Monday, November 23, 2009


Our flight from Ndola reached Lusaka international airport at 10 AM exactly. The Bombay flight was scheduled to depart from there at 5 PM. Check-in was at 2 PM and so my wife and I had about four hours at our disposal. Since our two suit cases were tagged for Bombay at Ndola airport, we had our hand luggage only along with us.

The date was 23rd December 1989. Christmas was just two days ahead. As the Bombay flight was a weekly flight, we knew the plane would be crowded. While we sat in the main lounge idly watching people arriving by flights from Livingstone, Kasama and other places, we could see suit cases labeled for the Bombay flight. The vast parking area in front of the main building which was visible through the glass walls had many empty slots that would soon be filled up.

It was not only the thought of going on vacation leave that excited us but also the fact that our daughter, the eldest of our three children, was getting married within 10 days' time. The arrangements had already been made and the people at home were waiting eagerly for our return. As my wife and I had many things to talk about, we did not notice how quickly the time passed. It was about 12.30 PM when we decided to have a bite of lunch at the restaurant on the second floor. Instead of taking the elevator, we used the stairs and reached the restaurant. We occupied two seats in a corner and ordered our lunch. After lunch, we spent some time in the duty-free shop, looking at the various articles on display. We found the prices were too high and refrained from spending our foreign exchange on such items that could have been bought from the second class trading area in the city at half the price. However, I bought some Duracell batteries for my 8 mm. movie camera that I used to carry with me during my journeys.

We returned to the main lounge and found most of the seats occupied. The clock above the check-in counters showed five minutes past two. A few people had already lined up in front of the economy class check-in counter of flight QZ 951 to Bombay. We waited until the initial rush was over to collect our boarding cards and hand luggage tags. There were a number of empty seats at the far end of the main lounge where we decided to sit and wait until the call for customs, immigration and security check came.

It was nearing 3.30 PM and we knew the call for immigration and customs would come soon. While my wife went to the wash room, I got busy installing my movie camera with the new batteries and pulling the trigger to see if it worked well. As my attention was on the camera, I did not notice the policeman who was approaching me. He came straight to me and asked whether I had taken some pictures of the airport. I told him the camera was not loaded with film and I was just trying if the new batteries worked well. He said I could explain everything to the magistrate on Tuesday (as the next two days, Sunday and Monday were holidays) and the device that I called a "camera" could be examined by experts to find out whether it was some sort of a secret weapon. In the meanwhile he was detaining me.

While we were talking, my wife returned from the wash room and was startled to learn what was happening. The policeman led us to a small office at the far end of the main lounge and asked for our passports and tickets. He placed them in a drawer and locked it. We told him again and again that we did not violate any rule and we should be allowed to proceed as we did not want to miss our flight which was secured by making reservations a month in advance. We told him about our daughter's wedding which was scheduled to take place within ten days' time and how important it was for us to reach home without being held up. He said that my wife was free to go as he had no case against her but I had to remain behind. Any amount of pleading fell into deaf ears. We were quite desperate.

While we were frantic with anxiety, the policeman was behaving as if he had all the time in the world. He decided to make a few lengthy telephone calls, speaking mostly in Cibemba (pronounced "chibemba") with some occasional words in English. It was quite evident that his fake calls were to prevent any further dialogue between us. I checked my watch for the umpteenth time and found it was nearing 4.30 PM. All the passengers would be seated by this time inside the plane. Now anything short of a miracle would not be sufficient to save us from our predicament. We prayed silently.

Then it happened. The policeman apparently concluded his phone calls and talked to me: "you said you are going for your daughter's wedding. There will be a big party and a lot of enjoyment. What will you give me if I allow you to go?" This was the opening I was waiting for. I told him to take everything we had in our possession except the tickets and the passports, but he was not interested. He asked me how much foreign currency I had in my wallet. There wasn't much, less than a hundred dollars or so. He did some mental calculations and said he would accept that money in exchange for our freedom and I gave him the whole lot without any hesitation. As we gathered our hand luggage and departed hurriedly, he called from behind to tell us to bring from India if possible, a pair of size ten shoes on our return and send them to the name and address he mentioned. We did not bother to reply but kept running to the Immigration & Customs.

