Where Indian flavours, Nature, hope and history blend easily
Mahatma Gandhi's expulsion from a train at Pietermaritzburg in 1893 and the Indian Premier League in 2009 are two ends of a spectrum, but South Africa is much more than these, and far above its grim statistics of AIDS and crime.
The Rainbow Nation is a product of complex history and natural charms with the halo of Nelson Mandela permeating its every nook and corner.
Sands of time
The sands of time have firmly etched the Indian imprint across South Africa. The first batch of Indians arrived here as indentured labourers. Surnames such as the Naidoos, Naickers and Govenders are pointers to a melting-pot past, though for the third and fourth-generation Indians, supporting South Africa in sport is a natural progression.
Hashim Amla, who traces his ancestry to Gujarat, has excelled for the South African cricket team, and Ali Bacher, the former managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, has placed on record his gratitude to the late Krish Mackerdhuj, a key figure in the emergence of a new cricket board after Apartheid.
And, the Indian touch often pops up when you least expect it. A drive down Cape Town's business district reveals a signboard ‘Masala Dosa — aromatic cuisine'.
On Cape Town's water-front, The Jewel of India restaurant draws in a regular clientele. Satish, a steward, brightens up on seeing Indian tourists. Pleasantries are exchanged and he speaks about his home-town Mangalore. “Been here for the last eight years,” he says.
The cuisine is authentic Indian, and the spice-quotient has not been watered down for the overseas palate.
In fact, the ‘Madras Prawns' and ‘Chicken Vindaloo' can scald Indian tongues otherwise immune to the gravies dished out in Andhra restaurants.
“Oh, I can cook butter chicken,” says Abby Swartz, an executive with South African tourism. Well, Indian curry is here to stay!
Cape Town with its imposing backdrop of Table Mountain and fringed by beaches such as the Clifton and the turquoise-blue Atlantic Ocean, is a sight for sore eyes.
The city reflects a community that has coped well with the racial-split of the past, and is now busy building bridges of trust.
As mist descends on Table Mountain late in the evening, Ali Bacher's wife Ruth exclaims: “Look at the table cloth on Table Mountain!”
The drive past Chapman's Peak is breathtaking, and at Boulders Beach, watching the endangered African penguin is a delight.
Later as the tour winds to a close with a sojourn to the vineyards, it is also time to check the Cape of Good Hope.
The south-western tip of the African continent had offered rest to Vasco da Gama in the 15th Century prior to his sea-bound trip to Kozhikode on the Kerala coast in search of ‘black gold' — pepper.
(The writer was recently in South Africa at the invitation of the South African Tourism department)