Archive for October, 2014


On Xenophobia …

On Xenophobia…

‘Xenophobia’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as:

” noun:

intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries  “

The synonyms for xenophobia are:

chauvinism, racial intolerance, racism, dislike of foreigners, nationalism, prejudice.

     _____________

As a citizen of South Africa, I am acutely aware of the many challenges that our young country faces.

The iniquities of our tortured past, the legacy of Apartheid, socio-economic issues etc. are just a few of the many problems that South Africa is grappling with.

What is extremely disturbing for me is something that I have personally encountered, in conversations with friends, family, and fellow citizens from all walks of life.

That something is how rife ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment is within our various, and still divided communities.

I have heard the most atrocious, insensitive, hate-filled utterances regarding the ‘foreigners’ who ‘take our jobs’, and ‘take our women’, and ‘are the cause of all the crime’, and ‘they must go back to their countries’, and most chillingly ‘we will kill these foreigners’.

I am also aware that many intellectuals, think-tanks, NGO’s, and sociologists etc. have written and spoken volumes about how the failure of proper service delivery by the government and local municipalities, and the myriad other shortcomings that plague our country have played a part in the emergence of this abhorrent xenophobic sentiments that are being spouted almost as if one was talking about culling animals in the Kruger National Park.

We have already witnessed the scourge of xenophobia, and not long ago, when organised bands of people marked, attacked and killed ‘foreigners’ in a frenzy of blood-letting and looting.

This was in 2008.

And today, as the father of the nation, Nelson Mandela lies ill in a hospital bed in Pretoria, I hear similar disturbing and blood-curdling hate-speech directed against ‘the foreigners’.

What is going on?

Where and how have we, as a country, failed, or more worryingly, chose to ignore the signs of this cancer that has to be dealt with, and dealt with as a matter of national priority.

The synonyms for xenophobia include racism, racial intolerance, and prejudice.

The neo-Nazis in Europe and elsewhere are xenophobes.

No one disputes that.

The neo-Nazis in Europe and elsewhere talk in almost exactly the same terms when they spout their rhetoric, when they go on ‘Paki-bashing’ sprees in England, when they deface Synagogues and Mosques and Temples, or when they beat up and kill ‘foreigners’ who ‘take our jobs’, and ‘take our women’, and ‘are the cause of all the crime’, and ‘they must go back to their countries’.

What is particularly disturbing about the rise of xenophobia, especially in the South African context is the complicity of silence, and by extension, a shocking acceptance of these racist and murderously dangerous views, by ‘normal’ citizens.

We are Africans.

And above all, we are all human.

This may seem like an obvious and unnecessary fact to point out, but when certain friends, family members, and people one interacts with daily, spew such xenophobic drivel, it needs to be taken seriously.

Pogroms, xenophobic attacks, racism, intolerance, prejudice, casteism, religious bigotry, sexism, and homophobia, do not simply arise out of nothing.

There are societal, religious, traditional, cultural and other factors that do indeed create fertile ground for some of these noxious sentiments to germinate.

It is incumbent on us all, people, just people, to engage with people, however close they may be to us, and challenge and make our voices heard that we will not stand mutely by, as such hate-filled venom is chucked around nonchalantly.

We cannot be conspicuous by our silence and inaction when a large segment of our society, those who have chosen our country to be their home, often fleeing economic hardship, political and social violence, and numberless other factors that force, and this is important, people are forced into leaving their countries, often making hazardous and painful journeys in order to find safe-haven amongst fellow human-beings.

As South Africans, we know just how friendly countries welcomed us during the darkest days of Apartheid repression and tyranny.

Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and the other ‘front-line’ states paid dearly for offering South Africans fleeing Apartheid a place of refuge as well as a base of operations against the oppressive Apartheid system.

Apartheid agents and security forces attacked, fomented insurrections against the governments in the front-line states, and still South Africans of all races, creeds etc. found a welcome home in these comradely countries.

We should never forget this.

Ever.

Our government needs to be more vocal about its stance on xenophobia, and by doing so it will send a message that it will not stand by idly while people from other parts of the continent are constantly under the threat of being attacked.

That said, we as citizens have a voice, and it is morally incumbent on all of us to do our bit so that the scourge of xenophobia is excised from this land.

There is a simmering undercurrent of the possibility of attacks on foreigners as I type these words.

If this is not taken seriously and dealt with, sadly we may see scenes similar to those we witnessed in 2008.

Mayibuye-i-Afrika!

The Immigrant …

Seeking solace.
Seeking a home.

The immigrant finds,

rotten prejudice.
Fungal anger.

The immigrant,

alone, hoping for,

A solitary chance.

To belong.

The immigrant,
alone, always,

an outside entity.
Eternal outcast.

A viral threat.
A reeking odour.

The immigrant,

ever alone,
and alone knowing,
that no place exists,
but that lost home.

effortlessly soaring into abandoned flight,

yesterdays’ pain surrenders,,

drawn gently by,

departing moments’ caressing ebb and dreamy flow,

seeking only sanctuary,

to finally rest,

where wild grasses grow …

morning tugs at the monnlight,

another night slips and slides,

winding through hazy dreams,

to finally embrace the oncoming tides …

The Obscenity of the Wealth Gap in South Africa …

hardly surprising,
yet vulgar all the same,

feudal lords,
profiteers of colonial privilege,

amassing ever more,

while mothers give birth in cramped hospital corridors,

a mere stones throw away,

from mansions of polythene ostentation.

And still,

the struggles continue,

bread,
water,
jobs,
shelter,
health,

dignity,

for all compatriots,

of our work-in-progress rainbow nation …

1.

time hisses,
the threat perennial,

needling sounds
stowed away,
tucked-in,

silent …

2.

time hisses,
the threat perennial.

Time bides its time,

stowed away,
tucked-in,

silently knowing,

all that we shall all come to know,

in time …

The Anonymity of the Shade …

beyond words,

mere paltry scribbled verse,

rolls across empty streets,

while today crawls to a fade,

as night descends,

offering comfort,

the solace of anonymous shade …

broken rays of sunlight pierce through the casket of night,

murmurs of gentle persuasion echo within a tormented soul,

the respite from nights’ smothering,

sneaks between the gathering smog,

urging the faltering spirits of this tormented soul to rise up from the clingy bog,

and in rising,

liberating this soul from the desolation of being a phony, fickle cog …

Hamba Kahle*, Senzo Meyiwa!
( 1987 – 2014 )

My Captain is gone.

Shot dead,
in cold blood,

another senseless killing,

another son of the soil snatched away from us,

leaving us empty,
cold,
desolate.

My Captain is gone.

shot and killed,

my Captain is gone,

leaving a void,

that can never be filled!

Hamba Kahle, my Captain!

Hamba Kahle, Senzo Meyiwa!

May your soul rest in eternal peace …

* – ‘Hamba Kahle’ – lit. – Travel Well, an isiXhosa expression, used especially to bid farewell to a person who has passed away.

From News24:

Cape Town – Senzo Meyiwa, who was tragically shot dead on Sunday evening, began his football career as a striker for hometown club London Cosmos in Umlazi, Durban in the 1990s.

He soon converted to the goalkeeper position and went on to represent KwaZulu-Natal in the Transnet Under-14 and Coca-Cola Under-17 Inter-Provincial tournaments in 2000 as a 13-year-old. His performances caught the eye of Orlando Pirates scouts, who brought him to the club’s development programme.

After making impressive progress through the youth levels, Meyiwa made his official debut for Orlando Pirates in a 2-1 win over AmaZulu on November 8, 2006.

He was an important part of the Pirates squad that won a famous ‘Double Treble’ in 2010/11 and 2011/12, claiming two MTN8 titles, two Absa Premiership titles, the Telkom Knockout and Nedbank Cup.

In 2013 Meyiwa’s career took a dramatic upswing, as he reclaimed the number one position at Orlando Pirates and was the team’s best player on their epic run to the final of the CAF Champions League, with his heroic performance in the away leg of the second round tie against DR Congo’s TP Mazembe particularly memorable.

He also made his Bafana Bafana debut, coming on as a substitute for Wayne Sandilands at half-time of a 2-0 friendly win over Lesotho in Maseru on June 2, 2013.

In 2014 the goalkeeper continued his rise to prominence, helping Orlando Pirates win the 2014 Nedbank Cup before taking advantage of the injury-enforced absence of close friend and goalkeeping rival Itumeleng Khune to be Bafana Bafana’s first choice goalkeeper for their 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches in September and October.