There was not even a single passenger in sight. The immigration officer stamped our passports without wasting any time and directed us to go straight to the Security check, by-passing the Customs. The security man just waved us through his office to the Departure lounge which was quite empty. We traversed the whole length of it and reached the door opening to the staircase that led down to the tarmac. One of the ground staff stood there chanting the words "hurry up! hurry up!" and pointed to the aircraft.

At a distance, the Bombay flight stood on the tarmac, in readiness for take off. The "Nkwazi", the wide-bodied DC 10, wearing the green and silver colors of Zambia Airways appeared magnificent in the evening sunlight. Some ground staff standing at the bottom of the massive staircase were waving frantically at us to hurry up. We ran like some runners in a race and reached the top of the staircase. Air hostesses relieved us of our cabin baggage and showed us to our seats. The door swung shut behind us.

Soon we realized that the aircraft was moving and we could no longer control our emotions. Tears were streaming down our cheeks and we did not care if the other passengers were watching. The "Nkwazi" was air-borne, reaching to higher and higher altitude while the Lusaka international airport became a dot in the postage stamp scenery far below and soon lost from sight as the huge aircraft settled in its course to its final destination- Bombay.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


When the Zambian lady teachers of my school heard that the prime minister would be making an official visit in the district and addressing a public rally at the civic centre in the town, they approached the headmaster for permission to attend the meeting. The headmaster gave permission without knowing that the ladies had a secret agenda. They wanted to demonstrate against certain discriminations that existed in the newly-introduced housing allowance rule. The political situation in Zambia was in turmoil and the Special Branch (secret police) was on the look-out for dissidents. Had the headmaster known the intention of the ladies, he would have advised them not to stick their neck out.

As I was pulling out my Nissan station wagon from my slot in the parking lot with the intention of going to the post office in the town, a number of Zambian ladies came running out of the staff room, shouting for a "lift". Four of them squeezed themselves in to the rear seat and one got into the front passenger seat. Only then I noticed the placards in their hands with the words "STOP DISCRIMINATION, GIVE HOUSING ALLOWANCE TO ALL" written in big black bold letters. As soon as they got into the vehicle, they started talking aloud excitedly among themselves in cibemba (pronounced 'chibaemba' which is the local language) and I could not follow what they were talking about.

Soon we came to the main junction where we had to cross the Kitwe-Mokambo main road and go straight to the town centre. There was a police officer on duty. Even though I stopped at the cross roads, he indicated to proceed. The town hall was within sight and the place was overflowing with people. As we came closer, in spite of the chattering in the car, I heard the singing of the Zambian national anthem through the loudspeakers and pulled over to the side of the road. I told the ladies not to get out until the singing was over and they complied with.

I was just about to pull out of the curb after the departure of my passengers when a police man appeared in front of my car apparently from nowhere. He approached me and told he was going to arrest me for not honouring the national anthem. I tried to explain to him that I stopped the car as soon as I heard the national anthem and my passengers did not get out until the singing was over, but he insisted that I should go with him to the police station immediately. I was wondering whether he saw the placards in the hands of the ladies but he did not make any mention of that. However he was quite adamant that I should accompany him.

I was worried a bit. It was true that I had not committed any offence, but the police station was the last place I wanted to go. I have heard of people being treated like dirt once you were in "custody" and harassed unnecessarily by some sadistic elements in the police force. I, who always tried to be on the right side of the law, was now being confronted by this miserable fellow in uniform for no reason at all. But there was no choice and I had to go with him. The police station was not very far, but I did not want to leave my car on the main road. So I asked the police man to accompany me while I drive to the parking lot at the station. As he was getting into the car a senior police officer approached us. He probably was taking a walk from the police station to the prime minister's meeting place. He came to us and asked what the matter was. The police man smartly saluted the officer and told him what my offence was. The officer asked me for an explanation and I told him exactly what happened except the matter of the placards which had no bearing on the story. After listening to me he talked briefly to the police man in cibemba and then turned to me and said “It is alright sir, you may proceed". I thanked the officer, heaved a great sigh of relief and let in the clutch so that I may put as much distance as possible between me and the prime minister's meeting place.

