Tag Archive: history


double-helixed uBuntu

double-helixed uBuntu.

image

these interwoven veins,
dna,
double-helixed,

microscopic,
binding us, all of us,
together, as one,

species, one race,
human,

me & you

us,
all,

through
this common
shared
truth:

‘I am because you are’*

all of us
together
as one

me & you = uBuntu*

image

image

* – uBuntu is an isiXhosa/isiZulu concept that espouses the “belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”

Homo-Naledi at The Cradle of humankind*

image

shared hopes
on
bloodied earth
of
common dreams

winding along myriad streams
whose
source is here
beneath our multi-hued feet

flowing
into a shared humanity
this shawl that should encompass us all
by
binding us together
a species with blood that is red
always red

for
we are all

the children of Africa

branched off
spread wide

but
of this soil
and
of this earth

foreign to none
hewn as one

         _______

*

Maropeng is a Setswana word meaning ‘returning to the place of our origins’

http://www.timeslive.co.za/scitech/2015/09/10/Homo-naledi-a-new-species-of-human-relative-from-the-Cradle-of-Humankind

https://www.google.co.za/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.maropeng.co.za/mobile&ved=0CIIBEBYwE2oVChMImK2lnrTtxwIVA7IUCh0YaAJr&usg=AFQjCNHlzmroYaE8YJITfwla6qByM9RC-Q

image

history …

misty tears fall on splintered parchment

history simmers

the shackles of centuries cast off

the chains of oppression shattered

embracing new horizons

dawning
&
trusting once again
in that unfinished dream

of less famished tomorrows

Spartaco Fontanot

D-Day June 6, 1944 …

Mowed down by lead spewing from Nazi machine guns,

Young men sliced on the the beaches of Normandy,

Blood stained the salty sea crimson,

Torn limbs and lifeless bodies scattered along Juno, Gold, and Omaha beach,

Young men, shredded by shrapnel,

Holding the line,

Inch by blood-soaked inch,

As the fascist juggernaut was brought down to its knees,

And still the fight raged on,

From the eastern front to the acts of valour,

Carried out by partisans in the name of freedom from the jackboot of Nazism,

There was a young man called Spartaco Fontanot and I end this poem with a letter he wrote to his mother :

Dear Mum*,

Of all people I know you are the one that will feel it most, so my very last thoughts go to you. Don’t blame anyone else for my death, because I myself chose fate.

I don’t know what to write to you, because, even though I have a clear head, I can’t find the right words.

I took my place in the Army of Liberation, and I die as the light of victory is already beginning to shine … I shall be shot very shortly with twenty three other comrades.

After the war you must claim your rights to a pension. They will let you have my things at the jail, only I am keeping Dad’s undervest, because I don’t want the cold to make me shiver…

Once again I say goodbye.

Courage!

Your son.
Spartaco

(Spartaco Fontanot, metalworker, twenty-two years old,member of the French Resistance group of ‘Misak Manouchian’, 1944)

* – from Eric Hobsbawn’s book ‘Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914 – 1991′

NOSTALGIA: My Family: A Historical Journey Through the Seasons – Part 1 by Afzal Moola, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Madiba (1918 – 2013)

Madiba.

( 1918 – 2013 )

Madiba, you are resting now.

Madiba, you have joined the ancestors.

Madiba, you are with your comrades.

Madiba, you are with us.

Madiba, you are within us.

Madiba, you live!

Madiba lives!

He lives!

He lives!

He lives…

Solomon Mahlangu: My Blood will Nourish the Tree that will Bear the Fruits of Freedom:

Solomon Mahlangu was trained as an MK soldier with a view to later rejoining the struggle in the country.

He left South Africa after the Soweto Uprising of 1976 when he was 19 years old, and was later chosen to be part of an elite force to return to South Africa to carry out a mission commemorating the June 16th 1976 Soweto student uprising.

After entering South Africa through Swaziland and meeting his fellow comrades in Duduza, on the East Rand (east of Johannesburg), they were accosted by the police in Goch Street in Johannesburg.

In the ensuing gun battle two civilians were killed and two were injured, and Mahlangu and Motloung were captured while acting as decoys so that the other comrade could go and report to the MK leadership.

Motloung was brutally assaulted by the police to a point that he suffered brain damage and was unfit to stand trial, resulting in Mahlangu facing trial alone.

He was charged with two counts of murder and several charges under the Terrorism Act, to which he pleaded not guilty.

Though the judge accepted that Motloung was responsible for the killings, common purpose was argued and Mahlangu was found guilty on two counts of murder and other charges under the Terrorism Act.

On 15 June 1978 Solomon Mahlangu was refused leave to appeal his sentence by the Rand Supreme Court, and on 24 July 1978 he was refused again in the Bloemfontein Appeal Court.

