Tuesday, May 12, 2009

KIMBERLY - THE GHOST TOWN

Another week in the Rainbow country draws to an end. There have been memorable ones before this, and before the eraser of time limits my recollection of the week past, I put virtual pen to paper and recount it, although honestly, memories are one paradise we can never be expelled from.

Last night was spent in mirthful, mischievous banter with a friend, keeping me up late. When the sun peeped into my room this morning, the eyes were unwilling to open and the mind and body slow to action. Lack of sleep, the bane of billions! Whilst on a jog on the deserted Kimberly streets, I begin to wonder whether the ghosts of yore really do dwell in this sleepy town. The town wears a desolate, haunted look for the most part, with the streets devoid of humans, pets and even insects! The clean air is heavenly manna for my lungs, and the silence ... well, as Christina Rossetti puts it, the "Silence is more musical than any song." Museums, monuments, art galleries and cemeteries dot my immediate surroundings. The regular market place IS abuzz with activity and human traffic, but I avoid that in my quest for peaceful solitude. After spending the previous day in this city famous for it’s' diamonds, I had shuddered at the thought of staying longer in this place where time has stood still. Where, in some crazy, impossible way, the time line followed is that of the eighties and the night comes much before sunset. The pubs hold high spirited, friendly fellas and mateys, but few, and far in between. The fear of 'death by boredom' loomed large. But I needn't have lost sleep. The city, as if responding to my fear, embraced me and bared her secrets to me...

The Big Hole, they call it. A lava spewing volcano millions of years ago, which, post-dormancy would see a rush of miners in the quest for the ultimate prize - Diamonds! The lust for the stone would create rivers of sweat & blood and erode the hill over the next one hundred & fifty years to leave behind its namesake - A Big Hole in the ground! A mining site is something I'm familiar with, having seen coal mines in my hometown Dhanbad, but this place brings something novel - the outer facade of the mining site is maintained as it was decades ago. It stands there, a husk of a settlement straight out of an old Western, toting the gun in your face and daring you to be the faster draw. The mine was shut down in 1914, by which time it had already yielded 2472 kgs of diamonds. Now, hulks of defunct machinery, a museum, a replica of an underground mine and the hole itself remain. Inexplicably, I find this quaint, laid-back journey down the lane of history as fascinating as my spine chilling shark-dive in Capetown or the adrenaline-pumping quad-biking adventure in Port Elizabeth
A quick drive to the suburb takes me through war-fields, testimony to the ravages of the Anglo-Boer wars. Memorials have been erected in the city to honor the valor of the brave soldiers, their lives forfeit before their time. As is often said about Kimberly, this place is seeped in history, and this history is soaked in blood. Once past the battlefields, a common-sight railway line is racing us on our left. Only, something beautiful lies beyond these lines.... The Lesser Flamingos

They come to breed at the suburbs of Kimberly - the largest flamingo breeding ground in South Africa, established by a concerned conservationist and his colleagues. A bit of roughing it through knee-high grass as fiery as a lion's mane, getting stung by poison ivy & riddled with nettles, coming too close to deadly spiders and their tenacious webs, and crossing the fence around the lines gives access to the islands where the flamingos flock. They are noisy birds - a cacophony gone horribly wrong, but to watch them in flight is a sight to behold. If watching fish in an aquarium be your idea of therapy, I suggest watching flamingos in flight instead :)

Paying a visit to the flamingos also gives me an opportunity to do something I haven't done in a long time, and probably cannot do back home. I walk far and long on the railway tracks, unmindful of the overly bright sun, grateful for the gentle breeze and the fact that there is not a soul for miles around. I find my peace there in my solitude, walking, skipping, hopping across the lines and reminiscing my childhood.

(I'm running on railway lines outside my house in Dhanbad with a dear friend. We're chasing one other, stopping to put one ear to the track to determine the arrival of the next train. A child's game of leaving a coin on the track and the amazement of seeing it flattened shapeless & featureless ensues. We make faces at the passengers as the train whizzes by inches from our bodies. We trouble the buffalos and shoot rockets into the farmer's land. I watch the doodhwala adulterating the milk and do not realise whether it is right or wrong. The age of innocence. The age of Black and White. It seems like not so long ago...)

Cut to the present. I'm high up in the air, hovering above the Big Hole, over war-fields, over the Kimberly cricket stadium in a police chopper with friendly cops and a cameraman who I've grown fond of - a brusque man, rough around the edges but with glimpses of the goodness within. As the sun plays hide & seek from behind the clouds, the pilot does a sideway flip and suddenly the horizon is a vertical line. I reorient myself and soak in the view. Fireworks are going off in the stadium below. The team in yellow is celebrating a wicket. A thousand feet above, I'm celebrating my freedom, celebrating God for sharing this sight with me.

Back on ground, I go through the motions of a Presenter. Questions, anecdotes, packages, interviews, presentation, the usual. Even through the mundane, I thank God for granting me the good fortune of working with some fine human beings here, each a "diamond" in their own right. Meanwhile, the team in yellow has won and my eyes are roving for it's captain, a person I've longed to meet. The man with the genuine smile, he now leads the National Cricket Team, is from my state and is for me, as for many people, an inspiration. I sight him, and an easy conversation follows, with him reminiscing the days when he'd travel fromRanchi to Dhanbad to play cricket matches, and how the coal dust of my hometown would turn his white uniform to a peppered one in no time. A brief chat later, I find it difficult to contain my glee at having finally met one of my favorite people :)

It's late now. The stadium is empty, with the floodlights still illuminating every corner of The Oval. Tomorrow is another day, another city. Kimberly, a "boring, sleepy" city has exposed me to an unexpected fulfillment. In all it's simplicity, it has given me a sense of belonging, and I carry that warm feeling with me as I travel to a new city, a new experience....