Monday, September 28, 2009


It happened during one of my trips from Ndola to my hometown of Mufulira. I had gone there that morning on official business and was returning in the evening after a very tiresome day.

Ndola and Mufulira are two towns on the "Copperbelt" at a distance of sixty-five kilometres. The Ndola-Mufulira road is one of the loneliest roads in Zambia. It stretches through an area of "bush land" very close to the Zairian border. During the early days of our stay in Zambia, we used to travel along this road very frequently without any fear of intimidation. However, in recent years there had been many incidents of robbery with violence in which lone motorists were attacked in broad daylight. Therefore I decided to travel by public transport during my Ndola trips.

I found a Mufulira-bound bus at the bus station and boarded it. It was four o'clock in the evening and the bus was slowly filling up. I managed to secure a comfortable seat in front and decided to wait. The starting time of the bus was mentioned by someone as four-thirty. In that case I should be able to reach home before night-fall.

It was almost five o'clock by the time the bus left the bus station. All the seats were occupied. A number of people came running towards the bus as it finally started off. The bus stopped for them to get in. I was wondering where the new-comers were going to sit. To my surprise, the driver's mate pulled out some "jump seats" in between the main rows of seats and seated them all. By this time there was hardly any space in the bus for anyone to sit without being crushed by his neighbours.

As I was occupying a window-seat, I could look out and watch the trees and shrubs on my side of the road. They looked alike and there was nothing else to break the monotony of the bush land.

After a while I looked at my wrist watch and noticed that it was more than half an hour since we started. Every one in the bus was involved in animated conversation. I was the only exception. In the background, there was the smooth roar of the engine.
Suddenly there was the noise of something tearing apart or breaking, and the bus went lurching for some distance. There was also the noise of some heavy metallic object being dragged underneath. Soon the bus came to a stop and many people got down to investigate. I thought the problem was that of a blown-tyre.

Before long, it was established that the propeller shaft was broken into two and the bus would go no farther. I got down from the bus along with the few remaining people, mostly ladies, and joined the rest of the passengers who were either trying to get their fare back from the conductor or looking out for some on-coming vehicle for a “lift”.

I asked someone how far we might have come and came to know that it was about less than halfway. There were no signs of any human habitation as far as I could see. It was getting late. Some of the passengers were already talking about finding refuge in some
Villages in the neighbourhood. I started wondering what a foreigner like me would do, if I had to spend the night on the road. Apparently I was the only non-African on the bus.

It was twenty minutes past 6 PM. Even though we had been waiting there for three quarters of an hour, no vehicle had passed either way so far. As the day gave way to dusk, the chances of getting a lift became more and more slim. Some of the passengers had drifted away, probably in search of a village. As I stood there with a heavy heart, a cold shiver ran through me. Obviously, the atmosphere was getting cooler.

We heard the sound of a motor. Some vehicle was coming from the direction of Ndola. People rushed expectantly to the middle of the road. However they moved to the sides when the vehicle came into full view. It was a police land cruiser.

The vehicle came nearer and screeched to a stop. About twenty-five people ran to it and tried to board through the wide opening in the rear. The officer in the front passenger seat ordered them to wait. He looked at the crowd and then told that as many ladies as possible who were travelling unescorted, could get in, but they should allow the 'usungu' (foreigner) to get in first.

There was just enough space for five or six of us to squeeze in. There was no other alternative but to leave the rest of the people behind.

While we were travelling towards our destination, I heard one of the ladies asking the officer in a not too subdued voice why he gave such preferential treatment to a foreigner while some respectable Zambians were left behind. His answer was "because he is not a Zambian and I doubt very much whether he would have survived if he were left behind and had to spend the night in the open".

