Landed in Joburg after having lived six years in non -Anglophone countries. Initially was a wee bit disappointed that I wasn’t being tested either on my knowledge of Shahrukh Khan filmography or on my desperately acquired mime skills as I had been upon my previous landings in foreign lands. Then I felt my heart race in excitement with the coherent answers I was formulating, in a familiar tongue, to the routine queries of the immigration officer at O R Tambo International airport. He then proceeded to welcome me to South Africa, in English !
I had alway been eternally grateful to the Brits and my family, who had made sure I was well versed in the language of the elite , English or Angrezi. To my utter chagrin despite being equipped with language of the Babus (Indian govt servants) , here I was, thrust into non -Commonwealth countries where apparently sun had always set and English was hardly understood, Morocco and China. I felt bad but more so for the people of these nations. These people had no one but themselves to own up for any problems afflicting them in twenty-first century instead of resting the blame at the doorstep of British and their inglorious rule.
So when I stepped into the sunny Joburg milieu and realised that Queen had left but her language still thrived, my heart did a little dance. No not on a Beatles song but on the then current flavour , Latino singer’s Waka Waka.
I never knew the windfall that awaited long after the tutu clad Ms Shakira had left the Rainbow nation and its vuvuzela filled soccer stadium . Out of the multi colors that stood out , few were my own shade. The wily and clever shades that we Indians are, we still believe that although the sun may have set on the erstwhile British Empire it needn’t set on the Indian subcontinent.
In this southern hemisphere deep in downtown Joburg and also in far-flung suburbs there is an entire diaspora of Desis thriving and expanding the * ‘apna desh’. Selling *Dosas to *Chaat to the ubiquitous *Chooran to digest it all and the unmentionable pirated bollywood movies to add to the fun. Somehow the street in this area too seem to echo the chaos and hustle bustle of India not to mention the street fashion back home. Here is where I forgot the alien belly wiggle Waka Waka and enjoyed the familiar belly delights to a *Balle Balle ! All the while I got to speak and hear my mother tongue Hindi and my husband Malayalam in the streets of Joburg.
Far from the privileged secure estate I reside in , these so-called Indian areas are designated as not so safe areas of Joburg. Yet I venture out there as I am filled with a false sense of bravado, which can only come when one is amongst their own.
- Desi – Hindi word to describe Indian Subcontinent diaspora or a cultural attribute.
- Apna Desh – Our Country
- Dosa – Rice pancakes , South Indian breakfast
- Chaat – Spicy Street food capable of giving indescribable joy n hotness 😉
- Chooran – digestive pills having their origin in ancient Indian medicines
- Balle Balle – a phrase used in Punjabi songs to express joy.