I said ‘Diwali” not “die vaalie”

In case you’re curious, when I mention that I am celebrating Diwali it is entirely unnecessary to:

  1. Ask “So you’re Hindu but you still believe in Jesus, right?”
  2. Look at me and say “Die vaalie? What’s die vaalie?” (okay, that one I can forgive because it’s funny)
  3. Try and help me out by saying “It’s like our Christmas.” Um, no, actually it isn’t (no wonder people are confused)
  4. Tell me that fireworks are bad

Now, please don’t think this post is slamming those who are making a concerted effort to make sure animals are protected or in fact protecting those who stupidly and erroneously use a beautiful part of Hindu culture to behave like idiots. Make no mistake, hurting animals will never have any place in the Hinduism nor will being inconsiderate to others. The arguments promoting the use (or more so the misuse) of fireworks confuse and embarrass me. It is not racist or culturally insensitive to ask you to be mindful of others, including animals, and I am not an Indian who has forgotten my culture by saying so. I am a person saying that my beliefs and practices should never infringe on, or cause harm to others. So please, get of your soapbox, no one is removing your religious freedom, the real and valid threat is to your freedom to behave like a fool.

Wait a second, the rest of you have not escaped either. Yes, I know how much you love your “fur babies” (the only thing odder than that phrase are the open mouth kisses with said babies) but please do not assume that because I am Indian and because I celebrate Diwali, that I am incapable of those higher order emotions. Please save your well-meaning comments for your kids (fur variety or not). You wish to paint me with that foul, outdated brush and I want to tell you that that shade of stereotype does not suit me. Celebrating Diwali or my proclamation thereof is not an indication that I need to be educated on animal rights. The fact is, I don’t expect you to understand my culture or religion, but I can promise you the view is much better once you stop looking down your nose at it. You have every right to be upset or angry at the misuse of fireworks, as do I, but your condescension makes me defensive. So while we’re so busying talking to each other we may actually miss the opportunity to communicate.

Perhaps there is a recipe for a solution though, and not necessarily the one you would find in a copy of Indian Delights. Perhaps it involves generous amounts of tolerance and respect, a dash of cultural sensitivity and a pinch of humour.  A word of caution when using “good intentions” and “well-meaning advice”, I would be careful to check their expiry dates, they have an unfortunate habit of turning into arrogance when you’re not watching. Maybe that’s one Diwali recipe we should pass down to the next generation?

PS. I wanted to title this post #fireworksmustfall but I’m not sure if that dissuades or promotes the use of them.

His name is Thomas

As I leave my air-conditioned office I wonder what a nightmare traffic will be on the way home. I need to get dog food and I must not forget to water the garden (if disobedient grass, suicidal plants and a growing collection of rocks could be called a garden). I wonder why I work so far away from home, I wonder if the grocery store will be annoying busy and if the fool driving behind me is a secret agent or a spy because he refuses to use his indicators (he can’t give away his next move of course). Life is tough.

He stands at the side of the road; I see him almost every day but today is different. Today he is no longer holding out his white plastic cup and approaching cars when they stop at the traffic light. Today he is close to the ground, knees bent, arms furiously working and he does not even notice the cars stopped beside him. I see him at a dip in the road, a dip that acts as a basin for the water escaping from the sprinklers nearby and his actions move me so unexpectedly and profoundly that for a moment I forget where I am. The young man, with his face painted white, is bent over the pool of water diligently scooping what he can with his plastic cup and emptying it into the shrub closest to him. The uneven writing on his cardboard sign tells me that he has no food and that he needs help and I drive to the grocery store unable to shake the image of him bent over that pool of water.

I feel that I need to reward him; I need to find a way to show him that his simple, selfless act meant something to me. I am distracted at the grocery store, I hastily buy him a pie, a Coke and a chocolate and I am nervous and eager to give him this bounty. He is both shy and grateful when my hooter gets his attention but he is not keen on making conversation. I drive away from him not sure what to feel. It is almost as though my thoughts have lost their smooth roundness and their rough edges were now snagging and catching, embedding themselves on to other thoughts, annoying splinters that needed to be picked at.  Why did his hunger not move me to action previously? I do not need your leftovers or spare change for my next meal, I have more than I need. Why is that not enough to move me to action? It bothered me that I had no idea whether he wanted that pie, or chocolate or Coke, I just assumed that he should be grateful for it. How dare I assume that he should be grateful for my guilt? How dare I use this one single act to make myself feel better, to make myself feel like I was doing something good? It was not enough, it is not enough. It is not enough to complain about our country, about poverty, crime, unemployment or inequality if the solutions we seek are as selfish and superior as that hand out. I am reminded of Peter Singer’s concept of utilitarianism and I wonder why I have not done more, why I have accepted this reality, why anyone in this country should ever know or live the humiliation of begging for their next meal. It is not enough, I have not done enough and knowing that is the first step to understanding that I have been part of the problem as well.

