• “Yo Alan, could I use your Kinetic?” Memorable African Encounters in Delhi through the 90’s

    Reshil Charles

    May 29, 2017


    Image Courtesy: Reshil Charles

     

    Alan, a Ugandan student and my neighbour, gladly gave me his Kinetic Honda scooter to ride on the condition that I put in fifty rupees of petrol and return it in one piece. In 1995, that was a more than fair deal and one that came about after much warming up on the basketball court!

    This was a time when colony parks and sports complexes across Delhi had a multicultural turn out of kids, teenagers, and college students that came out to play their sport of choice in the evenings. Football and basketball had a huge turnout of African players that left us lesser “calved” mortals in awe of the human body’s endurance and strength. I distinctly remember “Ali with wings” for his ability to stay airborne just a bit short of Michael Jordon! It was during these intense games that off-court friendships were formed. Invitations to each other’s houses would follow, food would be swapped, and a group of three Africans and two Indians hanging out was a common sight. That is pretty much how I met Alan and a whole bunch of other African nationals from various parts of the continent.

    Though it may have a pub per yard now, Delhi in the 90’s had just Discos, a few up-market bars and nothing in between. Alan opened up the world of “African nights” for me and a few friends that few Delhi revellers knew of! Held at guest houses across the city and sometimes even the embassies, these nights were all about a mix of African music, dance, and bling till dawn. Lovely conversations led to more information about upcoming parties, so we could confidently say we were in the “circle”. Since basketball was the backbone of so many of these connections, plans were made to play with some of the best players on the embassy circuit on half-courts tucked away in their houses. I credit my jump and rebound ability on court to much of this!

    The exchange of humour and customs went hand in hand with these friendships. I remember throwing a pillow on a sleeping Somalian friend who said nothing at the time, but threw a ball at me the next day on the court as “payback”. Another Ugandan friend poured whiskey on the bonnet of an Indian friend’s newly bought Daewoo Matiz as an “Inaugural good wish”.  Tikka rolls were a common post-game snack I saw many African brothers enjoy. There were no cell phones at the time. Meeting up and making plans relied on man’s word. If you did not show up, you’d better have a reason. No mood-swing cancellations.

    In all the decades of camaraderie between us, “racism” was alien. I guess Alan would be as disappointed as I am today to hear of it.

    Reshil Charles is features reporter, presenter and producer in the television and web space.

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.