In Durban, which pulsates with feisty energy
The street market looks soupy with the fluid movement of people walking all around. A Zulu woman wearing a modest head dress rearranges her ware of colourful beaded bangles and earrings.
An ivory-skinned young boy with a cowboy hat strums his guitar in a stall selling an interesting array of rather unidentifiable music instruments. An Indian woman, her sari tucked Goan style, haggles with a tourist holding a T-shirt that reads ‘I heart South Africa’. It is as if this street in Durban is a microcosm of what South Africa is — the Rainbow Nation, united in the colour of the skin.
Just like home
Durban, the oceanfront city, pulsates with an almost feisty energy. Surrounded by colourful mosques and temples, and inhaling the humid air, you can almost be tricked into thinking you are walking in an Indian city, given the number of Indians around. But a quick look from a tall, mahogany Afrikaner heading your way immediately sets your location right.
Located in the heart of the city is the City Hall, which has a local history museum inside. It has a photography section sketching the brief history of Durban. A young M.K. Gandhi looks back at me from the front of the City Hall. A smiling woman in a modest bathing suit is being declared the first Miss South Africa. An enthusiastic audience cheers the first test match for the South African cricket team at the Kingsmead Stadium — bits and pieces in photos that form a picture of what life must have been like a few decades ago in Durban.
If you want to escape the city, the gorgeous Indian Ocean invites you in all directions with its wide, open waves. This golden mile is speckled with holidayers of all kinds, and you can spot brightly coloured umbrellas, bikini-clad women, surfers… the works.
The medicine man
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice an old Zulu man with an impressive headdress dipping a bottle into the waters. He is a sangoma, a medicine man, who uses the curative property of the sea water in his medicines. As you step near the waters that crinkle the golden sand and feel the waves slap your feet with surprising warmth, you feel like you have been given a pampering, healing foot massage.
The nightlife in Durban is colourful, with hotels and clubs luring you with their dancing lights. The food, with a predominant Asian influence, is quite spicy and flavoursome. The Durban specialty is bunny chow, a loaf of bread that is burrowed out and filled with delicious curry. Best eaten with hand, and brought from a roadside shop, this is as close to the heart of a Durbanite as the vada pav is to the Mumbaiker.
As part of my Durban experience, my friend takes me to a musty curio shop that piques my curiosity. As I look at carved splendours in ivory, tiger claws encased in pendants and the horns of a wide variety of animals, I contemplate the moral question of animal cruelty while the shopkeeper grins knowingly from behind the counter as if he knows exactly what I am thinking.
It is precisely these incidents that make visiting Durban interesting in a way only South Africa can be.HEMAMALINI SUKUMAR