Meyiwa was not only the first choice goalkeeper, but also handed the captain’s armband by new coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba. Inspired by the honour, the Pirates goalkeeper kept four successive clean sheets as South Africa claimed top spot on the standings after four matches and put themselves within touching distance of qualification for the 2015 AFCON.

Meyiwa’s last professional appearance was on Saturday, October 25 at Orlando Stadium as he helped the Buccaneers to a 4-1 victory over Ajax Cape Town in a Telkom Knockout quarter-final.

He was aged 27 years and 32 days upon his death on October 26 in Vosloorus.

Senzo Meyiwa factfile:

Born: September 24, 1987

Place of birth: Umlazi, Durban

Position: Goalkeeper

Former clubs: Orlando Pirates juniors and Yebo Yes United (Pirates reserve team)

Orlando Pirates debut: November 8, 2006, Orlando Pirates 2-1 AmaZulu

Orlando Pirates starts: 157

International honours: Former South Africa U-17, U-20 & U-23 international; 7 Bafana Bafana caps (6 starts, 1 sub)

Bafana Bafana debut: June 2, 2013, Lesotho 0 South Africa 2

Honours: 2010 & 2011 MTN8 winner; 2011 & 2012 Absa Premiership winner; 2011 & 2014 Nedbank Cup winner; 2013 CAF Champions League runner-up

raindrops …

raindrops,
like celestial nectar,

drench my winter coat.

i stagger,
wounded,
half-blind,

though no longer filled with dread,

for i walk on,

unsure,
oh yes, most certainly so,

yet filled with murmuring promises,

as i welcome the myriad paths that lie ahead …

A New Dawn …

shackled,
the noose tightening,

stealing promises,
of tomorrows yet to be born,

yet still,

hope takes root,

offering solace,
a glimpse,

of a less harsh tomorrow,

as the moon resigns itself,

to the embrace of the coming dawn …

Eternally Optimistic …

morning breaks in,
shattering the mute night,

infusing the silence,

with the joyous mishmash of all that that little thing called hope brings,

that no matter how bleak the weeks may seem,

and how desolate the minutes may feel,

every night of emptiness must end,

as with each new dawn,

the sun does its renewing warmth,

to us all, extend …

sweeping the remnants of bygone yesterdays,

under the carpet,

festering,
stewing,
mutating,

time scampers,
whispering lullabies,

teasing slumber,
surrendering to the night,

embracing the cocoon of the dark,

shedding the detritus of the now,

soothing and gentle as the softly departing light …

The Naked Face of Racism …

I met some folks the other day,

and they spewed bile and hate,

to put it bluntly,

they had nothing but shit to say,

talkin’ about ‘Kaffirs’* with self-righteous hate,

vomiting forth on the imminent doom of the South African state,

Oh but I did try some old fashioned reason,

only to be barked down,

it must have been my socks, cos’ my socks you see,

they don’t fit in with the haute-couture of this springs’ season,

and so these pleasant, well-fed, well-clothed business folk kept on blabbering,

about how stupid and corrupt all ‘blacks’ are,

and all this and more said in tones sickly-sweet,

as they guzzled their Blue Label whisky neat,

still I tried to reason,

though in truth I do confess,

I was tempted to terminate the fascist shindig,

and say,

fuck you, you racist pig,

but alas I tried and tried in vain,

but I was left cold, empty, shaking with anger, and filled with a deep pain,

that after all we have been through as a still-healing nation,

we barely haven’t even left the train station,

and I thought of my heroes,

Walter Sisulu,
Oliver Tambo,
Nelson Mandela,
Bram Fischer,
Govan Mbeki,
Ahmed Kathrada,
Chris Hani,
Moses Kotane,
Chief Albert Luthuli,
Lillian Ngoyi,
Helen Joseph,
J.B Marks,

a few amongst so many, many more,

giants of our collective struggle for equality and freedom and justice for all,

just like Dr. King who dreamed a dream while standing proud, dignified, and tall.

And so I left at long last,

stunned, broken, and aghast,

at the raw face of naked racism that I came to see,

in truth I was shaken to my very core,

but,

but,

but let the racist fascists know this,

and they better know this well,

that we shall always be many, many more,

and we shall consign them to the trashcan of history where they belong,

because their hate and their racism,

can never, ever,

and will never, ever,

silence our unfinished song,

a song nourished by the blood of those who died for the internationalist ideal,

and that,

that is something even those hate-filled businessmen can never, ever steal!

*’Kaffir’ – a racially derogatory term used to refer to black Africans in Apartheid South Africa

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

A Meditation on Racism …

“…All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin’ everybody ’til they’re all the same color…” – Warren Beatty in the motion picture “Bulworth”

war …

war …

long after the guns fall silent,

when all the debris is swept away,

and blood-stained streets get hosed down,

will we once more say,

‘never again’ …

again,

&

again

&

again …

panning through marshes of  twisted roots,

scrounging for a handful of promised truths,

thawing wounds aching afresh,

discarded emotions gnawing into now catatonic flesh …

we walk on, ever on,

fleeing the tumult of yesterdays sorrow,

we walk on, ever on,

thirsting for a glimpse of that liberating tomorrow,

to finally rid the heaving heart of the weight of the past,

content no more with brief, tenuous ceasefires,

but hungering instead for a peace that shall last …

matters …

matters …

anaesthetised tongues,

wag,
numbed into complicit silence,

while all that matters,

slinks away,

mattering not,

not today …

For Men Everywhere …

Stop! Listen! Think! Act!

Stop!

Stop the abuse!

Of grand-daughters,
colleagues,
daughters,
girlfriends,
partners,
mothers,
sisters,
nieces,
wives,

all women.

Listen!

Listen to the voices!

Of grand-daughters,
colleagues,
daughters,
girlfriends,
partners,
mothers,
sisters,
nieces,
wives,

all women.

Think!

Think of how you treat,

grand-daughters,
colleagues,
daughters,
girlfriends,
partners,
mothers,
sisters,
nieces,
wives,

all women.

Act!

Act now to change yourself!

Stop! Listen! Think! Act!

The violence,
the abuse,
the rape,

stops when you stop,

the violence,
the abuse,
the rape.

Stop! Listen! Think! Act!

The violence,
the abuse,
the rape,

is perpetrated by,

grand-fathers,
colleagues,
boyfriends,
husbands,
nephews,
brothers,
partners,
fathers,
uncles,

men,

all men.

Stop! Listen! Think! Act!

The violence,
the abuse,
the rape,

stops when us men stop,

The violence,
the abuse,
the rape,

today, now.

Stop! Listen! Think! Act!

faultlines …

faultlines …

cleaving through me,

embers flicker,

remnants of half baked verse,

smothered by tomorrows yet to dawn …

scribbled on fragile faultlines,

quills dipped in tears,

clinging onto hope,

tenuous,
fragile,

weaving wishes into tomorrows,

yet to be born …

Dreams like Acid Rain …

slithering down the drain,

knots of bygone pain,

emotions disposed off,

to slip away,

like dreams of yesteryear,

washed – up,
wasted,

tracing vanished suns,

tasting like bitter,
acid rain …

Ebola & the Prejudices that Lurk just Beneath the Veneer …

call me simplistic,

call me an anachronism,

but,

I detect a faint odour of old – time racism,

as the fear of Black Africa,

of Black Africans,

is camouflaged in haz-mat suits,

and carefully nursed,

fed, ratcheted up,

as the virus mutates,

digging up the fear of those ‘brown folk’,

‘these immigrants’,

‘the bloody foreigners’,

while mouthing platitudes,

to soothe the huddling multitudes,

solidifying the pervasive odour of thinly concealed racism,

and that’s the virus,

already a pandemic,

the virus of embraced ignorance,

of pleasant prejudices,

of the menace of the ‘other’,

the virus of raw, naked racism,

mutating,

sinking its talons,

into pliant minds …

squandering moments,

precious, few,

lost in the twisting maze,

work,
play,
consume,

walk around in a inured daze …

while,

by the by,

life’s moments sit idly by the wayside,

tiring of the inertia,

yearning to flap their unclipped wings,

into the soaring sky,

and …

liberated at last,

simply fly …

Confessions of a Random Exile …

i humbly confess,

by sharing a pained fragment of myself with you,

that,

i have squandered a few moments by casually and callously ignoring all that i believe in,

cloaking my complicit eyes to who i think i am,

by succumbing at times,

to that alluring urge,

that gnaws at the core, while embedded beneath the vagabond skin,

that urge, that rapturous feeling of saying that i,

I belong …

Frenetic …

Frenetic …

thoughts of you gallop across the rolling savannah of my heart, and I am lost and bound and shackled and torn between what I may have lost and all that I may never have had, and if even for that one fleeting blip of life awakened on the desert wasteland that was my soul, I would choose the latter forever more …

