Life’s good, but it’s hard work

A fan walks in front of a giant poster of former South African President Nelson Mandela on the first day of the Johannesburg Test.-Pics: AP

Zimbabwe’s poor economy is a remarkable contrast to the one that permeates South Africa. The disparities trigger a constant migration of labour from Zimbabwe to South Africa’s hot-spots. By K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

The Tata legacy

Was that an Indica that just cruised past in a bylane inside Soweto, a town that is 30 minutes away from Johannesburg? Yes, indeed. Ratan Tata’s first dream car — ‘the size of an Ambassador and the price of a Maruti’ — was sighted often in South Africa. Turns out that South Africa is a big market as far as exports go for Tata Motors.

Relatively, sales of Indica in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ may be miniscule when compared to other brands ranging from Mercedes to Hyundai but for an Indian brand to make inroads into a finicky overseas market, is something that ought to be cherished.

Apples and Rahman!

The Protea Wanderers Hotel is a stone’s throw away from Johannesburg’s iconic cricketing venue — the Wanderers Stadium. It is the perfect base for the travelling cricket-writers group and besides the hotel’s logistical advantages — the stadium is just a 10-minute walk away — the ‘home away from home’ has its own set of unique quirks. The hotel prides itself about the apples (many in the reception, a single one in the room) that are seen all over. Is it a case of ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away?’ No clues yet. May be it is tradition.

And hey, hold on, was that A. R. Rahman’s theme music from his film ‘Bombay’ that wafted in from the central music system? Yes, it is. And Rahman’s tune pops up at all times, when you are striding out to the ground, when you are nursing a beer at night and when you are just booking a taxi to head out to a friend’s place!

Wildlife!

All of us have a few common weaknesses when it comes to television-viewing — Tom and Jerry cartoons and those riveting clips of the Masai Mara wildlife from Africa on National Geographic. And so when two sports writers decided to pause their pens, close their laptops, discard the dread about finding the right introductory paragraph for a cricket feature, it was time to get a taxi and head to the Lion’s Park near Pretoria, South Africa’s capital.

The guide was remarkably forthright: “So, who wants to be a dessert for the lion’s meal tonight?” Nervous laughter followed and as the mini-bus lurched through the wide enclosures that gives you a feeling of space and the African Savannah, ostriches cause road blocks, giraffes try to peep in and wilder-beast scamper and South Africa’s national animal springbok leaps around.

A young girl, wearing a helmet covered with a cooking pot, watches the proceedings in the Johannesburg Test.-

The highlight though were the cheetahs, lazy and languid, a contrast to the speeds they clock in a hunt and off-course the lions, many of them at that, the rugged ones, the white ones thanks to a pigmentation issue. At the end of the safari, there was a familiarisation initiative with a few lion cubs. Will they bite? Thankfully they didn’t and acted like friendly neighbourhood dogs except that they didn’t wag their tails.

Neighbours are here to stay

Zimbabwe’s poor economy is a remarkable contrast to the one that permeates South Africa. The disparities trigger a constant migration of labour from Zimbabwe to South Africa’s hot-spots — Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Nubona, a waiter at the Protea Wanderers Hotel, does 12-hour night shifts for four days and then takes a four-day break to study marketing management. His manic zeal is derived from tough conditions back home — Zimbabwean town Bulawayo. It is the same story for Jess Gasa. She drives a taxi around Johannesburg and says: “We don’t need a visa to come here, just a passport is enough. Life is good here but it is hard work.”

True Africa

Touring often means the sanitised and repetitive rounds of hotel to ground and back. The world goes by on a taxi’s window or as you walk to the nearby ground and a nation’s underbelly is never seen.

Thankfully, India’s abandoned practice game in Benoni (December 13 and 14), a town 45 minutes away from Johannesburg, offered cricket writers following M. S. Dhoni’s men, a break from the routine.

Yes, the match was cancelled due to damp spots on the outfield but there were other silver linings. A taste of African biryani, a dish bequeathed by Indians settled here for generations, and then a peep into how a black town functions, are gifts that cannot be discarded. Brai (barbecues) at corners, African music on full volume, packed share-vans where 16 rands get you to Johannesburg (taxis cost 500!) are all part of the mix.

And remember, the Johannesburg they drop you at is not the high-profile one you see as a tourist. This is the Johannesburg of packed streets, busy markets and run-down station-wagons and the subsequent hard bargain for a drop to your hotel!