Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Out of Africa


“A part of India’s soul resides in South Africa as a revered part of our national life” – Nelson Mandela

Cape of Good Hope -  an idyllic moment
“South Africa is not like Africa”, said a fellow traveler from Eastern Europe. “It is far too westernized with its infrastructure, standards of living, and development.”  A fortnight later, I left the country convinced that South Africa may not resemble the rest of Africa, but it is not the west either.  It is South Africa and that is its identity.  Barely two decades out of their era of apartheid, the country now has far more intermingling between the Caucasians, the blacks, the Indians, and the colored.  But, they are all South African – a living testimony to the visionary Nelson Mandela whose benevolent hand continues to bless the country.   It was a matter of huge privilege that the day of my Durban performance was also the day of his first death anniversary, a validation to Mandela’s beliefs of equality of all and a triumph of the human spirit over petty man-made barriers.

At the workshop in Durban
The community that I interacted most with was the South African Indian community.  And when I say ‘Indian’ I do not mean it in the sense as used in the United States.  These children and students are possibly fourth or fifth generation South Africans.  Many have never traveled to India.  But in their culture, almost like a fossil we catch traces of Indian culture as exported in the 19th century; pure, sometimes a little quaint, and altogether refreshing.  When I say Indian culture, I do not mean getting our children to dabble with art forms like Bharathanatyam so as to preserve their Indianness.  In these South African children and their parents that culture is their way of life and their identity.  Here students do not learn Bharathanatyam to enhance their portfolio or establish a tenuous connection to their roots.  They learn it because it has never ceased to be a part of their culture.  This is what they do – live as South African Indians. 

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
Their respect and love for me is something I will never forget.  It almost made me wonder if any guru is worthy of such adoration.  And the beauty is, it is given freely with no expectations in return. 

Artists frequently speak of perpetuating culture through their art.  I am proud that the South African Indians have perpetuated art through their culture.