The tale of brave Alvarez
Young man, what’s your age? Twenty-two? When you were just a toddler, back in 1889, that’s when my story begins. I was prospecting for gold beyond the forest and the ranges to the north of the Cape Colony. I was young then, and cared for no danger.
I started from Bulawayo, alone, with two donkeys carrying my luggage. I crossed the Zambezi, beyond which the maps were marked with the words ‘unknown region’. I’d cross rolling hills, tall grasses, small Bantu villages. Then eventually Bantu villages became less frequent. I had reached a place that was never before visited by a white man.
Wherever I saw a river or creek, or a hill, I looked for gold. How many had become rich in the southern part of Africa with gold or diamond? I had heard those tales since when I was a little boy. That’s what I came to Africa for. But I found nothing in two years of roaming around. Two years of hardship, and nothing to show for it. Actually, once I came very close.
Shankar was safe from snakes after that. But he faced another, more mundane, trouble. There wasn’t enough water. What he got from the train was barely enough for drinking, not for a bath. And with the summer heat, the well dried up. Then he was told that about three miles to the east there was a small lake, where the water was drinkable, and the lake even contained fish.
Fishing and a proper bath were incentives enough for Shankar to venture eastwards. He got fishing rods delivered from Mombassa, and a Somali coolie showed him the way. The lake was actually not that small, with tall grasses around it, and a hillock a few yards away. There was a lone baobab tree on the hillock. He enjoyed a long bath and swim — first time in Africa — before fishing for a couple of hours. He caught a lot of small fish. He was looking forward to frying them back at the station. He wanted to stay a lot longer, but duty called.
No, not politics. I am sure you can get enough of that elsewhere. This post is about Raajneeti, a big budget Bollywood film. Check out the trailer.
I have very fond memories of reading the Misir Ali novel Devi as a junior high student in the late 1980s. Well, I should say I had. I remember being, let’s say unsettled, reading it then. I re-read it recently, and found it to be totally dull.
Now, it’s completely unfathomable to me why some things — Sheikh Mujib’s role in history, or Argentina vs Brazil in football – generate such strong reactions among Bangladeshis. Humayun Ahmed falls in that category. And I have no opinion on him. But I was disappointed by Devi recently, which on re-reading turns out be rather boring, with Misir Ali not being a particularly memorable character.
The black mamba station
It was about 3pm when an excited Shankar arrived at the station. The station ‘office’ was little bigger than a wardrobe. The ‘platform’ was just a barb wired area. Behind the office room was his ‘quarter’, a little bit bigger. After dropping him off, the train left for Kisumu.
There was a train in the morning from Kisumu, and one in the afternoon towards it. There are only two trains a day. It wasn’t much work, he would have a lot of time in his hand. And it didn’t take him long to take charge from his predecessor. The previous stationmaster was a Gujerati man, he spoke English pretty well. He made Shankar tea. There wasn’t much to explain to Shankar. But it appeared that the poor chap didn’t have anyone to talk to for a long while. He was very happy to see Shankar. After a cup of tea, the two walked around the station.