When we reached our destination and as I got down, I had no adequate words to thank the Zambian police officer, but he waved me aside and proceeded on his way.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


After the gruesome experiences during the night, we might have dozed off for a few minutes before the house servant knocked at the back door. I was startled into wakefulness and realized that it was broad daylight already. I felt as if waking up from a nightmare into reality and the happenings of the night were just a bad dream. However, a shooting pain on my left shoulder where the intruder's iron bar had fallen, reminded me that the robbery was real.

I opened the kitchen door and found Richard, my servant, standing there. A large window-grill was lying not too far. "So, they left it here", was the first thing he said. A thought of doubt flashed through my muddled brain. What was he talking about and who were "they"? Did he already know about the robbery? Then why didn't he come to my assistance when the siren screamed its head off unless.....? My thoughts trailed off.

It was past seven in the morning. I decided to go to the local police station and report the matter. The sleepy policeman at the counter wrote down the F.I.R. When I gave him the list of articles that were taken away, he was asking me whether that was all as if a bit disappointed. However, I could not think of anything else. By the time he finished the F.I.R, a gentleman wearing a sports jacket whom I came to know later as the Officer in charge, breezed in. On seeing a foreigner near the counter, he approached me and asked what the problem was. After hearing my story he told me that it was a matter for the "Anti-robbery squad" and would be passed on to them. He further assured me that the culprits would be apprehended soon.

My next stop was at the office of the Ministry of Works. The windows that were damaged by the thieves had to be repaired. The maintenance officer promised to send his crew by mid-morning so that they could finish the job by late afternoon.

By the time I reached home, I found the police had arrived. There were three of them, including the finger-print man. He was dusting the window sill and frames, door handles etc. for prints and collected some. He would have to compare them with the collection of prints at the bureau. The other two were talking to Richard in a very friendly manner and smoking the cheap cigarettes he offered. As they were talking in bemba, I did not understand what they were saying. Anyway, it sounded like a friendly conversation, let alone any police interrogation.

The maintenance officer kept his word by sending his crew to repair the damaged windows and fix the protective grills. The phone line which was cut off by the thieves was also reconnected. In short things were back to normal once again.

During the lunch hour, the maintenance officer paid a visit to my place to see how the work was progressing. As the official vehicle was not available, he decided to walk, taking a short-cut through the town cemetery. He was walking along a well-defined path when he noticed a number of oblong objects on the ground nearby. He picked up one of them and found it to be a cheque book. He examined the others also and found them all cheque books of certain foreign banks. As my name was stamped on them, he concluded that the thieves might have tarried in the cemetery for a while in order to divide the proceeds of the robbery between them and the cheque books which were found among the spoils were discarded as they were of no use to them. The officer brought them along to me.

After the workers and some friends who had gathered at my place left, we felt very lonely. In fact we did not relish the idea of spending another night at No.34, David Kaunda drive. So we ate an early supper, gathered some clothes and rushed to the Top shop flats where some friends were staying. It was there that we slept for the next seven or eight nights until we left permanently the house that was our residence for the past fifteen years and moved to one of the ZCCM (Zambia Consolidated Copper Mine) flats with " round the clock" security.

Note: Securing a suitable alternate accommodation at such a short notice was not an easy thing. For this, I am indebted to a number of good people who sympathised with me at my predicament, like my colleagues Silumbu and Sakala, who were sharing one of the mine flats allocated to the housing pool and who agreed to swap with me, Mr. Zumani, my boss and Mr. Phiri, the district secretary of Mufulira who was also the chairman of the housing committee who both approved the proposal for the swap and made it possible for me and my family to move to the new premises within the shortest possible time. Undoubtedly this was another occasion of Zambian goodwill experienced by me during my long stay in that country.

Monday, August 3, 2009


It was the final day of the World Cup Football and the date was June 30th, 1986. I was recouping from a three week-long viral fever and the night was very cold.