Note: A Typical Example of a Thoroughly Contrived Romantic – Loss themed “Poem” …

looking back …

peering through the butterfly – wings of time,

I see myself,

ever searching for the truths,

to still my vagabond soul:

searching here,
there,

in-between here and everywhere,

till decades flash past,

the toll of maturity bringing with it,

the brutal truth,

that though I had searched here,

there,
and everywhere in-between,

I had failed to see you,

right there,
ever beside me,

and for that alone,

I do owe,

a heartfelt apology,

and,

an immeasurable amount of gratitude,

to thee …

“The Justice Boat”* – A Poem for Judge Sueli Pini …

sailing through Amazonia,

“The Justice Boat” traverses the archipelago,

bringing justice,

a measure of human dignity,

to those who are almost,
always,

the forgotten.

There is a Dentist on board,
extracting molars at midnight,

with the aid of a pocket torch,

and there’s Judge Sueli Pini,

tirelessly striving to bring justice to those most in need of justice,

from neighbourly disputes,

to child – support payments withheld by errant fathers,

the Judge brings the courts to the people,

“The Justice Boat” sails on,

and may the boat of justice,

sail ever on …

* – “The Justice Boat”

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/fightforamazonia/2012/02/201222713552170402.html

Kobane has Not Fallen …

Kobane has Not Fallen …

Kobane stands,
the resistance firm,
the resolve resolute.

Kobane stands,
repulsing the marauding ISIS horde,

No Pasaran!

They Shall Not Pass!

Talkin’ Sunday Jazzy Blues …

A day of rest,

one is told,
that even God took some time off,

leaving His children to worship Him some more,
while He stood on high,
to chastise us some more,
to scoff,

isn’t it ever enough,
the hollering,

the counting of the rosary,

those infinite beads,
on whose counting,
the merciful God feeds.

its sunday,

bluesy tones and jazzy notes,

are all I wish to hear,

not the tolling of the church-bell,

gently reminding me,
that unless I confess,

i shall be damned in some fiery hell.

i feel the same of fridays,
when my brothers prostrate themselves at noon,

while my sisters slog over pots of food to feed the spiritually under-nourished,

laying the tables,
as the faithful return from the stables.

and on saturdays too,
in the synagogues,
packed like pickled herring,

my brothers and sisters,
eyes closed in penitence,
seek absolution,

and all I wish for is simple revolution,

a tearing down of these quaint edifices,
that pander to some mythical maker,

all I need is my honeyed weekend,

free of sanctimonious clap-trap,
devoid of wishy-washy assurances of everlasting life,

hell, my life’s already a convoluted dead-end,

filled with discarded emotions, blinded by strife,

so I’ll have my weekend,
and I’ll have it now,
if you please,

as I savour my extra-matured,
pungent cheddar cheese,

to the sounds of Coltrane,
of Thelonius, of Satchmo, of the Duke, and of Miles,

the simple life,

some jazz,
and
a few smiles

broken wings,

healing,
the tapestry tarnished,

bit by aching bit,

while,
all the while,

your eyes see right through me …

For Pete Seeger, Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter and Woody Guthrie…

It was a long time ago
when you put your words into song.

‘This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender’ you scribbled on your old guitar.

You wielded that banjo and guitar as weapons,

fiddling out a hail of truth.

Of solidarity.

Of immediate calls for peace.

You said of Leadbelly, that ‘Huddie Ledbetter was a helluva man’.

You sang and spoke through dust clouds and relief lines.

You taught us all, to seek out hope wherever we can.

And when they tried to call all of you ‘goddamned reds’,

you sang on ever louder and louder, rattlin’ their prejudices as they slept in their plush beds.

You rode and you rambled and thumbed your way around,

this land that is my land and your land too.

For you believed all this earth was shared common ground.

And when you sang of overcoming one day,

the injustice and the pain that you witnessed along the way,

they branded you a commie,
a pinko,
a nigger and a Jew-lover.

An enemy of the state.

While your banjo and your guitars wrestled their blind hate.

‘This machine kills fascists’ you etched on that guitar as well
but they were all deaf,

for they could not hear the tolling of the bell,

‘the bell of freedom,
the hammer of justice,
the song of love between your brothers and your sisters’.

And they knew not that they were the ones who would sizzle in their own bigoted hell.

And then came the marches.

You were there too.

Marching and singing with Dr. King in Birmingham and Selma.

And you faced their ugly spit,

their venomous rage,

their clubs and sticks and knives,
but you always knew,

that your cause was just and that the truth would one day prevail.

However long it may take, you would never give up.

You sang and you marched and you strummed yourselves,

victoriously into their jail.

Then they shot him down,

they shot Dr. King dead,

as they burnt and lynched many, many more.

Yet you stood firm,

you never wavered,

your blood was red after all,

and they could not tarnish the truth’s core.

And so it came to pass,

that Woody went on his way.

To his pastures of plenty up in the sky.

And Huddie too,

said his last goodbye.

And you were then one,

and you may have felt alone and overwhelmed by the battles and with all that was wrong.

But you saw that the people were with you.

As they had been, all along.

So you fiddled that old banjo,

dragging it through Newport and Calcutta and Dar-es-Salaam.

Through countless unknown halls in numberless unknown towns,

across this earth,
turning,
slowly,

putting smiles of amity on faces that were once pock-marked with disillusioned frowns.

Today as I pen these poorly scribbled words for all of you,

for Woody, Huddie, and Pete,

I do so in gratitude,

for after all the travails that you’ve been through,

I know that you know that this world still has its fair share of hate,

and of loss and of injustice and of gloom,

but I also know that you know that though all the old flowers may have gone,

there always will be,

as there always must be,

fresh flowers,

that will be ablaze somewhere,

driving away the apathy and reminding us all,

that this world has for all of us,

plenty of room

Song for Springsteen …

For Bruce …

it was a rain-swept monsoon day

way back then, so many moons away

when i felt the music strumming in my veins

setting me free like a runaway horse without any reins

you sang of simple truths,

your verse spoke to people just like me

in my lonely, wasted, and desolately quiet night

as you screamed out tragic human wrongs, and of everyone’s plight

‘bobby jean’ spoke to me

of that girl down the street

glimpses of whom, we as innocents would furtively meet

and ‘the river’ that flowed through my ever-barren heart

led me down further roads of thunder

when slowly i finally learnt that the hardest part was fighting on

and never to surrender

to the hard-luck dreams that were born to run

while i danced in the dark

with memories vivid and stark

even as i whined like that dog who for forever lost his howling bark

and then a ‘human touch’ came along

and ‘better days’ seemed real, not just words in a song

and still you sang and swayed and spoke straight into my unseeing eyes

as gardens of secrets were opened, and as your fist punched the skies

in an anger that i too felt and in whose cauldron i too burned

as we saw murder get incorporated, while on its wobbly axis, our fragile world apathetically turned

and then suddenly i was told that i was all grown up

working on a highway of scattered ideals

and absolving myself by sprinkling some coins in a waiting cup

well, after all these years of walking along so many a thorny road

with an armour of your verse covering me, even as i hear them taunt me and even as they continue to goad

but now i can feel myself fading away, into the bleakness of this coming night

just like the ghost of that old tom joad…

Song for Bruce Springsteen …

” … so you’ve been broke, and you’ve been hurt, show me somebody who ain’t … I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain, but hell a little touch-up and a little paint, I ain’t lookin’ for praise or pity, I ain’t searching for a crutch, I just want someone to talk to, and a little of that human touch, just a lil’ of that human touch …”Bruce Springsteen, ‘Human Touch’

