When I speak Hindi, all racism disappears: Onyeka Nwelue

Acclaimed Nigerian author and academic Onyeka Nwelue, who was in New Delhi recently, plans to establish an African Centre in India

Rao Narender Yadav / IAT

A visibly ecstatic, Nigeria-born and London based author, Onyeka Nwelue was at ease at a hotel in South Delhi during his recent visit to India. Dressed in his signature style long kurta, he was ‘armed’ with the copy of his UK debut, The Strangers of Braamfontein. Just back from the Pink city Jaipur, where he was a panelist in the prestigious Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), Nwelue has interesting anecdotes to share from the festival. “This was a special visit. I have been to Jaipur Lit Fest several times since 2010, but this time I was invited as a speaker,” says Nwelue, who was the only African panelist in the festival.

JLF hosted its on-ground show from 10th – 14th March at the Clarks Amer. Nwelue along with Turkish diplomat & Ambassador to India Fırat Sunel discussed their literary endeavours in English and Turkish with Managing Trustee of the Yuva Ekta Foundation, Puneeta Roy. Nwelue also had an opportunity to briefly interact with Dr. Shashi Tharoor. “I have always admired him as an author and as a politician. It was a long cherished desire to meet Dr. Tharoor and it was no less than a dream coming true for me, discussing about African literature with such a multifaceted personality who has been a diplomat, writer, public intellectual and also a Member of Indian Parliament,” he adds.

Nwelue’s last visit to India was way back in 2015 when he was in the jury of Woodpecker International Film Festival (WIFF). Tightening of visa rules by Indian authorities, resulted in denial of Visa to him for several years. However, this time he wanted to take no chances and started preparing well-in-advance for his visit to India. Based in London now, the 34-year-old cultural entrepreneur, lecturer, author and filmmaker has shared an emotionally riveting relationship with India, over the decade. He first came to India when he was just 18-years-old and the visit had a strong impact on him. His debut novel, The Abyssinian Boy was set in India and it came out way-back in 2009.

“From staying in dingy hotels of Paharganj to be a part of Jaipur Lit. Fest this year, it has been a fascinating journey in India. Through my writings and my language I have been trying to break the traditional barriers. When I speak in Hindi, all racism disappears. That’s what literature and art can do to society,” believes Nwelue.

The young author, who is also an academic visitor at the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, has forayed into publishing business recently with Abibiman Publishing. This, he feels, will be able to “change the narrative” for African & Caribbean authors and create new markets for them. “India is a huge market for books. People are curious in India and they have an interest in knowing diverse languages and cultures. It’s going to be prime focus for our business. Even now, most of the Nigerian books are published in India and shipped back to Nigeria!”

An author of over 11 books, Nwelue has recently instituted the annual James Currey Prize in Oxford for the best-unpublished work of fiction written in English by any writer. In India too, he plans to create something which can thrive as an institution nurturing African art, literature, cinema and culture.

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