As we try to emerge from the ghettos of the forgotten past, I recently took a nostalgic trip in the Warwick Avenue area ( I believe it should be renamed “The Casbah Avenue” for that was where the original Casbah subsisted. I am a child of the Casbah and I am proud of this. I went to Hindu Tamil School in Cross/Carlisle Street and I graduated with a matric certificate from Sastri College before my luck ran out and I was forced to work for a few years before studying towards a law degree. Education was taken seriously. If any one was caught playing hooky, he was beat up with a leather belt by elders before being frogmarched to school and , yes, caning and detention. Talking about schools, there was the ‘penny-Hay-penny’ school opposite the fire station, ML Sultan, St Anthonys, Girls High,Dartnel Crescent, Orient and Gandhi Desai. And yes, my alma mata, Hindu Tamil School. The area was so rich in diversity for therein resided the worker classes, cheek by jowl, whilst the lahnie/merchant classes lived in buildings atop their shops in Grey Street. The glue that held the area was faith, not a single faith but an amalgam for I was in that amalgam alongside Christians, Hindus,Tamils, Gujeratis, Muslims,Sikhs…… As a Muslim by faith, I was fortunate,during my formative years to have had a fairly varied cultural and religious experience.
I was born and bred in that Warwick Avenue area in Durban, a multicultural diverse universe and for quite a while until the Group Areas Act dispossessed us, a multi-racial location and, yes I was brought up and spent the best years of my growing up in the home of a Tamil. I fire-walked, ate sour porridge, herbs , fasted when it became necessary in the Tamil culture. Vadehss, goolgoolas, samoosas, poli, apos ( which Nanda Soobben served me when we met a few weeks ago) beans bunnies , curry and rice n banana leaves…… Memories that I carry with me and which, before I leave this mortal coil, I wish to record for posterity. How many of you remember some of the colourful characters which graced the Cashbah. I referring to people like Martin, Twah, Goofy who was the door man at the Scala Cinema. And then there was “Killroy”, that rambunctious slightly tilted individual who,rumours had it was an extremely educated and intellectual individual who ‘lost’ it. I know, for at times he would burst, in when we used to study at the Gandhi Library in Dennis (Queen) Hurley Street and hold impromptu maths and English lessons, for those of us writing the then junior certificate (JC). What a diverse multicultural society we lived in. I willingly participated in that multicultural mix despite the taboos and condemnations that I brushed away at the time. I lit many a lamp, had the sacred ash pasted on my forehead and I stood in prayer religiously. I participated in their functions. I remained a Muslim enriched by all this. My Hindu,Tamil and Christian brethren reading this, will easily identify with this. During Easter and Christmas, I spent time with Christians. During the religious month Muharram, in the Islamic calendar, my Tamil and Hindi friends joined in the religious festivities. All this made me strong and wise. Do any of your readers remember the Kajee Musa Building, where the month of Muharram brought the place alive and yes, the Shrine of Hazrat Badsha Peer, just across the railway tracks, where qawalis were held and people many faiths flocked and they still do? And yes, the iconic Himalaya House were many a struggle stalwart like Saths Cooper and Billy Nair held court. Someone should declare these buildings national monuments before they crumble to ash by progress and development. So here we are today divided and subtracted. What went wrong? Where did we go wrong? Its very easily blame apartheid and the Group Areas Act that uprooted communities, for verily we became scatterlings and prey to its prophets. But the answer did not lie there. That is not the reason. As apartheid began to crumble in bits and pieces and we moved towards freedom and democracy, internal forces kept our insularism intact. We succumbed to fear and prejudice that religious leaders force fed us with how their particular brand of faith was superior to the other and we began to build walls around the ghettoes of our minds. We forgot who we were, and conditioned by history to think and act in compartments, we continued and still continue to look at our neighbour as ‘the other’ if he was not in our compartment. We chose to educate ourselves to evolve, but to remain in those compartments, occasionally breaching them for cosmetic purposes. When apartheid uprooted us, we also got uprooted from ourselves. We became sophisticated in ‘ghettoisation’ thinking. We still are but slowly, inexorably returning to our ghettos. Just think about the low key Hindu-Muslim divide, the refusal or reluctantance of people of one religion to attend and participate in the religious functions of the other. So as Umaruddeen Don Matera wrote “memory is the weapon” and I welcome this invitation to be part of a narrative for posterity. Saber Ahmed Jazbhay (Casbah) 28.3.2015