Chandni and the Clothing Factory and Other Stories by Cold Dal:
A Critique of Roald Dahl
Racism can slap you across the face when you least expect it. Sometimes, when you are struck, it’s with such force that it sends you back into your own childhood and makes you wonder how severe the impact of hatred truly was in your life. My exchange this morning with my colleague and good friend Tarecq Amer, led me down this path as we reflected on the words of a person, who I’d considered one of my favorite childhood authors, and one who we both had been introducing to our own children, with fond memories of giant peaches, chocolate waterfalls, talking animals, and magical children: Roald Dahl.
To call Roald Dahl and active racist would be unfair—but his writing belies a systemic framing of post-colonial narratives that clearly couches non-Western nations as subservient, savage and uncivilized. His references to these places, and symbolic representations like the wild rhinoceros that kills James parents, the Oompa Loompas working in the chocolate factory or the monkeys tortured by the Twits all draw on the familiar tropes of the era and distill in the mind of the reader the themes of danger and ignorance inextricably related to these places through his writing.
Tarecq and I lamented this—since, we both champion reading, and love the idea of connecting books we read in our youth with our own kids; this led me on an interesting departure from our conversation to a thought—what if I re-wrote Roald Dahl? What if I were to re-imagine his themes and plots from the perspective of a person of color? What if it flipped the Orientalist dialectic and introduced an Occidental critique instead? And what if I did this while flipping the patriarchal binary, so the protagonists went from being white males to brilliant women of color? Tarecq laughed hysterically as I imagined writing the following 10 books, with the culturally appropriate pseudonym of Cold Dal (lentil soup):
- Chandni and the Clothing Factory
- The story of an Indian girl who labors on end in a Western clothing factory for little to no pay. The clothes she makes are worn by trendy hipsters in the West, whose daily routine consists of gentrifying neighborhoods, lamenting the latest outrage of the other political party and the occasional convenient protest.
- Jin and the Giant Persimmon
- Jin travels in a magic persimmon across the Pacific to escape the inevitable illegal incarceration of her fellow Japanese-Americans as a result of the racist Executive Order 5066 signed by F.D.R.
- BFC: Bastardizing French Cyclops
- The story of a singular vision-ed French behemoth, which sees no other way to conquer, unless it is to create “brown Frenchmen.” This myopic beast lurks everywhere on the planet, and while its cowardice amongst its own kind is legendary, it uses cunning and canons to subjugate masses of peace loving creatures in encounters in its planetary predations.
- Chandni and the Glass Ceiling (the sequel to #1)
- It continues where the last story left off, where Chandni realizes that as a young woman, there is only so far that she could go in the factory—and deals with the realities that she is a prime target for human traffickers who profit off of Western predation of young women like her.
- Hyperbolic Ms. Hyena
- An exaggerated story that imagines a word, in which the savage animals of Africa, sitting around a table, with a map, and carve up Europe into spheres of influence. In this imagined imperialist episode, Ms. Hyena, takes control areas occupied by the tribes of the Angles and Saxons, and laughs hysterically as she does so!
- Darya the Champion of the Dunya (world in Persian)
- Darya, a Persian girl from Rey, champions her ancient and direct ancestor Darius, and creates a new empire, which grows and using her marvelous stratagems is able to conquer the West, thereby restoring the honor of her forbearers by avenging the Persian losses to the Greeks and fulfilling the promise of the Ancient Persians. She ushers in an age of peace and freedom of being (faith, expression and politics), much like her great ancestor Cyrus.
- Meera Tilda
- The story of a little Punjabi girl, whose “magic” power is the ability to drown out the colonial narrative that chokes all those around her, making it appear that she is magical. Her story is one of deconstruction and of her pointing out the absurd behaviors that have become a part of South Asian society due to colonialism.
- King George’s ‘Targetted’ Sedative
- This story looks at King George and the sedative he peddles to placate the populations he oppresses throughout the world. It is ultimately an examination of low-intensity-warfare, a strategy expertly used by the British to divide and conquer the populations it would take over throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
- The Brits
- A story set in colonial times, that tells the tale of the most disgusting sort of human being imaginable.
- Girl: Tales of Patriarchy
- This story recounts the “true” story of Cold Dahl, a child who grows up in a colonized state. She has to educate herself secretly, while she works for meager wages in a sweatshop. A shrewd child she is able to tell the stories of her youth, as well as imagined victories for her people against those that stacked all the chips against her.
What if, I lived in a world in which I could pick any book off the shelf and not wonder if it would subtly send the message of self-hate towards me or my children? What if all voices, not just those of white men, were the narrators of what we deem as our cannon, history and memoir? What if we could strip away every racist, sexist, ‘phobic references in stories and reimagine them with the themes we love and without the hate imbued within? What if Cold Dal really existed?
Kalyan Balaven aka Professor A.L.I. aka Cold Dal