Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Through the Streets of the Indian Quarter

One of my proof-readers who critiqued The Goat Herder was fascinated by the fact that there was such a large Indian population in South Africa; a wonderful cue for me to write this post about an amazing piece of what started off as a mainly Gujarati Indian community right in the middle of Durban, now the largest Indian community outside India.

The golden domed minarets of the Juma Masjid Mosque reflect the sun’s rays and tower above the bustling commercial and business centre around Grey Street. The muezzin’s quavering call to prayer filters through the covered arcade and joins the aromas of smouldering tandoori ovens and chicken tikka marsalas. No, you’re not in the Paharganj Market in New Dehli. This is Durban, South Africa.

When Nathi leaves his umuzi, his homestead on the slopes of the Nkandla Forest, and arrives in Durban, he meets Jacob who takes him on a walking tour of the district. They weave through the throngs in the Madressa Arcade off Grey Street. In an eatery where a friend of Jacob’s works, Nathi samples 'bunnychow' for the first time. An idea born of the city’s racist regulations when blacks were not allowed to be served in Indian restaurants, this half a loaf of hollowed-out bread filled with delicious curried mince was the perfect take-away. Then they follow the pungent incense and exotic spice fragrances to colourful Victoria Market, also home to Zulu herbalists and muti traders.

Before catching a taxi to the northern suburbs, Jacob has one last place to show his new friend. Nathi runs after him as he clambers up the winding stairs to the roof of the mosque. A bridge extends from the neighbouring girls' school between the two buildings. The flat roof, which is used for prayer during festivals is used as a playground during school days as the school is not equipped with one. The view over the city, the smells rising from the streets below and the sun setting behind a ribbon of smog stays with Nathi forever.

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