Daredevil on a Bike

2011-07-16 00:00

TOMMY’S World Fair was a household name for Indians living in Durban in the fifties.

The swing boats, carousels, fishing, darts and card games attracted hundreds of families in the old days when entertainment was limited to the “bioscope” or when the circus came to town.

But it was Amaranee Naidu and The Wall of Death, whom they really flocked to see.

Odd even today to see an Indian girl on a big motorcycle, let alone half a century ago when they were mostly confined to the kitchen or other domestic chores.

But daredevil Naidu was not your average girl — she was determined to entertain the masses as she oiled her 350 cc and revved the beast’s engine listening closely for any glitch ahead of the day’s entertainment.

She defied death and defied society, choosing life as a daredevil as opposed to the dressmaker her parents wanted her to be.

“One night at supper, uncle Tommy, a close family friend, asked my dad if I would consider learning the stunt since my dad had already taught me how to ride his Harley Davidson,” said Naidu, now 77 years old, speaking from her home in Reservoir Hills.

“For dad, the next bite was hard to swallow as you can imagine, and mum dropped her spoon — I was just beside myself with excitement,” she reflected.

Given that the prospect of a higher education was improbable due to financial constraints, Naidu was thrilled to earn some pocket money and even contribute to the household, but above all things “to have the time of my life.”

“It seemed mum and dad’s ideal of me being a dressmaker and working from home, became more and more unlikely,” she said.

So her parents, after some consideration, were convinced by Tommy to let it be, and before long Naidu was earning a reasonable and steady income.

“To say life was easy back then wouldn’t be a fair statement — but even with that ever-looming dark cloud Apartheid hanging over us, life was more fun on my bike,” said Naidu, apologising for any shortcomings in her memory.

Looking at the gentle old soul, one would never imagine that all those years ago she tore a motorcycle against a steep incline, at such speed that it stuck to the wall, to the thunderous applause and delight of hundreds of people.

“That I would be immortalised — makes me proud and makes it all worthwhile” she said.

Naidu lived in Pinetown back then, before she was forced to live in Mariannhill by the Group Areas Act.

“Tommy’s World Fair would travel to Pietermaritzburg every so often, but was mostly at Blue Lagoon, entry was about one pound if I recall correctly — those days were simple and sweet — what can you get for that money nowadays?” she asked as she pulled out some black and white photographs that captured the time she cherishes most.

“I did what no woman would dare do, especially back then. The people would come out in their hundreds to support me. In fact many of them still recognise me today,” she said, pointing to her signing autographs for fans.

“Under the guidance of uncle Tommy, I felt invincible,” she said.

Naidu fell many times and on occasion hurt herself badly, but got back on, drawn to the electric reception she was sure to receive from her fans.

“I kid you not, this was no sissy stunt, and death was a reality every time — but the reward was so fulfilling,’ she said.

“I felt like I belonged, and in hindsight I realise just how important it was to have done what I did — human spirit, can indeed overcome any obstacle — that was what the wall of death meant for me.”

Naidu said that in the old days, people were not spoiled for choice when it came to entertainment as they are nowadays.

“We had the bioscope and when the circus came to town we had that, but it was Tommy’s World Fair that was both affordable and accessible to all people especially Indians — so you can imagine the excitement when Tommy set up.”

More than 20 years on the Wall of Death, the curtains would finally come down for the spectacle and Naidu would finally fulfil her parents’ wish, and to date she still sews.

“I think if I could afford a higher education back then I would have been a sought after designer today,” she laughed, pausing to consider the prospect, “But no regrets,” she smiled.

The old woman still drives herself around, only nowadays in a Honda Ballade. “I reckon I would still be able to get on a bike, given the chance — but I doubt my children would approve,” she quipped.

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