do you revisit those sultry summer nights,

sweet sweat pouring off your skin,

your hair fanning an eternal fire,

toasting deep within,

ever since I saw you, standing at our old train station,

wearing your red beret,

and paging through a book by Emma Goldman,

somethin’ ’bout the tragedy of women’s emancipation,

we stood there in the pouring rain,

wishing we could race down the cobblestones on a renegade lane,

to take us away, from the stasis, the bruises, and the pain,

we laughed, we cried,
we held onto each other,

yearning for freedom,

from the straightjackets they tried to wrap around everyone’s brain …

Well, that was all those years ago,

when love meant something more than a ten buck stage show,

now the guys at the watering-hole tell me that you’re a big deal today,

it looks like you’ve packed Emma Goldman, and all your other books away,

perhaps they remind you of our younger selves,

it’s a pity that you’ve grown so large that there’s no room left for me on your neatly lined shelves,

ah but I still remember the woman that you once were,

but now you’re  weighed down by your pearls and your faux-fur …

I wonder if you even think of me at all,

the boy who promised to be beside you,

always,

f you ever were to stumble, or to fall,

or has your new gucci-clad crew,

stripped you of your soul,

as you laugh and drink and screw,

I wonder if you even remember my name,

or have you buried me along with all that you once were,

out of sanctimonious shame …

… I’m still here, where you left me, festering in this rotting old town,

unemployed since the years when those stock-tickers went plummeting down,

today as I stand in line for my warm bowl of soup,

the TV on the homeless shelter wall says it’s going to get worse,

cos’ even the banks have flown the coop,

well, I think of you often, as I lay my head on the cold ground,

tasting your soft lips as our tongues waltzed around,

but tonight I kiss my bottle of moonshine,

that keeps me company while the sophisticates wine and dine …

I know you’ve forgotten all about me,

cos’ you’ve got futures to trade,

blue-chip stocks to sell,

so sleep tight tonight, my darling, in that penthouse where you dwell,

I’m used-up now, there ain’t nothing more I can say or do,

I’ve run out of yarns to spin, I’ve exhausted all the stories I once could tell,

so all that I can offer,

is a silent fare-thee-well

The Shade of the Baobab …

The Shade of the Baobab …

the wandering soul rests,

a Baobab tree offering sanctuary,

the South African sun,

ablaze …

the wanderer gives thanks to the ancestors,

a moment of respite from the unending journey,

sifting through the dust,

divining the road ahead,

a time to reflect,

on all the miles lost to the sieve of time,

and,

on all the paths that have yet to be tread.

http://simple.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baobab

the charade swoons ever on,

moulted remnants of dulled pain,

lie scattered across the blank page,

as slowly approaching dawn,

offers a glimpse,

a fleeting mirage,

of a fragrant new morn …

Meandering …

Meandering …

Streams ebb,
flowing,

whittling away rock,

gradual,
patient,

seeking the anonymity of the seas.

Tears flow,
ebbing,

carving lines,
engraving faces,

frantic,
raucous,

fleeing the comfort of emptiness …

I Want to Walk with You …

I want to walk with you with our heads held high,

Never cowering,
never with heads bowed,

With our feet on this blessed soil,

and our dreams reaching for the sky.

Dreams of simple joys and of peace and of mirth,

For all our fellow travelers on this delightful earth.

Dreams not of wealth or of positions of high standing or of mighty power,

Simple dreams of a walk in the aftermath of a Johannesburg evening rain-shower.

Dreams of bread and water and dignity and shelter and clothes for all,

Dreams where all fellow travelers may together walk this earth proud and tall.

I want to walk with you, my fellow traveler,

with our heads held high,

Never pandering to power, never silent in the face of its abuse,

Always firm in our convictions,

that we can all make peace if we only try.

If we try to stop and think and sometimes not to look the other way,

If we practice what our different creeds really teach,

we will surely see that day,

When we all,
fellow travelers,

may walk with our heads held high,

Never cowering,

never with our heads bowed,

With our feet on this blessed soil,

and our collective dreams reaching for the sky.

Call me silly, call me naive, call me hopeless, and if you must, call me weak,

But is this not the common good,

that our different creeds and cultures all seek?

The Infidel …

The infidel writes,
blasphemes,

rejecting cellophane sermons.

The infidel whispers,
cursing,

the benevolence of the higher power.

The infidel chokes,
gagging,

on the odour that emanates,
from self-righteous mouths.

The infidel waits,
patiently,

for the retribution that must arrive.

The infidel casts off,
the labels of faith,

of belonging,

of sanctimonious snobbery.

The infidel refuses,

To beseech the merciful god,

And to cower,
And to kneel.

The infidel stands,

At times alone …

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”Jesus Christ

Kobane Stands …
( October 13th 2014 )

the marauders push on,

the fascist flag of hate,

limp,
flaccid,

yet conceited,
puffed – up,

its arrogance straining against the free wind,

and yet,

and still,

Kobane stands!

“I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees” –

Emiliano Zapata
( 1879 – 1919 )

Strands …

Strands …

a warm cup of tea,

a smile,

those bread and butter sandwiches,

wolfed down,

on so many a restless night.

random faces,
reaching out,

a nod here,
an embracing hug,

nameless,
numberless,

common – folk,
barely hanging on,

with nothing to share,

but shared humanity …

a knowing laugh,
that cigarette divided into four quick smokes,

those open arms,

priceless gestures of understanding,

though never pity,

remain engraved into my soul,

an unknown refugee,

the economic migrant,

the prisoner of conscience,

exiled,
alone,

lying dazed on that cold, cold stone …

Strands,

binding us,

you and me,
him and her,
them and us all,

embroidered by a shared humaneness,

the delicate strands of what truly,

makes us,

one …

Shrapnel …

the journeys have been tiresome,

pock-marked with wounds,

raw,
open,

the silent stab of nagging shrapnel,

of emotions,

shredded,
discarded,

stripping my soul bare,

naked,
exposed,

to the winds of unborn tomorrows …

the journey continues,

staggering,
hither and thither,

the self unsure,

gutted,

a heart,
a mind,

a long forgotten kiss,

like salt on burnt skin,

shrapnel embedded deep within,

the recesses of a desolate heart,

a desert of nothingness ahead,

but for that mirage,

a faint hazy oasis,

where I finally see you,

your eyes a vision of distilled truth …

“who are you?”, you ask of me,

“I am not yet him”, I say,

“I have yet to become me” …

My Family – A Historical Journey through the Seasons …

Part One: Winter

There is a legend in Delhi that when a male-child is born, the parents are visited by a group of ‘Hijras’, a derogatory term used to describe the Transgender community. The troupe gather en-masse outside the home of the parents of the infant boy and sing and dance, and offer blessings to the new arrival, while in return a small sum of money is offered to the visiting party and all returns to the relative ‘normalcy’ that prevails in a home that has just experienced the birth of a child.

These were the early 1970′s, and this story was told to me in great detail by my parents, who themselves were recently arrived political exiles in India, having to leave South Africa, where my father was arrested along with Nelson Mandela and 156 others in the infamous ‘Treason Trial’ of 1956.

The ‘main’ “Treason Trial” lasted four years till 1960, though the entire trial lasted till 1961, when the 30 remaining accused (of which my father was one) were acquitted by the Supreme Court.

The outcome of the trial was that all 156 were acquitted of the charge of ‘High Treason’.

During the 5 years of the trial my father and his co-accused had to travel daily to court in Pretoria from Johannesburg, some 60 kilometres away.

The accused were all charged with ‘High Treason’ and faced the death penalty if found guilty. My father was the youngest accused at 22 years of age.

A Flash Forward –

Later, in 1963, when my father was arrested again and held at Marshall Square Police Station in central Johannesburg, my father and three fellow political detainees managed to convince a young Afrikaner warder, Johan Greeff, into helping the four escape from the downtown Johannesburg prison. He was promised financial remuneration for his cooperation.

The news of ‘The Great Escape’ embarrassed the Apartheid state at a time when it felt that it had crushed the African National Congress (ANC), with most of its leaders either in jail, or having gone underground. The ‘Sharpeville’ massacre of 1960 resulted in the Apartheid state declaring a State of Emergency and banning the African National Congress (ANC) and other political organisations.

My father, Moosa ‘Mosie’ Moolla and his three fellow escapees (Abdulhay ‘Charlie’ Jassat, Harold Wolpe, and Arthur Goldreich) parted ways and moved from one safe-house to another, until my father, heavily disguised, managed to slip through the border into neighbouring ‘Bechuanaland’, now the country Botswana.

