EXTRACT | Eb Koybie: A memoir of shenanigans between Durban and Bombay

2020-02-12 16:27
Eb Koybie: A memoir of shenanigans between Durban and Bombay by Ebrahim Essa is published by Social Bandit Media

Eb Koybie: A memoir of shenanigans between Durban and Bombay by Ebrahim Essa is published by Social Bandit Media

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We rummaged through drums containing tons of smelly garbage, broken plastic and glass bangles, and other discarded jewellery and junk from India; which collectively seemed destined to stay here forever.

*****

Father was a very humble man.

He had only two gold rings, each with an expensive diamond on his left hand.

Being very fussy about the shine, he would dip them into old, spent, tea water. It helped remove the tarnish, and improved the shine.

One day - after afternoon tea at the shop - he removed the tea leaves from the teapot at the kitchenette in the back of Bombay House, placed them in hot water and left his two precious rings in the pot.

That evening it was reported to me that they were returning from an Indian movie at the Naaz Cinema and as they crossed the robot at Prince Edward Street, Walla asks Halima, "It doesn’t make sense. How did Lalita Pawar know where the daughter-in- law had hidden the gold bangles?"

Halima explained, "That Lalita is a witch. She was spying on Padmini when - "

Before Halima could finish her sentence, Father - who was walking behind everybody else - suddenly accelerated, overtaking Mother and stopping her in the middle of the street. "What do you mean you threw the tea leaves into the bin?"

"This is what you do to old tea leaves," Mother answered.

"But you threw my diamond rings away?!" he raved.

"How was I to know?!"

"Didn’t you check the pot?"

"I did not expect gold rings in teapots!"

Father was now losing it, after having lost the rings. "Tojee jibree! Allah will cut off your tongue one day!"

I was busy with some maths homework when they all stormed into the house around midnight.

Within minutes, we were all jogging to our family shop two blocks down in Prince Edward Street.

Watching Hindi films those days was like attending a wedding, very elaborate.

Halima was still dressed in a sari, Mother in one of her better-looking floral dresses, and Walla and Father in suits and matching ties. I had to rush out equally elaborately in my pajamas.

We first checked the small kitchen at the shop, going through pots, pans, cups, the bin, the washbasin. We then opened the backdoor which had ten locks; enough to make one believe we stocked De Beers and not the imitation jewellery we were known for.

We rummaged through drums containing tons of smelly garbage, broken plastic and glass bangles, and other discarded jewellery and junk from India; which collectively seemed destined to stay here forever.

Father was now using new Gujarati words on Mother.

Mother, for her part, was learning new retorts.

We moved on to the final citadel where the garbage drums are kept for collection by the City Municipality.

They were housed in a dark passage that led to the residential flats above our shop. The passage had not had working lights since the Second World War was declared, some twenty three years earlier.

We thought of it as a type of war memorial.

We went through six large metal trash cans. Still no rings.

Picture Halima in her sari, Mother with her blue floral dress, my brother and Father in complete-suits-and-ties, all going through the bins, one at a time. Father sees me hesitating and barks, "What are you waiting for? Go get that bin!"

I was too scared to tell him that on the wall behind the drums lay a hive of teeming, deviously professional American, flying cockroaches. These bastards were at least 2cm larger than their 6cm cousins.

They just whizzed around, from wall to wall, above our heads and between our frames. My insensitive family couldn’t be less bothered by such trivialities. They had gone to watch a film, dressed to kill, now they were purportedly prepared to die.

While all this drama was playing out, trust Mr. Sagra and his Gujarati wife - who ran a well-established grocery store next to our imitation-jewellery shop - to return home at this ungodly hour.

In spite of the darkness they recognised my family immediately, and tried to walk past us and up the staircase, all while trying to keep a straight face.

All Indian buildings in town had mandatory narrow passages that permitted only one lane traffic.

So they squeezed past, all the while pretending that we were not there.

As soon as they were clear of the bin area, the pair of Bunyas began to breathe once more. Mr. Sagra, ever polite, turned for the last time, placed his palms together and greeted Father with "Namaste".

As they scuttled past, Mr Sagra muttered to his wife. I look up, engulfed by the stink and watch the sub-titles present themselves.

"See, I told you a dozen times. Everybody is going through a financial crisis nowadays. Take it easy. Don’t overspend or we will also end up scavenging like them."

- Eb Koybie: A memoir of shenanigans between Durban and Bombay by Ebrahim Essa is published by Social Bandit Media

- It is available at the following indie bookstores in South Africa: Ike’s Books & Collectables, Durban, Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town,  Book Lounge, Cape Town Love Books, Jozi, Bridge Books, Jozi

And online: www.amazon.com & www.bridgebooks.co.za

Read more on:    durban  |  books
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