Even though I went to bed at about 10.30 PM I did not know how long it took me to fall asleep. I was sleeping soundly when some strange noise woke me up. I was not sure what it was. I lay awake, listening for any further noise.

There it was again. It sounded like the creaking of a bed spring. I slowly got up from my bed and went to my son's bedroom to see if my ten-year old son had been turning in his bed during sleep. I found him sleeping peacefully. I returned to my room and found my wife already awake and looking out through one of the windows. I happened to note the time on the bedside clock as five minutes past two in the morning.

It was very quiet outside. There was sufficient light for us to see the plants in our garden, the wire-fence at the far end of the property known as No.34, David Kaunda drive, part of my drive-way, the double-gates and the trees on the other side of the road, in the compound of Pamodzi primary school. There was hardly any movement. The trees stood mute and motionless, bathed in the dim silvery moonlight and there was not even the distant hum of a motor car on the highway or the barking of stray dogs in the neighbourhood.

Suddenly it struck me very odd that my two guard dogs, Snowy and Sooty were nowhere to be seen. At night, they always used to be somewhere around, but not far from the vicinity of our bedrooms. I looked through one of the windows into the second garage where my Fiat was parked. The car stood bathed in the bright light of the overhead fluorescent lamp but there was no sign of the dogs.

The silence was ominous. I shuffled on bare feet through the narrow corridor in between the bedrooms and the living room to reach the door at the far end that gave access to the kitchen. That door was bolted on the inside with a heavy brass bolt. I did not notice the light that was filtering in through the small glass window at the top.

Without any hesitation, I pulled the bolt and opened the door. What happened during the next few moments took place so fast that I could not comprehend fully what exactly was happening. I had an impression of three or four people rushing in through the door and I felt at the same time as if some heavy object was falling on my left shoulder. However, I did not feel any pain but only heaviness. Then I felt being pushed backwards as if in the midst of a crowd along the corridor until I found myself in my bedroom and my wife standing at the far window, still clutching the pull-switch of the security alarm which I could hear wailing like a banshee from the roof-top. As its shrill cry shattered the silence of the night air, one of the intruders managed to grab the cord of the pull-switch and stop it. The apparent leader of the gang brandished a gleaming knife at us and ordered both of us to lie down on the carpet and we obeyed promptly.

There were four of them. One appeared very huge and wore a face-mask. He gave short, crisp orders and the others complied with. They forced open locked cupboards and ransacked shelves and drawers. They pulled out the contents and scattered them on the floor. The leader kept on asking for American dollars which we did not have any. They gathered electronic equipments, wrist watches, and anything else that attracted their attention, but very little money as we did not keep any large amounts at home. They looked into my son's bedroom briefly but did not take anything from there. Then they left, taking the house-keys and the car keys along with them so that we would not get out of the house immediately and follow them or go to the police. However, we were too scared to even move out of the bedroom.

As soon as I heard the front door bang indicating their departure, I ran to my son's bedroom and carried him to our bedroom. The child was shivering. In fact he was awakened by the wailing of the security alarm and had seen the thieves, but was so scared that he pulled the blanket over his head and remained motionless until I gathered him in my arms. After putting him down on the bed, I lifted the receiver of the telephone and found it dead. It was obvious that the thieves had cut the telephone wires before entering the house. There was nothing else for us to do but to huddle together under the same blanket and sit, waiting for the apparently never-ending night to end and the dawn to come.

There was one question that pestered us while we sat there, awaiting the morning: "Why didn't our guard dogs bark that night?" We got the answer the next morning: The dogs were poisoned by the thieves.

NOTE. We are very grateful to the Zambian officials for the sympathy they had shown to us and for rendering all possible assistance during the period that followed immediately after the above-mentioned incident. It was found out later that the crime was perpetrated by dissidents from a neighboring country who infiltrated into Zambia through a common border.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


As I was driving along Lusaka's Cairo road, I saw an Indian gentleman walking along the side-walk, with a brief-case in his hand. He had the appearance of someone from the outstations. I thought of offering him a lift to his immediate destination and pulled up near him. He looked up, saw a fellow-Indian behind the wheel and stood patiently for me to invite him into my Nissan. As it was one of the mid-morning lull periods, there were no "honkings" from behind while other cars swished past.