Goldreich and Wolpe managed to disguise themselves as clerics and made their way to Swaziland, a British High Commission Territory, from where they flew over to Bechuanaland (now Botswana).

The South African authorities offered a reward of 5000 Pounds Sterling for the capture of any of the escapees.

Following the escape my father and His fellow escapees were separately sheltered by members of the ANC underground for a few days.

They then parted ways for safety reasons and Abdulhay Jassat made his way to Bechuanaland where he sought political asylum.

By the time my father made his way about a month after the escape to Bechuanaland, the two white colleagues ( my father and Jassat are of Indian-origin) Wolpe and Goldreich had flown over to Tanganyka (now Tanzania) where the ANC’s external headquarters were located in Dar-es-Salaam.

It should be noted that a chartered plane to ferry ANC students and Wolpe and Goldreich was blown-up on the tarmac by South African agents in the early hours of the morning.

Wolpe and Goldreich then flew over on another flight. Jassat followed suit.

An Interesting Fact –

My father and Abdulhay ‘Charlie’ Jassat were both born on June 12th, 1934, and the two were arrested and escaped from prison together, and subsequently lived 30 years of their lives in exile, and both men returned to South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners, and the unbanning of the ANC and all liberation movements, and the return of political exiles.

As I type these words, my father and ‘Charlie’ live a few kilometres apart in Johannesburg and meet fairly regularly – mostly at functions or events held to commemorate the years of the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa.

But more about my father in a bit.

A Flash Back –

My mother, Zubeida or ‘Zubie’, a nurse at the time, and expecting my brother Azad (which means ‘to be free’ in Urdu) was subsequently arrested and detained while having to endure interrogation about her husband’s whereabouts. Azad was born in late 1963, a few months after my father’s escape.

Thus my father did not see his first-born son till 5 years later in 1968 when my mother and young brother and sister reunited with my father on the Tanzanian border. My father had by then joined the Armed-Wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto-we-Sizwe, or MK, ‘The Spear of the Nation’, which was formed in 1960 following the ANC’s decision to abandon non-violent opposition against Apartheid and to take up arms.

My sister Tasneem Nobandla, ‘Nobandla’ or ‘she who is of the people’ in isiXhosa was given her Xhosa middle name by my father’s comrade-in-arms and his Best-Man, Nelson Mandela, who couldn’t make it to my parent’s wedding because he was in detention at the time, a few years earlier!

My sister Tasneem Nobandla Moolla was born on October the 14th 1962

‘Nobandla’ was named when Mosie asked his comrade and Best-Man, Nelson Mandela, who could not make it to his wedding to name his new-born daughter. The two men had spent time in jail together in adjoining cells a year earlier in 1962.

Times were tough in those early years of exile, with my father off on military training with the newly formed ANC’s ‘Spear of the Nation’, and my mother having to shoulder the extreme difficulties of life in exile, in a strange country, having left her family behind, and having to essentially fend for herself and her two young children.

This led to a decision that continues to haunt my family to this day.

According to my parents, the situation in exile in those early years of the Anti-Apartheid struggle abroad was so dire, and my father being away training in guerrilla tactics and the like, while my mother worked as a nurse trying to raise two young kids, suffering from bouts of Malaria and being short on money as well, a decision was made to send my young brother and sister back to South Africa to remain in the care of my maternal grandparents, in the hope that when things in exile ‘improved’ or at least settled a bit, the kids would leave the care of their grandparents and join their parents abroad.

This did not happen, and this is one of the most difficult parts of our family’s history to write and talk openly about. Due to circumstances beyond their control, and due to a myriad other reasons, my young brother and sister remained separated from our parents, and grew up in Apartheid South Africa with my maternal grandparents in Johannesburg.

My mother, who passed away in 2008 after a lengthy battle with Motor-Neurone Disease, carried the pain and the guilt of that decision till she died. My father still lives with the guilt and the trauma of being separated from his children, and his family for over 30 years.

My brother Azad and my sister Tasneem, had to endure the unimaginable trauma of knowing that their parents were alive and on distant shores somewhere, yet being utterly helpless in joining them and living as a family, albeit a family in political exile.

The wounds are deep, and the trauma is still raw, all these years later, and my mother died broken-hearted, having to endure the separation of a mother from her children, as well as having to deal with a husband who was engaged full-time in the ANC and the anti-Apartheid struggle in exile.

It is only now that I can understand my mother’s strength of character and fortitude in remaining sane under circumstances that no parent should ever have to go through.

My siblings, on the hand, had to grow up with grandparents, and this has led to our family having to continuously grapple with the scars of a family torn-apart by Apartheid.

My brother Azad, a lawyer, is married with two beautiful young girls, and my sister, a teacher, is married with four beautiful daughters as well.

We all live in Johannesburg, and though some progress has been made in reconciling our family, it is very painful to say that there are many unresolved emotional wounds, which are completely understandable given the circumstances.

My Family – A Historical Journey through the Seasons

Part Two: Spring

The narrative here is neither chronological, nor is it meant to be a complete history of my family thus far – that would be highly presumptuous of me to attempt – so what you, dear reader, are reading (praise be to your perseverance!) are the disjointed thoughts and memories and anecdotal and other stories that every family shares.

I must state that the facts about my father’s internment and escape are all verifiable using a web-search engine, as are the facts about my parent’s involvement in the struggle for liberation in South Africa, and my father’s subsequent appointment by then President Nelson Mandela as South African Ambassador to Iran (1995 – 1999) and later by President Thabo Mbeki as South African High Commissioner to Pakistan (2000 – 2004) in the newly democratic country that countless South Africans sacrificed their lives to achieve.

My parents often spoke of the privilege that they felt to be alive and return to the country of their birth after spending virtually their entire lives as foot-soldiers in the African National Congress, the liberation movement that included in its ranks giants of South African history – Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Dr. Moses Kotane, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Chris Hani, only to name a few, and with no disrespect meant to the many, many more that I have not named.

The ‘privilege’ my parents spoke about was that they were the ‘fortunate’ ones, the ones who lived to see the non-racial, non-sexist, democratic constitution being drafted, and a South Africa without the crime against humanity that was Apartheid.

So many comrades and friends and fellow compatriots did not live to cast their vote on that glorious April day in 1994, and to see Nelson Mandela being inaugurated as South Africa’s first freely elected black President, a President who represented the whole of South African society.

A Flash Back –

And so it was that I was born in 1972 in an India that had just been engaged in a war with Pakistan, which in turn led to the establishment of a new country – Bangladesh.

India at the time was the in midst of austere Nehruvian Socialism, and my parents who had spent the mid and late-1960′s in Tanzania, Zambia and Britain, were deployed by the African National Congress to India, where my father was the Chief-Representative of the ANC.

My early childhood years were spent in India, and I recall the sweltering Delhi summers and the torrential monsoons that offered respite, albeit briefly, from the furnace of the Indian summer.

When I was 6 years old, my father was deployed by the ANC to be its Chief-Representative in Cairo, Egypt, and to be the ANC Representative at the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO).

This was 1978, and as a 6 year old, I am afraid I have very few fond memories of Cairo – we lived on a meagre stipend and though we lived in an apparently ‘better’ suburb of Cairo called Zamalek, an island on the Nile, the flat we occupied was on the ground-floor of a high-rise apartment block and it was damp, dark, and had the unfortunate distinction of being right next to the apartment block’s garbage-disposal area!

This meant a steady stream of litter, literally being flung from the windows of our neighbours in the flats above us, and often landing with a crash of shattered glass right outside our tiny kitchen.

Cairo was also where I had to unlearn the Hindi I had learnt in Delhi and pick up Arabic, which I did as most 6 year olds do when required by circumstance to learn a new language.

I faintly remember the Presidents’ Sadat-Carter meetings around the time of the Camp David Peace Accord signed between Israel and Egypt and my days were spent riding my bicycle through the dusty lanes of Zamalek.

One memory that is particularly poignant is that of my mother, with her head in her hands, sobbing as she pined for her two children at the opposite end of the African continent. I remember many days walking back from school and before stepping into our apartment block, seeing my mother through the window of what was my room, head in hands, crying.

It is a memory that I carry with me still.

Another indelible memory is when we visited the WWII museum of the battle of al-Alamein, in al-Alamein. Walking past the graves of the fallen in the war against Nazism, we came across many South African names, and I remember vividly how my father explained to me what Fascism and Nazism meant, and how important it was at the time for the world to fight it.

