April 2012


The previous two posts of this blog are dealing with my train journey to Cape Town in 1990.  I had not met the devotees yet (that was only in 1997), but the fact that Nelson Mandela was released from Pollsmoor prison and I was taking up residence in Cape Town were pivotal events in my life.  These articles are autobiographical.  I have withdrawn some of the extracts because the content may not be suitable for a blog of this nature.  They will probably be fictionalized in a book I am planning to publish in 2014.  Thank you.  I apologize if there has been any confusion. 

Mukunda Charan Das

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The morning sun woke us up.

Fast-moving shadows refracted across the cabin, bending with the motion of the train.  Golden sun and shadows.  Golden sun and shadows.

I moved gingerly from the passage to the shower.  Terrence was already up.  He lay on his bunk, staring at the dull beige roof of the compartment.  Jean brushed past me with his shower-kit as I made my way back to my seat.  The train was drawing closer to Cape Town.  The Cape Town you see in magazines.  Table Mountain and dark blue seas.  Approaching the city renewed the atmosphere of expectation in our compartment.  Of our own little world.

‘I don’t know if I should really be studying law’, I said.  Jean asked, ‘Why?’  ‘Well’, I responded, ‘I am only doing it because I don’t know what else to do.  I am good at languages and History’.  ‘I’m studying Acc Sci to make money’, said Jean.  We both laughed.  ‘What is Acc Sci?’, I asked.  ‘Actuary Science’, said Jean.  ‘Actually, I got an A for maths in matric.  I am going to study business science, with a major in stats’.  ‘What would you like to do?’, asked Jean.  ‘I’d like to be a writer’.

Terrence broke his silence,  ‘The train is getting close.  I wonder if they’re going to block off the station’.  ‘I never thought about that’, said Mike.  ‘They are freeing Mandela today’.  I had heard something about Mandela’s release – but nothing specific.  I acted as though I knew.  ‘It’s going to be packed out’, said Mike.  The magnitude of the day’s events lent a special, dreamlike quality to our arrival.

Jean and Mike started to pack their loose things into their togbags.  Terrence’s bags lay packed under the seat and I’d throw my things into my handluggage when we got in.

10 February 1990

My parents sent me to Cape Town on a South African Railways train with a big, blue trunk.  My name was stencilled on the trunk in white spraypaint.  Military-style.  I made my way cautiously down the passage, looking for my compartment.  I had a feeling the train would be dirty because it was so much in public use.  It was a little.

My heart felt empty as I reached the compartment.  Three staring faces looked at me as though I were intruding on a conversation.  I introduced myself to the boys sitting there, and stowed my hand-luggage away.  The tension eased a little.  Terrence, of mixed race, was silent and shy; Jean and Mike were extroverted.  It was Jean’s birthday and he was in high spirits.  The golden promise of summer added to our sense of exhiliration.  Jean’s brown hair was more fringe than anything else.  He wore a white t-shirt and beach-pants and had a gold chain around his neck.  He looked a bit like a tennis player.  Mike, on the other hand, was fair-haired.  Jean was clownlike; Mike, serious.  Terrence was a bit of a mystery, because he hardly spoke.

Terrence seemed a little worn out.  His head sank down, like Rodin’s thinker.  He leaned slightly to the right, against the metal window-frame of the train.  He appeared to be carrying the world on his shoulders.  Jean and Mike chatted away, drawing me bit-by-bit into their conversation.  We talked as 18 year olds do, full of bravado and optimism.  The train jolted sluggishly forward.  Jolted again.  JUGG!!  Built up a rhythm, and chugged out of the station.

The train journey consisted of intervals of chatter, dozing, eating and stretching our legs.  Sometimes I’d take a walk down the passageway of the train, lean over the rail and stare at the rapidly passing countryside.  The camaraderie in the compartment eased the monotony of the journey.  I had made three new friends.