Soon I came to know that my passenger's name was Meendi Rattha (pronounced 'maendi rath-tha') and he was working as a teacher of English in the Luapula province of Zambia. He was from the uttar pradesh in north India. His immediate destination was the office of the Indian High Commission. As I also wanted to collect a few application forms from there, I assured Mr. Rattha that I could drop him there and he thanked me profusely.

After parking my car we went up the steps to the "Reception". There was a lady in attendance. She smiled at us and asked what she could do for us. To my great surprise Mr. Rattha burst out into a small speech which ran out something like this: "After thirteen years of married life my wife decided to go to India on account of her brother's son's marriage which is supposed to take place by the end of next month and as a result...." By that time, the lady behind the counter managed to stop the monologue and asked him what he wanted exactly. Without being interrupted, Mr. Rattha told her in so many words that the reason for his visit was to apply for a separate passport for his wife as they were on a joint- passport at present. The lady directed us to one of the inner rooms. It was a large room with three people sitting behind their individual desks. I saw the desk marked "Application Forms" and went there to collect the forms that I needed. In the meanwhile Mr. Rattha approached the central desk where a distinguished looking gentleman was seated. As he looked at Mr.Rattha enquiringly, he exploded into his monologue "After thirteen years of married life...." and went on about halfway through the story before the gentleman managed to stop him. He then told him very patiently that his wife would have to apply for a new passport and her name would have to be deleted from the joint-passport. He was asked to go to the next room and meet the Consular Agent who would assist him with the procedure and tell him what all documents would be required.

As I had already collected my forms, I thought I would now leave the office and go home. Mr.Rattha was in good hands and the teachers' hostel where he stayed was within walking distance. I made my departure as he was just entering the Consular Agent's room. While I went down the steps I could hear once again Mr. Ratha's voice echoing from somewhere inside the building "After thirteen years of married life, my wife..........."

Monday, April 20, 2009


It was headmaster Pillay's idea that a fete should be organized in order to raise funds for the School Bus Project. During the previous P.T.A (Parent Teacher Association) meeting the School Bus Project was approved and the headmaster was authorized to raise funds using whatever means he deemed fit. The suggestion to conduct a fete was received whole-heartedly by the staff and a committee consisting of volunteers was formed forthwith. The headmaster and the deputy-head being the ex-officio members of this committee, it was empowered with the task of planning the details and forming various sub-committees for the execution of the plan.

It was decided to conduct the fete in the school-campus itself which was large enough for the purpose. A suitable date was fixed and various sub-committees such as the planning committee, the publicity committee, the seating and room-allocation committee, the entertainment committee, and the reception committee were formed.

Starting from the very next day after the formation of the committees, there was a flurry of activities as the various committees began their work. Workers got busy trimming the lawn, clearing the grass and weeds around the football field, painting the posts and railings around the tennis and basket ball courts as well as the swimming pool, putting a new coat of paint on the old buildings, the compound wall and other structures. Lessons were either interrupted or suspended as urgent meetings were called or pupils were pulled out for rehearsals. Various departments started organizing their exhibits for display during the fete. The Needlework section of the Domestic Science department concentrated on making dresses, baby-ware and dolls while the Cookery section made plans for baking cakes, scones, doughnuts and other eatables for sale on the big day. The Science department decided to put up exhibits of a competitive nature in all the three laboratories. Participants had to pay a small entry fee, but winners would be rewarded adequately. The English, Geography, History and Mathematics departments made arrangements for the display and sale of books, charts, maps, models, souvenirs, replicas etc. and for some competitions using electrical quiz boards on which coloured bulbs would light up when correct answers were given. The Art department built up a collection of magnificent paintings, clay models, statues and pottery. The Metalwork and Woodwork departments got busy making knives, shovels, tool-boxes, stools, cabinets etc. for display and for sale. In addition to what the departments put up, there were other interesting items like a jumble sale to sell hundreds of surplus items such as disused shoes, ties, caps, clothing, dolls, toys or any other useful article donated by pupils and teachers, a shooting range where you could try your luck by shooting with an air gun at paper ducks that were kept moving and also a "fish pond" where you could "fish" for gifts. It was also decided that an entry fee would be collected at the gates.

