Upon my arrival in Durban, I am met at the airport by Christopher Backerberg of Republican Press.  We have a drink together in the hotel bar and then I have a free evening. I have checked into Maharani Hotel, situated on Snell Parade right on the Indian Ocean. As the name suggests, it’s ornate with lot of gold and glitter. The lobby floors are all shiny marbles and tightly upholstered burgundy red leather couches in the lobby remind me of an English library.  The reception area is dark paneled wood and behind the counter are three or four young and pretty girls of Indian origin, with sparkling smiles on their faces. And I am quite pleased with my large room with a large bed, overlooking the beach and the ocean. I get goose bumps thinking that if I were to jump into the ocean and swim into the diagonally opposite direction, I could wash up on Chowpati Beach in Bombay and walk home to Mama Shah for dinner.

I have arrived in Durban on November 12, 1991. I meet with the executives of Republican Press on the 13th and the 14th and have a meeting planned with Anant Singh for the afternoon of the 15th. But Anant has arranged for me a city tour in the morning. I have been up and about for quite some time and have walked around the beach before it got to be hot and humid. The beach is practically deserted and its peaceful listening to the ocean waves. The driver, a  young man of Indian origin pulls up in a Mercedes Sports 450 SLC and gives me a comprehensive tour of Durban. Along the way, he asks me whether I’ve already had my breakfast, and I tell him that I have been up for a while, and yes, I did already have a breakfast and that I even had time enough to take a walk on the beach.

‘How long did you walk?’ He asks. A strange question, I think.

‘Oh, I don’t know. Half an hour, three-quarters of an hour maybe.’ I answer. He doesn’t say anything for a while and keeps driving, but his silence is unnerving.

‘Why?’ I ask.

‘You know, you couldn’t have been able to do that a month ago.’ He blurts out. I don’t show it, but I couldn’t help but cringe inside.

It suddenly strikes me that almost a hundred years ago to the date, in 1893 to be exact, not only was Gandhi pushed out of his first class compartment at Maritzburg, but also while traveling by a stagecoach between Charlestown and Johannesburg, subjected to sit outside next to the driver and then when the leader of the coach wanted to smoke, he ordered him to sit at his feet, which Gandhi wouldn’t do. He was denied rooms in hotels, and even the ones who took him in would not allow him to eat in the dining room along with rest of the guests. And here I am, his child two generations removed and flying first class and staying in five stars hotels and no one has stopped me or even given a feeling somehow I didn’t belong. Even then I couldn’t just slough off what the driver has just said. But ever optimistic that I am, I also feel that F.W. de Klerk having signed the end of apartheid’s got to be the first step towards the eventual colorless co-existence.

Unbeknown to me, the sea change is taking place across the ocean in India during the five days that I am in South Africa.  Banned from International Cricket by the world twenty one years earlier, the South African cricket team is playing a series of one day international (ODI) games across India. The first country to take them back into the international fold and have been the most gracious hosts. It makes me proud to be born in India and I wish Gandhi were there to witness his  children following in the path of forgive and forget – something he firmly believed in along with Ahimsa and Satyagraha.

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