As we walked through the tombstones of the WWII soldiers from all parts of the world, my father explained to me how Apartheid in South Africa was a scourge (though not in those words!) like Fascism and Nazism, and how just as the world had joined forces to fight Hitler and Mussolini, we too had to fight against Apartheid in South Africa, and that is why I was not at ‘home’ with my brother and sister.

‘Home’. That was something for a 9 or 10 year old to hear, because I had grown up always being told about ‘home’ being South Africa, which was as distant to me as the stars above the Pyramids. I was aware from as young as I can remember my parents’ sometimes angry insistence that home was not where we happened to be, at a particular time, whether in Delhi or in Cairo, but in distant South Africa.

I however, could not understand why ‘home’ was not where I was. In Delhi I spoke Hindi like a local, and had friends and felt that ‘home’ was our little flat on the 1st floor of a block of flats in Greater Kailash. But then came the move to Cairo, and in no time at all I completely forgot my Hindi, and learnt Arabic like a local, and had friends and felt that ‘home’ was our dinghy flat in Zamalek.

And then in 1982, my father was re-deployed from Cairo back to Delhi, and suddenly there I was, 10 years old, meeting my old friends and not knowing a word of Hindi!

So the idea of ‘belonging’, of ‘home’, of being rooted in a place and time was alien to me from a very young age. I remember dreading when the next ‘move’ would be, given that my parents were political exiles and often having to pack up our few belongings and travelling at very short notice. I do not want it to sound like it was particularly unpleasant in any way, because there also was the thrill a child has of the packing and the plane rides, and the new places that were so, so new to me. Cairo and Delhi probably had only the following things in common: the heat, the population, and the fact that both Egypt under Gamal Abdul Nasser and India under Jawaharlal Nehru were two of the four countries (the others being Sukarno’s Indonesia and Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia) that founded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the Cold War.

A Flash Forward –

The year is 1990, and my parents and I found ourselves in Helsinki, Finland, where in November 1989 the ANC deployed my father as ANC Secretary to the World Peace Council (WPC) which had its headquarters in Helsinki.

For the 17 year old that I was to suddenly, in a matter of weeks, pack up and leave high-school, friends and a girl-friend at the time, was particularly harsh for me.

I remember spending the winter of 1989 holed up in our two-bedroomed flat in Helsinki, not knowing what had just taken place. I pined for the girl I was (kind of!) dating back in school in Delhi, and I was thoroughly shocked by the below-zero temperatures of winter in Scandinavia, and thoroughly disheartened by the short days and long, long nights. I did love the snow however!

Then it happened. We heard the news that Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners in South Africa were to be released, unconditionally, and that the liberation movements and the ANC were to be unbanned!

This changed everything.

It was a chaotic and heady time, with high hopes and renewed life as the once impossible dream of returning ‘home’ was to be realised.

A very memorable trip was made by my parents and I, by ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, Sweden. An overnight ferry-ride, the trip was magical, for we were to meet Nelson Mandela, free after 27 years on Robben Island and in Sweden to meet the President of the ANC, comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, Mandela’s old friend, law-partner and life-long comrade in the ANC. President Oliver Tambo, who had been in exile for almost 30 years was a dynamic and charismatic and intellectual giant who had built the ANC in exile from being just another liberation movement in exile into the voice of the South African freedom struggle, launching successful campaigns to isolate Apartheid South Africa from the world community.

Unfortunately President Oliver Tambo had suffered a stroke and was convalescing as a guest of the Swedish government; themselves staunch allies in the fight against Apartheid. Nelson Mandela met his old comrade in Stockholm and we met the godfather of my sister, and the would-be best-man of my father in a hall in Stockholm. I have photographs of the tears and joy as Mandela hugged my father and mother, and as old comrades including Ahmed Kathrada who also spent 27 years in jail with Mandela and the other Rivonia Trial accused, met after nearly 30 years! I was overwhelmed, as were countless others to finally meet the man who had become the face of the worldwide struggle against Apartheid.

That my parents knew the Mandelas as young friends and comrades only made the reunion on a Scandinavian day all the more special.

There was a sense of vindication, of oppression though still not defeated, but definitely in its final moments, as we acknowledged that we all stood on the cusp of something so many had not only dreamed about, but dedicated their entire lives to achieve.

We spent a few days in Stockholm and Uppsala, and then hopped on the ferry back to Helsinki, to finally begin preparations for the return home.

The trip we made was on freezing November night, when we boarded a train from Helsinki to Moscow, and then flew to Maputo in Mozambique where we spent a night, before boarding a South African Airways flight to Johannesburg.

I will never forget the stifled sobs of my mother as the pilot announced we were flying over South African soil.

My parents and I returned to South Africa on a November day in 1990, as part of a batch of returning political exiles.

I was 18 years old and met most of my family members for the first time.

My Family – A Historical Journey through the Seasons

Part Three: A Summer Digression

And now, dear reader (may your patience be praised!), I am going to steer this ship of memories as we embark on a journey of emotions – a subjective voyage through the feelings that I have felt, the emotions that I have experienced during the course of my 40 year old life.

You, dear reader, may stop reading right now if you find outpourings of emotion and wearing one’s feelings on one’s sleeve not your cup of Earl-Grey! If however, and I sincerely hope you do decide to read through this ‘summer’ of life’s memories, I assure you that what you will read will be savage honesty, however painful and hard it is to bare one’s soul for all to see the flawed human-beings that we all are.

And so it was that just past my 18th birthday in September of 1990, I found myself ‘home’ in South Africa, after 18. Years of dreaming what ‘home’ would be like and how my brother and sister and cousins and aunts and uncles would take me into their homes and lives.

I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and kindness showered on me, the ‘returning’ boy who was not really returning, but was dipping his toes into the early 1990′s, a period of South African history, just preceding the first free and democratic election in 1994 that was one of the country’s most trying of times.

The Apartheid regime, having unbanned all political organisations and liberation movements and releasing political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and others, was still not willing to relinquish power, and had embarked on a cynical and dirty campaign of fomenting violence in the sprawling black townships in Johannesburg, Durban and other cities around the country.

There were killings and hit-squads that roamed and terrorised communities while negotiations between the Apartheid government and the African National Congress (ANC) offered hope and then broke down, and then were restarted until finally, on April the 27th, 1994, black South African, for the first time in their lives, cast their ballots which resulted in sweeping Nelson Mandela’s ANC into power, with Nelson Mandela or ‘Madiba’ as he is known becoming South Africa’s first black President.

I attended the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first truly democratically elected President in Pretoria on a crisp May 10th morning along with friends and comrades, and we openly wept as the South African Air-Force flew overhead, the flag of our new ‘rainbow’ nation fluttering below.

A Flash Back –

My early days in South Africa were ones of family dinners and visits to relatives and old family friends and comrades in the struggle. My father started work almost immediately at the ANC’s headquarters in central Johannesburg, and I attended my final year of high-school, also in central Johannesburg.

Looking back now, I see myself then as a caricature of the immigrant who just wants to fit in, always being on one’s best behaviour, and under no circumstances allowing the turmoil within to bubble to the surface.

I was born to parents who were non-religious; my father definitely more so than my mother, who ‘believed’ in God, though was never one to make a show of it.

I grew up not really knowing what religion I was born into, as my parents never, and though never is a strong word, it is applicable here; my parents never mentioned religion at home.

My mom would cook up a storm on Eid-ul-Fitr every year, the feast that is the culmination of the fasting month of Ramadaan, but then we never fasted or paid attention to religious ritual or practice. I can say that religion was absent from our home, whether we were in India, Cairo or Helsinki.

I am forever indebted to my parents for having raised me with and this may sound pompous of me to say, humane values, rather than strictly religious ones, not that the two are mutually exclusive!

I attended a school in Delhi in the 1980′s, Springdales, an institution founded by two great humanitarians, Mrs. Rajni Kumar and her husband Mr. Yudhishter Kumar, both human-beings who possessed the highest qualities of compassion, humanity, and a burning sense of the need to tackle injustice, wherever and in whatever shape or form it was to be encountered.

My years at Springdales in Delhi, though I was hardly a promising academic student (having failed standard 8!), I now look back and am forever indebted to the culture of tolerance and respect for all people, regardless of station in life, religion, caste, gender or race, that my still-beloved Springdales inculcated in me.