As the fete-day drew nearer, the air of expectancy deepened. The sub-committees started meeting almost every day to review the progress. In the meanwhile an advance amount was paid from the PTA fund to Toyota agents in Lusaka to book a 26 seat Coaster for Mufulira Secondary School and a huge poster bearing the picture of the mini-bus was posted on the main notice board with the caption, "Our School Bus- Soon A Reality".

At last the great day arrived. All the arrangements had been finished by nightfall of the previous day. There was multi-coloured bunting all around the central court-yard and on both sides of the paths leading to the amphitheatre, football field and gymnastics court. Hundreds of coloured flags were hung from clothe-lines stretched all over the place and massive multi-coloured umbrellas were placed in different parts of the main court-yard, with chairs arranged in circles. This is where people would sit and enjoy the refreshments that were on sale. As the fete would start at 2 PM only, the morning session was devoted for applying finishing touches. We could see the Cadets practising already their march-past in the football field and hear their band. The prefects in their smart uniform were at the gates and all over the school campus keeping an eye on the pupils who were moving about either on duty or on various other pretexts.

When the gates opened at 2 PM there was an onrush of people who were waiting outside for a considerable time. The prefects at the gates handled the crowd well and ensured that each one would get an entry ticket before being admitted in. The band at the reception foyer struck a welcome note and volunteers among the pupils led the visitors to the starting place from where they could follow the signs that were put up by our artists throughout the school campus which had been transformed into a wonderland of fun and amusement.

It took more than two hours for the spectators to pass through the departmental stalls, science laboratories, art, woodwork and metalwork rooms etc. Once they came out in the open, there were many other attractions such as Indian and African dances, plays in the amphitheatre, cadet march, gymnastics etc. which everyone was free to watch.

Soon it was 5 PM and people were still coming in. As the campus was overflowing with spectators, it was decided to close any further entry. The cadets allowed people who wanted to leave to use the exit gates, but the entry gates remained closed. However, those who were within the grounds were free to remain until 8 PM to listen to the melodious Indian music concert organized by the Hindu Association of Mufulira as a tribute to the school, which was scheduled to take place soon after the stalls closed at 6 PM.

It was a day of great enjoyment to the people of Mufulira, young and old alike. Not only that the fete was a very successful event, the takings of which enabled us to reach much closer to our target amount for the school bus project, but also was one of the most memorable days in the history of Mufulira Secondary School, under the able leadership of Mr. Arthur J. Pillay.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Staff Meeting in a Zambian Boarding School

