It is indeed rare to find a truthful autobiography without unrevealed hidden truths relegated to the realms of secrets. The uninhibited account given by the author does not absolve the author from wrongdoing as he does not make excuses for those or for himself. But the problems are deep-seated and one readily finds that the author does not take kindly to excuses from others also, especially government officials, earning handsome pay checks, that do the least to understand and assist, especially the poor from the community.
The first chapter and paragraph artfully starts with a call requesting the author to collect the title deeds to his mother’s council built home, titled with her own name. Yet his parents yearning for ownership of their property had not borne the desired result because of bureaucratic bungling, tardiness and unconcern by pompous municipal officials. The author’s fight for the transfer of his parent’s property into the names takes years.
His father’s demise in the interim adds fuel to the agitation as he wants to fulfil his aged mother’s wishes as she was also not in sound health. Though the author bore with silence and minimum answers to his mother’s concerns about her having paid for ownership, he unbeknown to her takes the fight to the highest authorities, not without pointing of fingers, flaring of tempers and physical threats.
The pen-ultimate chapter finds the author with his mother’s ownership title deeds securely in his hands. But his eighty seven year old mum was sadly bedridden with a stroke. She was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and had lost all her faculties. The author’s final heart-wrenching words being ‘she’s dead to this world………I have failed. ’
Having given a vague insight of the first and closing chapters I found the chapters in-between equally interesting and touching. The author relates his experiences and upbringing in a council built home at Buffelsdale an Indian township in Tongaat. At the young age of sixteen he leads a protest march against the ills of the authorities. It was an early example of his stand to fight for the betterment of the community and their rights.
Having completed matric he secures a bursary for teaching and is subsequently appointed to teach at the School of Industries for Girls at Newcastle, four hundred kilometres away. Interaction with the principal, colleagues and learners together with youthful mischief-making makes for interesting reading.
Eventually transferred to Foresthaven Secondary in Phoenix the author lays into the attitudes and shortfalls of heads of departments, principals and educators alike. Lies, victimisation, scandalising, hate, physical and mental abuse carefully concealed inside tie-collared shirts and suits, are interestedly laid bare.
The author a member of the South African Democratic Trade Union is taken to task for his non-racist attitude by the School Governing Body. He was the first English Second Language educator in an Ex-house of Delegates school in the country, which accommodated learners from all races. Personal blame and problems leading to that trying period is written about in detail.
Having successfully achieved a double promotion as deputy principal to the Mzingezwi Secondary School in rural Ndwedwe the author takes one through the rigours of upgrading a disadvantaged school. Most interesting is the way the writer lowers to the level of the poorest of the poor, and accommodates them as best can be accommodated.
The daily travel to the school and back is both hair-raising and thought-provoking, with full marks given for the description of the flora and fauna of the rural countryside. The author effectively ‘personifies’ his Toyota Venture NJ8516. NJ ultimately becomes imaginatively ‘alive’ and every scratch, nudge, bump or tyre-contact with either the corrugated or tarred road surface is hurtfully or lovingly consumed by the reader.
After a lapse of two years the application for post of deputy principal at Foresthaven Secondary in Phoenix was successful. The author also emerged as the top Master of Business Administration student in the Management College of South Africa whereby being chosen to represent South Africa, at the international graduation ceremony in London. Having long married beautiful Irene, his college days sweetheart [details of which the author makes reference to in the third chapter] he decides to leave together with her and their three daughters. But the untimely demise of his father two days before their departure, dampens their spirits.
Six months at Havenpark Secondary invites another promotion. His secondment to the North Durban Region Examinations Components was successful, and he moved to Truro House. Details of racist attitudes and white-collar backbiting spanning five years, can be tastefully relished by the reader.
Then the call from the Department of Sport and Recreation reduces the author to pleasant surprise. He is catapulted into the sought-after position of Deputy Director of Communication. In the author’s own realization he had clawed his way from a level 1 school teacher right into the den of the Bengal tiger.
Typical of almost every Indian family is to allow for those, or the one sibling that excels, undivided respect and space. A glaring example is the author’s elder brother, Rishi. The writings reveal that Rishi meekly submits to his younger brother’s directives without question, and secure with the knowledge that it would be for the best. Not surprising was the fact that the author’s dad was likewise inclined, except for some pointed advice, kept to the very minimum.
Most heart-rending is the premonition urged request from the author’s bedridden father to bring his mum directly back home after medical treatment, when she accidently gashed her forehead. This was not done because of time constraint, and the fact that his dad was safe in the care of his brother. His father’s death during the absence of his mum leaves the author with nagging remorse. In revealing all the author’s intention to purge himself of wrongdoing, is well-taken. After all, the hand of fate strikes at the most inopportune moment.
The author’s down-to-earth personality and concern for the disadvantaged persists. His many reference to “where I come from” and “who I really am” is ample proof of him not forgetting the community he grew up in, nor the days of need.
The author’s colourful professional careers, adventures and his well-meant thuggish behaviour spanning a number of years, is an excellent read. When the Chalk is Down ………can be recommended for celluloid.