Brilliant confluence of cultures

South Africa is a melting pot of races and religions. It’s a ‘Rainbow Nation’ truly, observes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

A gentleman, with grey hair and spectacles riding low on the bridge of his nose, was busy at work inside Durban’s Kingsmead Stadium press box during India’s second ODI against South Africa on December 8. He was one among the lakhs of people of Indian origin who have made the city their home for generations.

Michael Govender is an extremely friendly man. The affable scorer said, “I am Tamil but I hardly speak the language. My grandparents came and settled here. My mother speaks Tamil fluently but the kids and I speak English. We have our festivals here, oh you should check out our ‘Kavadi’ festival and our temples. Yes, we have Diwali and Pongal. I want to come to India, may be next year I will do that.”

Surnames such as the Naidoos, Perumals and Naickers are common in South Africa and on a drive from Centurion to Johannesburg on December 10, the day the world’s biggest leaders, starting with Barack Obama descended on the FNB Stadium for a memorial service to the late Nelson Mandela, the Tamil sacred word, ‘Om’, was sighted on a multi-axle truck. South Africa surely is a melting pot of races and religions. A ‘Rainbow Nation’, truly.

Madiba and Dr. Ali Bacher

It is the season of remembrance as South Africa and the world gear up to bid adieu to the late Nelson Mandela. And nostalgia seeped into the press box at Centurion’s SuperSport Park when Dr. Ali Bacher, former South African captain, walked in.

It was time to recall his association with Mandela and at a sprightly 71, the man who led Cricket South Africa for years did not disappoint. “We got re-admission into cricket in 1992 just because of a letter he wrote to the other cricket playing countries, especially the black countries. One day he told me ‘Ali, call me Madiba’. I told him, ‘Sir, from where I come from, to people you respect, you address them as Mr.,’ and he replied, ‘from where I come from, if you don’t call me Madiba then you are not respecting me,’” Dr. Bacher said.

Innocence at play

Quinton de Kock has ambushed the Indians thrice in the one-dayers with consecutive hundreds, but off the field, the 20-year-old has a disarming innocence that draws you in. After his ton in a rain-curtailed game at Centurion on December 11, de Kock was the subject when Ishant Sharma walked in for a press conference. Asked about the young batsman, the lanky Indian speedster laconically said: “He has been lucky.”

Whether it was said due to petulance or because Ishant is not comfortable talking in English, we will never know, but those words could have been twisted out of context and there was potential for trouble. Minutes later, de Kock walked in and when informed about Ishant’s ‘jibe’, the South African opener laughed and said: “He spoke the truth.”

The mood lightened and a controversy was nipped in the bud.

There is no running away from a Malayalee

Remember that old joke ‘even if you go to the moon, you will see a Malayalee’? Well, in Fordsburg, a predominantly Asian enclave in the heart of Johannesburg, a few men from Kerala’s Wayanad and Chalakudi have started a chain of restaurants called ‘Dosa Hut.’ One night, a small group of sports writers on the current cricket tour of South Africa, visited the place, bumped into another group from their same fraternity and soon it was time to eat dosas, porottas and Kerala-style chicken curry. The cuisine was sumptuous and the owner, Abhilash, said: “We have been here for a few years. This is predominantly a Pakistani and Bangladeshi place and we have been doing well. The Indian team used to come to one of our branches and Imran Tahir is a regular here, he just came day before yesterday.”

The food was good, the banter was great, the filter coffee though was a touch creamy but on a night when the taste buds leapt back home, that was just a minor quibble.

And as for the Malayalee spreading wings, looks like there is no limit. “I recently went to Brazil,” Abhilash said. “On a holiday.”