The very first full-fledged staff meeting that I had the privilege to attend, came up at the beginning of the new term after my arrival in Luwingu. It took place on a Friday before the reopening of schools. The meeting was scheduled for 14.00 hours Zambian time. Even though I wasn’t quite used to the 24 hour clock, I figured it out as 2 PM. In Zambia, it was customary in those days for teachers to wear a tie when they go to their classes. So, being a new teacher, I dressed up properly and reached in time for the meeting. The venue was given as the staff room. When I reached, I found the staff room in great disorder. Even though it was nearly the starting time, the chairs were not arranged properly and the room was very untidy. Some of the early arrivals had pulled up some chairs in a small circle and were involved in animated conversation. Most of them were British or Irish. The men were in their shorts and T-shirts while the ladies were wearing some very short skirt or frock. None of them appeared sufficiently well-dressed for a staff meeting. Mr. Syal, one of the four Indian teachers in the school, was sitting alone in a corner and staring at nothing in particular. He was wearing a clean shirt and tie. A huge Alsatian dog was seated very comfortably on a large chair as if presiding over the meeting. Later I came to know that it belonged to a teacher named Reid who looked like a high school student. The headmaster, Mr. Simposya, arrived very promptly at the starting time, but there were only ten or eleven people present and no one seemed to notice his arrival. However, by 2.15 PM more people were trickling in and soon the meeting was called to order. It appeared that the headmaster, being a very neat and tidy person, was a bit distressed by the general uncleanness of the place and mentioned something to that effect in his opening remarks. Mr. Campbell, the acting deputy head, growled something about the ‘master on duty’ failing to carry out his job and the headmaster checked the duty list on the notice board to find out who was on duty. Reid was on duty but he had ample excuses to offer. He had arrived from the Copperbelt only the previous evening. His servant did not look after the dog properly in his absence so that the dog became very sick and he had to take the dog to the vet that morning and had arrived from there just before the starting time of the meeting. That accounted for the dog’s presence in the meeting but he assured that he had instructed the dog to remain silent during the meeting. He was sort of hinting that the headmaster should be thankful for his presence under such trying conditions. Mr. Simposya did not make any comments but moved on to the next item on the agenda, which was the reading of the minutes of the previous meeting.

I thought the reading of the minutes was a simple affair. Someone who normally takes down the minutes of a meeting reads it out during the next meeting and the minutes will be passed with or without correction. The corrections are made only if some errors were noticed in the minutes. Any progress on the decisions made in the previous meeting or further actions based on the same are discussed during “matters arising”. In Zambia, reading of the minutes takes most part of the time in a meeting. All sorts of questions, discussions, suggestions and observations come up during the reading of the minutes with frequent interruptions of the reading. It appears that we are going on and on in circles. People talk not only about what happened in the previous meeting and what plans were made, but also about what should be our future plans and what some people noticed in some other places sometime back etc.
About half way through the minutes’ reading, three people walked in. They were the Pipers and their neighbor Longridge who were delayed due to some reasons of their own. Now it was the turn of Mr. Simposya to give the newcomers an account of all what happened and what we discussed in their absence, starting from his opening remarks and the general untidiness of the staff room. They too had some explanations to make for their delay, questions to ask and suggestions to make. Another period of discussion followed and no one seemed to be in a hurry to make any progress.

As a result of these lengthy discussions and repetitions, it was almost nightfall and the staff room was getting darker and darker by the time we were not even half way through the agenda. We had no electricity as the diesel tanker from Kasama had not arrived that week and the generator could not be operated as a result. Knowing this, I was very hopeful that the meeting would come to a close very soon and the rest of the items in the agenda would be postponed for discussion on a later date. But to my great dismay, one of the orderlies (‘peons’ are called ‘orderlies’ in Zambia) started bringing in some ‘Tilly’ lamps and placing them in different parts of the room. Soon the staff room was filled with sufficient light to allow the meeting to continue for an indefinite period. I also noticed that most of the people appeared very relaxed and no one seed to be in any particular hurry. Many were sitting with their legs drawn up on to the chair and chain-smoking. Reid’s dog was sitting patiently on its chair and wetting the cushion with its plentiful saliva. The room was littered with hundreds of cigarette stubs and ashes were sprinkled all over the place. The meeting went on unhindered.

By 8 PM I wanted a cup of coffee very badly but there were no provisions for that. I felt like screaming, but thought better of it and decided to go to sleep instead, as some people were already doing. As I was about to doze off, there was a lull in the discussions and a moment of silence prevailed. That was when it came – the sound of very powerful snoring from one of the dark corners. All the eyes were turned in that direction and the culprit was identified, but the sleeping person continued to sleep and snore away, blissfully ignorant of what was happening. It was Mr. M, the teacher of local languages who did the snoring. The headmaster knew when he was licked. Mr.M was a well-respected old man who could not be reprimanded in public even by Mr. Simposya. So he simply called the meeting to a close and I went home with a great sigh of relief, thanking Mr. M silently for the kind action unknowingly performed by him that day.