I’m not racist but…

Now I am far from perfect but there are few things that aggravate me more than:

  1. People who say “I’m not racist, but…” and then proceed to contradict themselves (these are perhaps also the same folks who like to tell you how they “have a Black /White /Indian /Coloured friend” or how much they like curry)
  2. Speaking in questions. “Like, OMG I was so embarrassed?” I want to blame it on the Kardashians who seem to make it popular to be dumb but I feel this problem lies far deeper (maybe all of life really is a question?)
  3. Saying “that’s so funny” instead of laughing (makes me want to pull my hair out just thinking about it)

Ok, I’m not saying that I am not annoyed about the deeper stuff (how our government fails us, the state of education, how to remove mildew from your shower) but these seem to be top of mind today. Recently I met someone who said to me “Wow, that’s funny. I didn’t know Indian people had a sense of humour”, okay I admit that if there was a hint of sarcasm in his voice I would have probably just laughed but this poor guy was unfortunately serious! I want to describe him as he stood there looking at me, slowing blinking, as a moron but here is the sad reality; it is likely that his limited interracial interaction had fashioned a stereotype the South African Indian and his perception of me clearly ran counter to this generalisation. It was also clear that he thought himself as a bit of a daredevil to approach the strange contradiction and to confront it head on.

Of course I was annoyed, angry even (can you imagine what a blood bath there would have been had he spoke in questions and said “that’s so funny” in a deadpan voice?). I wanted to slap some sense into him and ask him whether he had been living under a rock but then I realised that he probably had been. He probably grew up in a “White area”, he probably went to a “White school” where all his friends where White. I suspect that his family had a Black domestic worker but that being a bit older me; he never really had much interaction with other races at school. All of a sudden I felt like an elusive animal in the zoo, the slinky leopard that is so rarely seen that when you do spot it you are mesmerised and intrigued. Well, of course you don’t go telling a leopard that you’re surprised that it is a cat but we’ll ignore that for now.

It surprised me how easily my anger transformed into pity. I pitied this man whose sad life meant that he saw someone as boring as I am, as “exotic”, whose sad life meant that he did not know or appreciate the diversity of our beautiful country. Sure I was raised in an Indian area, I went to an Indian school, I mainly had Indian friends growing up but that did not stop me from realising that the world is much bigger than my backyard. Clearly this poor guy did not see that and from the moment I pitied him something else happened, I also knew instantaneously that I was better than him. I was not better based on my race or gender or by virtue of any characteristic I had entered the world with; I was better because I did not have his blindness. I don’t want to say anything as cliche as “I don’t see colour”, we all do. I see the blondness in your hair, the colour of your eyes. I envy the curve of your hip, the colour of your skin. The point is not that we should be colour blind but that we should embrace our differences instead of using them as a way to divide us.

Perhaps, in a way, his interaction with me helped to improve his sight, perhaps it cracked the mould he had created and provided opportunity for new thoughts and ideas. Or perhaps, he was just the kind of guy who couldn’t see the cat in the leopard.

The more I learn the less I know: A visit to Soweto

To think that in my 31 odd years of being South African and living in this beautiful country I have learnt so little about our complex history is not only upsetting but deeply embarrassing. Sure I could blame it on the school system; unfortunately myself and most of my peers were not taught “black history” so to speak in schools, our view of South African history was heavily biased and not at all a true reflection of the struggles that existed and those who lived and died fighting them. But it seems like a feeble excuse that crumbles the moment I try to take hold of it. The truth is that I have not made a big enough effort to know, to really understand our history and visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum a few days ago was a reminder of how little I knew.

