shared by writer Jamil Farouk Khan whose debut book, Khamr: The Makings of a Waterslams, has bagged another award.

The memoir was awarded the University of Johannesburg’s debut prize for South African writing in English this week. Earlier this year, it received Wits University’s Humanities and Social Sciences Award, for the best non-fiction biography.

Khan said he was humbled by the award.

“To have institutions of intellectuals consider my work award-worthy is humbling and encouraging," he said.

"It makes me realise that writing books is about more than selling them.”

Khan, who grew up in the Kraaifontein neighbourhood of Bernadino Heights, shared his memoir, to “interrogate the messy intersections between Islam, Colouredness, queerness and the precarity of middle-classness”

In the book, Khan memorialises his life story by sharing his experiences growing up as a Muslim in a home where alcoholism was a guest that overstayed its welcome.

Khan said he always had a nagging feeling that he had to share his story.

“I always felt like there was something wrong with who I was and that the life I lived had to be a secret. I carried all the shame for it and I knew that cannot be the way my story ends.”

In Khamr: The Makings of a Waterslams, Khan shares experiences of his upbringing in vivid detail, allowing himself to be vulnerable through his writing.

Jamil Khan’s biography “interrogates the messy intersections between Islam, Colouredness, queerness and the precarity of middle-classness”. Picture: Supplied

Khamr is an Arabic word that translates to intoxicants or alcohol. The term 'waterslams' was given to people who subscribed to Islam but would indulge in activities their holy book, the Quran, deemed forbidden.

Khan said using the word 'waterslams' in his book title was an act of defiance.

“I wanted to make the word a part of my own legacy. It had a profound impact on my life, and I deserve to claim a part of what it means to me,” he said.

Khan said ‘waterslams’ was a slur used against him.

“It was used to make me feel ashamed of things out of my control. I was reclaiming the power that word had over me.”

Khan said the decision to be out and queer, preceded speaking about what happened behind the closed doors of his home.

“I wanted to tell my story but my story is attached to other people’s stories. Those people authored their own stories.”

He added: “I remember a quote that said, ‘If people wanted you to tell nice stories about them, they should have treated you better'."

The multi-award-winning author said this book means many things to him, and its meaning changes all the time.

“It has become a contribution to an archive of experiences of people whose stories often get forgotten or wilfully ignored.”

In Khamr, Khan speaks about how alcohol abuse and the dysfunction it caused, shaped his life.

“Alcoholism was attached to my father, a person I needed to fulfil a particular role in my life. His abuse of alcohol stopped him from doing that,” Khan said.

He added: “This left me with terminal disappointment. It introduced me to the world from a very jaded perspective. It made me cynical and distrusting of people.”

Khan said he chose to stop observing any form of religion.

“It was a big struggle for me to hold on to what seemed to never work in my favour. I went through the process of trying hard to make it work, then being in proximity to it, and eventually not at all.”

He added: “I don’t subscribe to it but it can never not be a part of my life because it is deeply ingrained in the society that I live in.”

Khan’s advice to aspiring writers is to write their stories.

“You can never tell what impact your writing will have but if you do it with the right intentions, it will find its way.”

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