Although various governments, the United Nations, International Organizations, groups and prominent individuals attempted to intercede on his behalf, Mahlangu awaited his execution in Pretoria Central Prison, and was hanged on 6 April 1979.

His hanging provoked international protest and condemnation of South Africa and Apartheid.

In fear of crowd reaction at the funeral the police decided to bury Mahlangu in Atteridgeville in Pretoria.

On 6 April 1993 he was re-interred at the Mamelodi Cemetery, where a plaque states his last words:

‘My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom.

Tell my people that I love them.

They must continue the fight.’

Mahlangu died for a cause!

Salute!

The Struggle Continues…

(special thanks to a friend who shared this tribute to Solomon Mahlangu)

South Africa salutes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr!

They gunned you down,
on this April day,
all those years ago,

yet you live, you breathe!

They gunned you down,
just as they did Chris Hani and M.K. Gandhi,

and they failed, as they always will,

for they can never kill,

your dream, your ideals.

Your dream, your ideals,

live, and breathe,

still!

The Beach of Promises

The Beach of Promises

1.

Fingers entwined, barely touching,
turquoise waters teasing your dancing toes,

strolling along that serene deserted beach,
our promised dreams within aching reach.

2.

Hands clasped, holding on,
sea-breezes tickling the nape of your neck

walking together, alone, vowing to never breach,
the dreams dreamed on that faraway velvet beach.

3.

Hands in my pockets, alone,
traces of you linger, teasing,

lost in my scribbles, your memory fading out of reach,

my thoughts ablaze, now and then,
catching a whiff of your fragrance,

wafting through alleyways of nostalgia,
your hand in mine on our pristine beach.

The Nameless

|
|

Slipping through the sieve of history,

the nameless rest.

Not for the nameless are roads renamed, nor monuments built.

Not for the nameless are songs sung, nor ink spilled.

The nameless rest.

Their silent sacrifice,
quiet ordeal,
muted trauma,

remain interred,
amongst their remains.

The nameless rest.

Not for the nameless are doctorates conferred, nor eulogies recited.

Not for the nameless are honours bestowed, nor homages directed.

The nameless rest.

They rest within us,
they walk with us,

in every step that we tread.

They rest within us,
they walk with us,

for their spirit is not dead.

|
|

“Your name is unknown, your deed is immortal”

– inscription at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier WWII in Moscow

|
|

Special thanks to my dearest elder sister Tasneem Nobandla Moolla, whose conversations with me about life as a non-white person growing up in pre and post-Apartheid South Africa prompted me to write this dedication to the countless, nameless South Africans of every colour, whose sacrifices and dedication in the struggle against Apartheid tyranny must never be forgotten.

My sister’s middle name ‘Nobandla’ which is an isiXhosa name and means “she who is of the people” was given by her godfather, Nelson Mandela, my father’s ‘best-man who could not be, as Nelson Mandela was unable to-make it to my parent’s wedding as he was in jail at the time in the old Johannesburg Fort. This was the 31st December 1961.

My Madness, Me

Madness

Confined by this straight-jacket,
strapped in, numb and dumbed,
a washed-out, has-been, also-ran,

body, eyes, the equilibrium of mind,
rattling like stones in an old tin-can.

Still, I am,

I am,

and I am unchained,

my dreams taking flight, soaring,
above these claustrophobic walls,
of synapses, and dungeons of stone,

swooping through green valleys,
taking a detour to savour the joys,

soaked in torrential, evergreen memories,
of a younger man, with passion in his bone.

I am.

My wings unclipped, unshackled, free,

I am, and though I am unable to see,

I am.

At long last,

me.

The Sound of Distant Ankle Bells

Memories of those delicate tinkling bells,
casually fastened around calloused feet,

take hold of my waking moments,

and fling my thoughts back to a distant time,
where folk-songs were heartily sung,
joyful, yet hopelessly out of rhyme.

I barely saw her, a construction labourer perhaps,
hauling bricks, cement, anything, on a scorching Delhi day,
while in the semi-shade of a Gulmohar tree, her infant silently lay.

A cacophony of thoughts such as these swirl around,
yanking me away from the now, to my cow-dung littered childhood playground.

Now, a lifetime of displacement has hushed the jangling chorus of the past,
to a faint trickle of sounds, as distant as an ocean heard inside tiny sea-shells,

and,

I know, that the orchestral nostalgic crescendo, rises, dips, and swells,
as tantalisingly near, yet a world of time away, as were the tinkling of her ankle-bells.

She

She smiled, gently,
her warmth infusing me,
with a serene stillness of time.