After close to six years in Johannesburg, I took my first trip to Soweto and I was pleasantly surprised of how at home I felt. Visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum was emotionally difficult; to read the accounts of students and parents reliving the horror of the day and the days that followed and then to see the names of slain children inscribed on the bricks that lay on the ground outside moved me in a way defies description. I look at the group I arrived with, diverse and beautiful and I wonder how the ugliness I see in this museum me was ever part of the country that I love, the country that is my home. I do not know much, but I know that even though years have passed and times have changed, many of us still harbor hate in our hearts and it is a hate that comes to life in our actions and words. Standing in the museum that day it made sense to me that if I was ever to know my country I should first seek to understand it’s history.

I must also admit that I needed the change in mood that a visit to the Orlando Towers brought! From the deep sense of oppression and the emotions that the Hector Pieterson Museum brought, I was glad for the light, carefree vibe at Chaf Pozi at the Towers. My change in mood also a stark reminder to the contradictions that are part of South Africa but more so a reminder that South African’s, despite everything, still know how to have a good time! A few Zamalek’s later, with generous, delicious food in front of me and a view of the colourful towers, I wondered how it had taken me so long to get here.

I love my city!

“I had a great weekend!” I proclaimed rather exuberantly to anyone that offered up the perfunctory “How was your weekend?” Monday coffee time banalities. Well, to be honest, the lady washing up the tea cups in the communal kitchen didn’t ask, but I thought she should know in any case. So, where to start? Perhaps at the beginning, but who likes convention, perhaps not even convention itself (I imagine it sitting in a dark corner listening to REM, filled with self-loathing), but I digress. Yes, back to my wonderful weekend. Perhaps I was still high on the vibe from the Rise and Shine festival held at Sandton Central Park this past Saturday; local music showcasing phenomenal talent, beautiful weather and friendly hippies strolling around barefoot, yeah, that was a great afternoon. Unfortunately, I only caught the last few hours of the festival, getting there just in time to catch Tailor and her amazing set (not hard to see what that SAMA nomination was all about!). I did have to walk passed a few slumbering festival goers, although the barrage of bright yellow plastic Obikwa bottles seemed to form a protective shield against stray feet and unwanted toes, so they nestled peacefully until Desmond and the Tutu’s came on stage. Before I get to “Desmond and the mother flippin Tutu’s” I have to give Naming James an honourable mention, although they deserve so much more! Talk about stage presence, these guys absolutely killed it at the festival and I for one, cannot wait to catch them in action again.  Naming James totally set the scene for the last act of the day, ending their set by sharing the stage and a massive crowd sing along (laa laa laa, la, la, la or some version of that…). The Desmond and the Tutus set revealed my innermost groupie self and I crazily ran backstage to meet the band of boys who have better hair than I do. Perhaps what was even better than the set they played was how humble and down to earth they were, posing for pictures and chatting to the somewhat inebriated hippies. I felt a sense of accomplishment leaving the festival with both my shoes on (a few hapless souls stumbled out unshod) and as I clutched my new Desmond and the Tutus T-shirt and my blindingly yellow Obiwa squeezy bottle, I turned to catch the most beautiful Sandton sunset. The philosophical me would have stopped to say that the colours were painted in the sky to remind us of the beauty in diversity, a true representation of the festival goers but luckily the buzzing of a WhatsApp message stopped my musings short and I took a picture of the prettiness instead…

I must admit that I did feel lucky to have caught not only a beautiful sunset but also to have seen the sun stretch it’s arms out wide, yawn and then bit by bit show itself to the world that very same morning, but more on that in another post. For now I want to talk about the Sheds@Fox, if you’re reading this and have never heard of it, or have heard of it but never been(tsk tsk), then do yourself a favour, GO! Now, this is inner city Joburg and if you think that’s brave for a Durban born girl like me, you’d probably be right and wrong. Okay, I did discretely tuck my phone under my leg when we stopped at the street lights on route and I did wonder if I had made the right decision to spend a Friday night driving around the city but when our final destination was in sight, I knew that I would love it. Perhaps what I love the most about the Sheds, apart from the food (it’s “Oh my goodness” delicious) or the chilled vibe, is the fact that a place like the Sheds reminds us of how much our city has to offer. In any case, the Sheds have a much better description of their offerings than I do (http://www.1fox.co.za), so go check it out, you won’t be disappointed.