Believe me when I say this - I missed this space more than any other!! And I tried every trick in the book to schnuck away and post a blog. But my minders would have none of it! Given my frenetic schedule and the slower than slow internet speed in South Africa, it was a seriously frustrating experience. Though, I have to say, our very charming diplomat , India's Consul General , Harsh Shringla, in Durban, did invite me to use the internet facilities in his sprawling, colonial mansion ( all stained glass and polished teak ), but given that the dinner was being hosted for us, it would have appeared mighty rude to sneak off and blog! His 'Exalted Highness' ( as someone referred to him !), was at his urbane best at the Q & A sessions , post- our readings at the DTU, where Ilaben Gandhi ( yup. same family) presides in all her khadi saree glory. Considering I was sharing the platform with two outstanding scholars from India - Ramchandra Guha ( rated as one of the most influential intellectuals of our time by the mighty 'Economist' no less),, and my old friend Arshia Sattar ( who has a doctorate in sanskrit from the university of Chicago - earned so as to enable her to translate Valmiki's Ramayana), it was an exhilerating experience to be steeped in the rarefied world of academia for 8 days.
Since this was my second trip to the Dark Continent, I was somewhat prepared... but not entirely, as it turned out. When I asked why shops shut by 4 .30pm and remain closed over weekends ( more or less), locals explained it had to do with safety in a terrifyingly violent society, which sees armed robberies on a daily basis. The streets are empty after dark, and visitors are advised never to flash their cell phones or any cash. Public transport barely exists and cabs are unsafe. Night life comes to a standstill by 10pm ( that's when Mumbai gets into first gear!). Despite that, there are some fabulous restaurants like Harvey's, and once the South African Sauvignon Blanc starts to flow, nothing matters, not even the possibility of getting mugged en route to the waiting car!
The whales in Capetown greeted me by name, and the penguins rushed to shake my hand. It was only the baboons who refused to make eye contact, but I wasn't interested in flirting with them either. After eating kudu samosas at Moyo's, and ostrich fillets at a superlative restaurant in the Tokwara vineyard, my palate had broken free and was feeling adventurous enough to sample anything - from wilde beast steaks to zebra medallions. It is easy to be seduced by Capetown's many splendours. But I left my heart in the prestigious Stellenbosch university campus. To call it 'pretty' is to undermine its spectacular beauty, spread over acres of flowering trees and lushly landscaped gardens. I was bewitched. So, when the erudite Rector of the University asked whether I'd like to come back and take a few creative writing classes there, I jumped at the chance and said 'yes, yes, yes' instantly.
The skies over Capetown are like no other in the world ( Paris comes in at second spot). Driving to the Southern tip, better known as the Cape of Good Hope ( or, the Cape of Storms), I couldn't get over their vastness, as the two oceans ( Indian and Atlantic) collided angrily along the rocky shore, while in the distance, the waters merged with the heavens above. I balanced uneasily and unsteadily over the rocks, while Calvin, my charming minder, clicked pictures for the album.
My flight back was rather dramatic.... but more on that tomorrow. I am satiated after a hearty meal of desi ghar ka khaana ( velvety baigan bharta and garlicy toor daal ). Babita, my masseuse , had pounded my weary bones for an hour earlier. Sleep beckons.... if I were Shashi Tharoor, I'd tweet .... cho chweet!! But mercifully....I am not. If I can upload my amazing pictures cuddling lion cubs, I'll do so tomorrow. But for now.... good night.