The culture of Springdales School and the manner in which my parents raised me, has led to a life-long aversion to intolerance in any shape, colour or form, and a strong belief in the power of rational and critical thinking.

I thank my parents again, and my Springdales, for bestowing on me this invaluable gift.

A Flash Forward –

And so I find myself, now in the teen years of the new millennium, still always feeling that I am on the outside, looking in – and I find this vantage point to be, strangely, comfortable now, I must admit.

I do not have much time for religion or for cultural affiliations. Again, this is not meant to be offensive to anyone, these are the feelings I am comfortable with. I cannot stress this enough, just how my upbringing and my years at Springdales have hewn into my consciousness, and the absolute need for the respect for all.

I am growing weary of talking about myself, as I am sure you, dear reader, are as well, and so I shall stop this monologue with the words of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara who when responding to a woman who also bore the ‘Guevara’ name and who had written to Che asking him where in Spain his ancestors came from. This was Che’s response …

“I don’t think you and I are very closely related but if you are capable of trembling with indignation each time that an injustice is committed in the world, we are comrades, and that is more important.”

Thank you, dear reader, for your patience, and for your taking the time to read these ramblings of mine.

My Family – A Historical Journey through the Seasons

Part Four: Thoughts about Exile, Home, Identity, Belonging

A Flash Back –

I look back to that November evening in Helsinki, Finland in 1989, where the temperature was around -20 degrees Celsius, and we stood on the railway platform with our little luggage (mostly books, photographs etc) with tickets to Moscow via Leningrad (yes, it was still called Leningrad back then).

I recall my mother and father, by then already in their late 50′s, and preparing to return to their home, South Africa, after almost three decades living in exile all across the globe, from Zambia to Tanzania to England to India to Egypt to India again and then to Finland, and now following the Apartheid regime’s unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela and political prisoners, my parents were to return to a country they had called ‘home’ for as long as I can remember. South Africa was always; always home, no matter where we happened to be.

Whether it was in our ground-floor, bleakly dark flat in Zamalek, Cairo where we had to keep the fluorescent lights on during the day, or in our 1st floor flat in Safdarjang Development Area in Delhi, or in our cramped 2-bedroom flat in Helsinki, Finland, I was always told about ‘home’, about family and about the country that I grew up loathing (Apartheid South Africa) as well as the country that I grew up idealising, for South Africa was after all ‘home’, that mythical place where family stuck together and where my brother Azad and my sister Tasneem grew up, separated from their parents, and where finally, at long last, Nelson Mandela walked free after 27 years in Apartheid’s jails.

I often look back on my years growing up as a child of political exiles, and I am thankful, as I grew up without the hardships that so many fellow exiles had to endure.

I am also thankful, for the depth of humanity that I saw in strangers and friends and people who took us in, and loved us, and extended hands of solidarity and assistance and warmth when we were most alone.

I owe a debt of gratitude to so many people, ordinary folk, workers, labourers, academics, doctors and engineers, school-teachers and students, who chose to identify with the plight of the oppressed people of South Africa, just as they chose to support the cause of justice, of freedom and of self-determination in Namibia, Western-Sahara, and Palestine.

I can vividly remember the pain and anguish that my mother endured, being separated from her family and her children, and I remember her tears, her quiet sobbing when I used to return home from school, knowing that my father was away travelling, often for months at a time.

It is not easy to put everything down on paper, and indeed it is impossible to capture all of one’s experiences, yet I feel it is very important that I share these thoughts with you, dear and patient reader, not because of what I wish to say about myself, or even about my parents, but to honour and to remember and to cherish the strong bonds that were forged during those sometimes hard times, and to convey to all, that no matter what one hears about our differences as people, be it differences of creed, of colour, of nationality, there is a ‘human’ connection that I have seen that simply extinguishes the claims by the religiously fanatical, or by the jingoistic nationalists who seek to impose upon us a barrier, a wall, a divide that cannot be breached. I have mentioned what I am about to write earlier, and I only repeat it because I believe it needs to be repeated, so forgive me, dear reader, if I seem to be revisiting old ground.

The old ground that I feel I need to revisit now is that of a story that my mother used to tell me, repeatedly, and always with tears in her eyes, and always with her crying openly as she retold this story over and over again to me.

Let me place the story in its historical context. The year was 1971, and India had just been at war with Pakistan, and my parents had arrived in what was then called Bombay and had rented a small apartment in one of Bombay’s high-rise blocks of flats.

It is important to remember that India had gained independence only 24 years earlier, so the wounds and the trauma of the division of India (into Pakistan and East-Pakistan) were still very fresh.

My father was sent by African National Congress (ANC) to India, in order to work to further strengthen the support that the liberation movement had received from India.

My mother, who was a nurse by profession, had started working at Bombay’s Breach Candy Hospital, and my father was busy establishing links within the sizeable South African student community that Bombay was home to.

One day my father decided to jump over a railing, in order to catch a bus, and slipped and fell.

I shall now let my mother tell her story …

… Now we had just arrived in India, and though Mosie and I spoke Gujarati, we still didn’t know Hindi or Marathi (the language spoken in Maharashtra, the state in which Bombay/Mumbai is located), and here comes Mosie, limping and in pain. I am a nurse and so I took a look at his foot and it looked bad, but what were we to do? We didn’t know anyone, we didn’t have a telephone, and we didn’t speak the language. So I went and knocked on our neighbour’s door. An elderly lady opened the door and I explained in English that we were new in the apartment-block and that my husband had suffered a possible fracture. The old lady then asked me to sit. I sat. The elderly lady then asked me my name and I said ‘Zubeida, but you can call me Zubie’. I then told the lady all about South Africa, about how I had been separated from my two children, about Apartheid, about Nelson Mandela, and about how we were freedom fighters and were in exile. The old lady broke down and sobbed, and I cried too, feeling her warmth towards me, even though I was a total stranger. Then the elderly lady told me that they were Punjabis and during the partition of India, they had to flee their home in what later became Pakistan because they were Hindus. The old lady sobbed when she told me about the rioting, the massacres, the pain of leaving everything behind and fleeing with only the clothes on their backs, and then she grabbed my hand tightly and said that she understood everything, and she shared my pain, because she too had been a refugee once … (at this point my mother would be crying openly while telling me the story) … and that from then on, she was my elder sister. This from a woman who had experienced the horrors of partition, and who realising I had a Muslim name, chose to share her life story with me, and who could understand what we were going through. Anyway, we called a doctor who turned out to be a Parsi ‘Bone-Setter’ … (laughing between tears now) … and later when we moved to Delhi and her daughter Lata got married to Ravi Sethi and also moved to Delhi, she told Lata that ‘Zubeida hamaari behen hai’ (Zubeida is my sister) and that Lata should keep in touch with us. That’s how Papa and I know aunty Lata and uncle Ravi …

Hearing my mother tell me this story over and over again, emphasising that aunty Lata’s mother had gone through hell at the hands of Muslims, and still she chose to see my mother not as a Muslim, but as a fellow human-being, who shared a similar life in the fact that my parents were also refugees, having fled their country, and that aunty Lata’s mother ‘took’ my parents in, and shared a bond that cannot be described sufficiently in words, as words would only dilute the depth of feeling that the two women shared for each other, only makes my belief in the power of the humanity that binds us all together that much stronger.

Yes, there will be those who will say that those were different times, and that nowadays things have changed.

Yes, there will be many who may call it idealism, romanticism, or simply burying one’s head in the sand, but I still hold on firmly to the belief that aunty Lata’s mother and my mother shared, one person to another, regardless of religion, colour, caste, wealth, status or any of the many other ‘yard-sticks’ that people are measured by, and by emphasising our shared humanity, rather than by highlighting our differences, that we can, and that we shall, indeed, overcome, someday.

My Family – A Historical Journey through the Seasons

Part Five: Thoughts about Exile, Home, Identity, Belonging

‎‎This scribble is going to be a rambling, not too coherent piece all about my thoughts on identity, belonging, exile, and about ‘home’.

So, my dear friends, I invite you to accompany me, with sufficient forewarning I hope, on this scribbled ramble…

‘Home’

Looking back now, I can say that I grew up with two very separate yet entwined ideas of ‘home’ – ‘home’ being both the idealised country of my parents, who spoke of ‘home’, which meant South Africa, as being the place where ‘family’ was an umbrella of safety and a source of comfort, and the other reality of what ‘home’ meant was the reason I was born in exile in the first place, the country that had become a pariah of the world, with its brutal, oppressive system of Apartheid racial-segregation.