She settled, slowly,
in my waking thoughts,
a soothing balm of simple joy.

She remains, scribbled,
on the walls of my fractured heart,
memories of happiness that once breathed…

…and is no more

|

|

The Petty Posh-Wahzee – Liberation & Ostentation

|

|

The Not-So Distant Past:

The fallen fighters for freedom, are unable to turn in their graves,
their battered, fragmented bones, mixed with a handful of torn rags,
are all that remain, a mute reminder of their selfless valiant sacrifice.

They endured brutal Apartheid harassment, detentions without trial,
torture in the cells, and mental anguish when loved ones disappeared,
they left their homeland, to continue the struggle against racial bigotry,
while countless others fought the scourge of white-minority rule at home.

Nelson Mandela and many, many others, spent their lives imprisoned,
on islands of stone, and on islands of the cruellest torture, yet they stood,
never bowing, never scraping, they stood, firm for ideals for which they were prepared to die,

and many, many comrades did die, at the hands of the callous oppressor,
and many, many comrades perished in distant lands, torn from their homes,
while the struggle continued, for decades, soaked in blood, in tears, in pain.

The Present:

19 years have passed, since freedom was secured at the highest of prices,
delivering unto us, this present, a gift of emancipation from servitude,

a freedom to walk this land, head held high, no longer second-class citizens,
in the land of our ancestors, whose voices we hear and need to heed today.

I do not care much for fashion, Lewis-Fit-On and Sleeves unSt.-Moron,
yet the ostentation that I witness baffles even my unsophisticated palate,

our ancestors’ plaintive whispers are being dismissed, left unheeded, as
we browse the aisles for more and more, always for more and yet more.

Asphyxiated by the excess of the Petty Posh-Wahzee, we find ourselves,
perched precariously on the edge, of a dissolution of all that is humane,

babies go hungry, wives are battered, our elders left in hospitals for hours,
I cringe as I scribble these words, perhaps too sanctimonious and preachy,

yet I know, deep in the marrow of my brittle bones, I know, I know, I know,
this tree of freedom planted by the nameless daughters and sons of Africa,

needs to be shielded, nurtured, protected from our very own baser impulses,
so that the precious tree of freedom, may bear the fruit that may feed us all,

for if not, then we are doomed, to tip over, and into the yawning abyss, we shall fall.

Tomorrow is Ours

Tomorrow is Ours.

Suffocating beneath the weight of historical fear,
asphyxiated by the legacy of traumatised yesteryear,

the festering wounds of enslavement still remain,
juggling euphemisms in a crisp sound-bitten refrain,

spewing out neo-liberal economic charades,
doling out charity in strips of plastic band-aids,

but,

tomorrow shall be ours,

casting away subservient mind-sets that shackle,
no longer the weakened prey of the insatiable jackal,

tomorrow shall be ours,

we shall reclaim our plundered mindspaces,
we shall shed our chains, leaving behind the traces,

of past injustice, of the hurt and pain of our ancestors’ sorrows,

we are here, now, alive with hope,

we shall rightfully claim our own tomorrows…

The Dilution of Memory

The Dilution of Memory…

Embers fade,
disappearing into the hushed night…

Petals wither,
falling on the soft grass…

Words pale,
obscured by the anguish within…

Faces blur,
dimmed by the galloping years…

Kisses lose,
the urgency of those bygone depths…

Feelings recede,
lying dormant in shielded vaults…

Love loses,
fatigued after numberless skirmishes…

Pain flees,
seeking new wounds to inflict…

Scars remain,
sentinels against,

the dilution of memory.

Aching to Ache

Clawing into myself,
digging, scraping, scratching a phantom itch.

Amputating feelings, thoughts, emotions,

love,

always excising love,

to feel some pain,
for once, to feel the ache, the heartbreak, the anger, the desolation, the loss, the pangs of remorse,

to feel anything at all,

not this numbness,
these tattered synapses, this innured state of anaesthetised unfeeling, the brittle thoughts that shatter, painless, when I stumble and crash, and fall.

I ache for the ache, pining to pine, hungering to hunger, bleeding fragments of myself, only to bleed, to feel,

alive,

again…

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.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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 amd 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 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.

To be Continued…

The Burning of Manuscripts

1.

The hubris of religious bigotry,

is chilling,

ancient manuscripts are torched,

and,
burnt to cinders.

 

2.

The searing furnace of fanaticism,
rages on and on,

while,
history itself vanishes,

amidst the smouldering embers.

 

3.

The arrogance of prejudice,

in all its countless incarnations,

runs amok,
ablaze with self-righteous conceit,

 

and the smoke billows,

smearing a greying sky,
with the ashes of history,

above a library in Timbuktu.

%d bloggers like this: