“A boy tries hard to be a man His mother takes him by the hand And he stops to think, and he starts to cry Oh, why?”
The lyrics to the U2 song “I Will Follow‘ from the album ‘Boy‘ reminds me of a long time ago when I was a little boy. We did not have many toys. I used to play with a little silver Jaguar and a Black Volkswagen Beetle. I also had a toy dog.
Thanks to the kindness of a Julie Rainsford who worked with my dad in a quantity surveying firm, we grew up with books, which fuelled our fantasies. Once passing the Enid Blyton phase, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Alfred Hitchcock’s adventures kicked in.
As I approached this birthday with double five digits on Friday, one’s sense of mortality became more prevalent, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, which left few unscathed. While I survived, my memory sometimes seems shady. Sometimes I want to ask, “I’m sorry, who are you?” But that joke isn’t funny anymore, buddy.
Birthday’s about reflecting. In an egotistical way, assuming one drops dead with many dear departed, I wonder who will spew forth good things about me while waiting in the heavenly departure lounge.
Indeed, a good few may vouch for me. But they would include both pastors, even though one loves Ronaldo and the other a football team that recently escaped three decades in the wilderness. Then there is my favourite Febz, Zingisa Mkhuma, the feisty editor of the Sunday Independent, with whom my journalism career formally began in 1990 on the Argus Cadet Course.
If there is anyone who has my back, it’s Zingi. My mentor, former news editor, and eternal friend Yogin Devan would also say something. He has always been my rock. On the Sunday Tribune, my fabulous photographer friend Morris Reddy sadly passed on far too young at 42. He was there in my naïve early days. I still miss him.
My remaining siblings Buddy (yep, they named him after the one that got away) and Cheryl, the blooming rose among us thorns, are like me with plenty of recent practice in funerals. I include brother from another mother Sershen Naidoo in this category. He will spill the beans, cry – and eat for comfort. At least thanks to his mom, we have the best chef in the family. His Dad Uncle Brian is the only undertaker I know with such a soothing smile.
There are others who may not want to be mentioned. Sadly, I won’t be able to hear you. So, thank you, for those voice notes on WhatsApp remain a treat to the heart.
Therefore, Bowie remains such a master lyricist.
“In the heat of the morning In the shadows, I'll clip your wings And I'll tell you I love you In the heat of the morning.”
As one matures, birthdays can be gloomy. But life is about living and loving. A journal article by Nature referencing Japan in 2019 found that many take their lives on their birthday. That is far too sad to contemplate. While few can deny that suicide is something that may have sometime passed through the realm of one’s mind, it is not an option. I want to go to Heaven when called. The choice is not mine. Invoking the lyrics of Good Charlotte, though there is a growing number above, ‘I Wanna Live‘.
Pre-birthday reflections naturally bring me to my late mom. I was asthmatic and thin once. For someone occasionally writing about cars, we didn’t have one. We moved in buses and uncles’ vehicles or walked. My mom would carry me on her back and walk about a kilometre to Dr Jithoo’s surgery in Reservoir Hills in the seventies when I got sick. She was a superwoman. I still feel for her mince breyani.
Growing up, my mom taught and eventually trusted me at 12 to take two buses alone to my uncle and aunt in Chatsworth, with whom I went to RK Khan Hospital. It was here that I got the Ventolin pump and had my first kiss. The girl’s name was Fiona. Or maybe it was Shahida in the basement at Aslam Heights. Blame the memory lapse on Covid-19. It was with Cookie at 10 in Clare Estate. It felt like kissing rubber. Hush! Don’t kiss and tell. “The right hand must not know what the left-hand does,” said my mom.
Growing up as one of six siblings, five, the eldest was stolen from the hospital in Marianhill after his birth on 23 February 1959. We nick-named him, Buddy. My parents loved music. We grew up in a house with a record player, posters, and magazines. My Dad loved Elvis Presley. He cried for months after the King died on 16 August 1977. My mom used to say, Johnny Mathis, best known for the hit ‘When a Child Is Born‘, wanted to marry her. Born in 1935, would you believe that Mathis is still alive?
My parents also loved Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash on 3 February 1959. We grew up believing that we have a big brother named Buddy out there somewhere. Even though I was the second-born and by default eldest, with three more brothers and a sister, there was always the stolen one. There is no other way to say it. I recall saying so at my mom’s funeral.
The story goes that my late granny visited my proud mom in the hospital and asked her to show the baby to a relative outside. She vanished with the child. By the time my mom was discharged, granny had amnesia, from which she never recovered. My mom was 19. She was too young to be a mother then. My dad was even younger. But what followed was a veil of secrecy and wild goose drives to find Buddy. Those who knew the secret slowly began to die without divulging the secret. There is one old soul left who knows the truth. But she feigns forgetfulness.
My birthdays, however, have been sad since my mom Ruby Neela Naidu went home in 2008. She was cremated on June 14 at Clare Estate Crematorium in Durban. It still feels like yesterday watching this tiny wonder woman peacefully asleep. She was 69. Dad died at 67 on January 14, 2010. I sometimes wonder if there is symbolism in my birth on 1467. God only knows!
Mothers and birthdays go hand in hand. I get that one must celebrate one’s born day. But approaching my birthday, I wondered if one can truly feel happy celebrating without the person who brought you into the world. Ironically, my late Dad Morgan was not there in 1967. Men were nowhere near the labour ward. But throughout life, my dad always wrote on the birthday cards in the most beautiful handwriting. He was a beacon of hope.
My Dad dropped out of Sastri College at standard six to work. He used to tell us that he always had his school blazer on because his only shirt was torn in the back. Dad used to file his payslips. He earned something like R250 a month in the early seventies. By the time he was retrenched, his final salary was the same as mine as a journalist in 1999. My mom, a housewife, wrote like a doctor, barely distinguishable. I got my handwriting from her.
Despite our means, we were never wanting. We had close relationships with family and friends. Growing up with Uncle Benny and Auntie Mullie, we had amazing adventures. Now that my dear Aunt Mullie passed on 28 December, I am trying to encourage daughter Vanessa to be as vous. Unlike brother Vernon, the ultimate Golf Playa, my adorable cousin struggles in this department. She may want to kill me for saying this but I really want to patent the Ricoffy dye trick she uses on her hair.
How can I forget Uncle Vicky, who gave us “German knocks” and used to boast of being the only brother with a flat stomach? Now, he is the only brother with a fat stomach. But we love him and Bernice, along with his younger brother Vis Naidu, nicknamed Whitey, because he was just so fair in complexion. Late Bobbyanna Mahavishnu Naidu and Krish were legends too. Some aunts and uncles may be angry I left them out. I can’t take you from Gugulethu to Greytown on this journey. I loved them all.
We spent three years at Aslam Heights, were we encountered wonderful neighbours, two Florence Nightingales in Auntie Jainub Haffajee and Thelma Dasarath, and amazing recently departed speech and drama teacher-turned actor Afzal and terrific sports administrator wife Summaya Khan.
Afzal taught us all we know about good music, to enjoy good food and laugh wholeheartedly.
My fabulous uncle Mike (his notes of encouragement to me before his death are treasured items) and family lived at Aslam Heights too. Once as a 12-year-old, I went to their flat to ask his wife (also late) Aunt Shirley (bless her soul) for something. “Where’s your mom?” I asked Cousin Theo. “She’s in the bathroom,” he said.
I assumed she was washing clothes and barged in. What a shock I got to be told: “Hey, You Stupid,” she shouted from the shower. Lesson learned: knock on the door.
I also have two amazing friends whose journey also has its roots in Aslam Heights. One is Kaveri Reddy, who lived in the same unit we lived in. The other is Riana Mooi, a former Mrs South Africa, and Mrs. Globe. Forgive the name-dropping. But she can teach a thing or two on risk.
Moving on from Aslam Height’s, my dad’s greatest joy was probably getting a council house in Phoenix, north of Durban. It was his own home. Phoenix changed our lives. We finally had roots and a bit more space in a three-bedroom semi-detached crowded house. We had wonderful neighbours, including Uncle Logan and Mamoo, both helped me drive when I got my first two cars at 18. That’s a story too. Ever the eternally optimistic, my dad saw rear-view mirrors on sale at Game. He purchased a set. “Get the mirrors; we’ll get the car,” he told me, almost as a joke.
Little did he realise how true these words would ring. Mom and Dad were at the office party in 1985, celebrating but grimly digesting the news that their eldest had failed matric. I was hopeless at maths but loved English and History. I struggled in Afrikaans too. My mom had faith that God would lead me on the right path. My Dad was less hopeful. However, my matric failure did not matter that week before Christmas. We used to enter loads of competitions.
My father locked the red phone in the lounge. He had trust issues. But that Friday, my late brother Aldrin opened the phone using a hairpin.
We listened to Radio Five, now 5FM, the David Blood Show. He played ten songs and asked listeners to identify them. I managed to get through and answered all correctly. Not alone, everyone chipped in. We called my folks at the party to share the good news.
Imagine their surprise a week later when we entered the same competition again – and won. We sold the orange VW for R2 500. The brown one helped me learn how to drive until it broke down and was abandoned somewhere near Kenville by a mechanic who lost his mojo as I lost interest in a vehicle that broke so many times. It was no Herbie. But it remains my fond Sun Bug. I once took a pretty girl named Shoba on a date in that car. I shook hands and wished her a happy new year. She liked the Pet Shop Boys. I was a bore. Never saw her again. Shame!
Fifty-five years, thee most exciting and challenging of times. The best of times. Momma knows best about my fascinating journey amid trials, ups, and falls, keeping the faith. She always said she would have died much earlier had it not been for Jesus. She had a by-pass in 1999 and survived for a decade. I am grateful to be alive. One day I will see my mom, dad, Aldrin, Morgan, and Mary, who passed a year ago, with many relatives and awesome friends.
But first, perhaps, I will complete the rest of the story in five years. I may savour a Milk Stout for dad. But for now, as my mom would say, loss it! Today is about celebrating with Brenda, Brenwin, Prashirwin, the rest of the gang, probably eating cousin Kuben’s Cornish curry, and listening to Bowie’s China Girl. My mom would have approved. It’s no April Fool’s Joke.
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