Now this may seem odd from today’s historical vantage point, but back when I was growing up in India and Egypt, there was a definite sense that we would never see ‘home’ again.

The hopes and aspirations with which my parents lived by, and probably had to live by, was that freedom would come in our lifetime. But a lifetime can be a long time, so there was also the possibility that we may never see the end of Apartheid, and this fear, which I think is shared by exiles, refugees, and all displaced human beings, was always just below the surface.

This ever-present and often repressed fear was fuelled by the deaths of fellow exiles who passed on before South Africa’s transition from Apartheid state to democratic nation took place in 1994.

I recall an old ANC comrade, an elderly man in his 60′s, who lived with us in Cairo in the early 1980′s, and to whom I became quite close, who later took ill and passed away in a Cairo hospital.

I was 8 years old at the time, and even though my parents did not tell me that ‘uncle’ had passed away, I knew it. I sensed it from his deteriorating health earlier, and from the grave expressions my parents wore for months after ‘uncle’ ‘left’.

My parents carried their own feelings of guilt and pain, of leaving behind a young son and daughter (my siblings Azad and Tasneem whom I did not grow up with) in South Africa, who grew up with my maternal grand-parents in Johannesburg. My parent’s guilt and pain never left them, and I remember my mother as she lay bedridden with Motor-Neurone Disease almost 14 years after freedom still carrying the anguish of the separation of parent from child.

My father still carries the pain with him, and I think even more so today because of the difficulties and emotional minefields that he has to navigate through knowing that he did not share his two eldest children’s childhood, and only now, after all these decades, are the relationships being strengthened, and that too is still a work in progress.

I can only imagine the pain, emotional trauma, anguish and heartbreak that my sister Tasneem, and my brother Azad felt growing up knowing that their parents were out in the world, yet remaining separated from them.

It is a legacy of pain, of homes and of families split up and separated that remains with us today, of Apartheid’s continuing brutalisation of South Africans.

These complex and conflicting issues that we as family, and we as a nation have to deal with may still yield some measure of peace, if that is at all possible, given the weight of the past.

I have so much more to say, dear reader, but it can wait for later.

I can say that my experiences growing up here, there and everywhere have been a convoluted scattering of disjointed places, of half-remembered faces and of many a restless night spent contemplating the questions of identity, home, belonging and of what ‘anchors’ a person.

Perhaps there are reasons for the times when that vagabond exile blood gets restless and that itch, that impatience, that urge to move, to flee, to rejoin the nomadic community surfaces.

And perhaps, there are reasons too, for my ability to suppress the sometimes fiery urge to trade quiet suburban stasis for the unknown path of the unnamed exile.

I leave you, respected reader, with a poem I scribbled some time ago 

Searching

Searching,
in the debris of the past,
scraps of casually discarded emotion.

Searching,
in hastily trashed yesterdays,
an inkling of moments flung away.

Searching,
in heaps of rubbished words,
that tiresome sigh of defeated thought.

Searching,
in the layers of moulted skin
the wilting self that once was true.

Searching,
in the reflections between the ripples,
for the whispered pangs of roaring desire.

Searching,
in the blank eyes streaming endlessly,
an echo of the faintest sigh of new life.

Searching.

Port of Call Revisited …

away beyond the drowning sun,

on a talcum beach,

I sit alone,
not lonely,

the rowdy clatter resounding within my frantic heart,

suddenly stilled,

freeing my tomorrows,

from a torrent of sorrows,

and,

strolling along that talcum beach,

alone,
not lonely,

I knew at once,

then,
all that I know now,

that home is here,

with you,

my very all,

and that at very long last,

I am home,

my final port of call …

Words …

Words …

he said that he would love me forever.

he whispered sweet nothings.

he said that it would endure.

he said all of this,
and all of that,

words that soothed,

cajoled,
promised,

the sun and the stars.

all said,

he said far too much …

Splinters …

Splinters …

fragments of faded stills,

litter my heart …

trembling lips, that first kiss,

moist cheeks,
sweeping up shards of a broken heart,

torn laughs,
stabbing within,

as splinters of bygone selves,

needle,
jab,

pierce this night,

as scribbled verses seek,

ache,
hunger,

for that sliver of light …

Echoes …

whispers of bygone moons,

tease my dreams.

murmurs of praline yesterdays,

bathe my waking thoughts.

Echoes drift,

undulating, caressing,

pleading,

for the cacophony to be hushed,

as I scribble ever on and on,

and on.

Echoes drift,

healing, renewing,

beseeching,

the raucous tumult,

flowing,
slipping,

yearning for stillness,

away from this jarring day,

seeking solace,

in a million smiles,

smiled along the way …

The Siege of Kobane …

(Saturday 11th October 2014)

The resistance stands,

Kobane stands,

it’s defenders armed with Kalashnikovs and the fierce will of a people refusing to be cowed,

the resistance against the perversions of ISIS stands,

today,

in the streets of Kobane.

The battles rage on,

as we type these words,

as you read these lines,

the resistance against ISIL barbarity holds firm.

Kobane stands!

Still!

Kobane has not fallen!

Viva the Resistance!

What extremists fear …

image

For Kailash Satyarthi & Malala Yousafzai …

1.

You have struggled for the rights of children in India,

your Bachpan Bachao Andolan has been tirelessly striving for an end to,

child labour,
abuse of children,
hunger,
poverty,

for year after year,

and today,

now,

your selfless work has been recognised by the world at large,

and I am humbled to pen these words for you, Shri Kailash Satyarthi – Ji!

2.

You faced the bigots,

you stood up to narrow religious perversions,

you faced the Taliban head – on,
and though they tried to silence your voice of reason,

their bullets failed,

and today,

now,

your valiant courage has been recognised by the world at large,

and I am humbled to pen these words for you, Malala Yousafzai!

3.

India and Pakistan,

once one land,

torn apart by shallow religious sectarian agendas,

but not today,

not now,

not today,

for today,

We are all one.

We are all human.

May peace prevail!

May universal AND free education for every child be realised!

May justice prevail,

at long, long last!

copy-left afzal moolla 2014

For Malala Yousafzai …

(for Malala Yousafzai, 14 years old, in a critical condition after being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban, for her work as a young activist advocating the rights of girls to attend school)

When hot lead tears the flesh of a 14 year old girl,

ripping through her skull,
leaving her to bleed out and die,

does Allah not recoil in horror,

to see His child whimper,
to see His daughter cry.

Where is the indignation,

the anger that often boils over and manifests itself as flags and books and videos are burnt in mass orgies of hollow piety,

where are the voices that scream so loud,
that denounce all but their own creed,

where are the men, the impotent men who crave for nothing more than their fascist egos to feed,

where are the voices that so loudly proclaim,
enemies here and enemies there, always quick to condemn,

where are those voices when the enemy walks amongst them.

14 year old Malala Yousafzai was shot in cold blood,

her crime?

Advocating the rights of girls to an education.

Shame on you, men of bigotry and men of cowardice.

Shame on you, silent and mute accomplices in this carnage.

Shame on me,
for my inaction,

Shame on us all,
who proclaim lofty ideals,

yet are conspicuously silent,

when a 14 year old girl is shot in the head,

by fascist fundamentalist bigots who only worship bullets of hot lead.

Not in my name!

Not in my name,
shall the cowardly men rain down abuse,

Not in my name,
shall the bigoted men light the communalistic fuse,

Not in my name,
shall Malala Yousafzai be shot in the head,

left to bleed out,
while countless mothers’ tears are shed,

not in my name,
shall religious murderers,
be left to wander free,

not in my name,
for I dare all believers to open their eyes,
to see!

To see,
the innocence of a 14 year old girl,
wanting only an education,

as the men of the cloth,
prance around with their pathetic self-righteous indignation.

I write this today,
the anger raging in my veins,

yet I fear,

that I shall write more of this,

unless we stand up and say ‘no more’,

I fear that I shall be writing this again,

until we all,

reclaim the true principles of humaneness,

until we silence the voices of bigotry,
of rage,
of fanatical insanity,

I fear I shall be writing this again,

and,

until the muck-ridden bile,
is not excised,

I shall continue to say,

NOT IN MY NAME!

Or else I shall have nothing,

but my unending shame

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