Saturday, December 4, 2010


Soon after a robbery at my previous residence where we had stayed for more than 14 years, we shifted to one of the mine flats in the Top Shop area. These flats did not have any servant's quarters. I considered it as a good excuse for getting rid of Richard, my servant whom I suspected of having collusion with the robbers.

We employed a maid-servant who was sharing accommodation with another girl in a one-bedroom house in a nearby area known as the Mokambo compound. There were many such houses in that area, owned by the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines for accommodating the servants of those mine employees who were staying in the flats. Many low-paid mine workers also stayed in the compound. It took almost six months for my wife to train the maid adequately for our purposes and she thought the maid was doing quite well.

Then one day she came and told my wife that she was leaving because of lack of accommodation. The girl with whom she stayed was getting married and asked her to vacate. She had no place to stay and therefore would have to go back to her village. However, she would stay back if “Bwana” (means ‘master’) could get one of those houses in the Mokambo compound for her.

I made some preliminary enquiries to a senior official in the mines and he told me that as I was a non-miner my servant could not be accommodated in the Mokambo compound which was reserved for the servants of ZCCM employees.

But being a very stubborn person, I decided to put in an application at the Estate office. The guy who was in charge of processing the application was very friendly. I filled up the application form and left it with him. He told me that he would give me a call within a couple of days.

But the call never came. After waiting for a week, I made another trip to the Estate office. The same person was in the office. He asked me "Why didn't you tell me that you are not a miner?"

"Well, that is what I have indicated in my application" I told him. "But since I am occupying a mine flat that has no servant's quarters, where am I supposed to accommodate my servant?"

"Look here, my friend, ‘that’ is your problem”, he told me. “You are just wasting your time. Your application has been turned down by the Estate manager".

There was no point in arguing. I left crestfallen.

The maid was supposed to leave her employment with us the next day. But in the morning, I received a call from the Estate office asking me to see Mr. Musonda in charge of housing. I met the same guy whom I had seen twice during the past few days. As soon as he saw me, he greeted me with a broad smile and offered me a seat. Then he took a neatly typed sheet of paper, put it inside an envelope and handed it to me. It was a letter from the Estate office, allocating in my name one of the houses in the Mokambo compound, for the use of my servant. He added that the keys should be collected from the Quarter master’s office.

I was greatly surprised at the turn of events but did not express it. Instead I thanked him for his kindness and bade him good day. As I was coming out of his office, he asked me "Mr. John, may I ask you something? What is your connection with Mr. Phiri?"

I did not know what he was talking about. So I asked him, "which

"Mr. Michael Phiri, our boss in the General Office! Who else?" he said.

I asked him why he wanted to know. He replied that Mr. Michael Phiri was on a visit to the Estate office the other day and he found me leaving Mr. Musonda’s office and driving off. He wanted to know what I was doing there, and when he heard the story he told the manager, "You just give him what he wants". That was why he asked.

"Oh, we just know each other" I said as I did not know what else to say.

However, a few months later, I came to know from someone that Michael Phiri was one of my former students at Mufulira High School.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The Nairobi flight from Bombay arrived late. I was in transit on my way to the Zambian capital of Lusaka. As the connecting time was less than three hours due to the lateness of the AI (Air India) flight from Bombay, no hotel accommodation was provided. The passengers were made to sit and wait in the departure lounge of the Jomo Kenyata airport without any lunch. We were told that lunch would be provided onboard.

The QZ (Zambia Airways) flight to Lusaka was scheduled to depart at 1.50 p.m. There were no announcements about our departure until 1.45 p.m. On enquiry at the QZ checking counter we were told that our plane which was supposed to arrive from Lusaka at 12 noon had not arrived yet. Consequently, the return flight would be delayed.

I was returning from India after a short visit. My journey had commenced from Trivandrum on the previous morning. The Juhu beach hotel where I was accommodated in between flights was not one of the best. As a result, I was feeling tired and sleepy.

At 1.45 p.m. there was an announcement that the QZ flight to Lusaka was delayed by 90 minutes. That meant the plane would leave by 3.20 p.m. only at the earliest. I noticed that the Zambia Airways checking counter was deserted. There was no one to whom the passengers could complain about their plight or request for some lunch coupons. Those who did possess any foreign currency moved to the restaurants at the airport and got themselves some snacks while the others remained hungry.

The call to board the flight to Lusaka came around 3.30 p.m. There was a great scramble among the hundred and fifteen passengers to make a rush and get into the plane, lest it would depart without them. However, it was 4.15 p.m. by the time the plane took off. As soon as it was air-borne and we were well on our way, lunch was served but I was not feeling hungry. The only thing I wanted was to reach home as early as possible.

The first jolt came as we were just cruising over Mount Kilimanjaro. The pilot interrupted his scenic description over the public address system to warn the passengers about "a little turbulence". The "fasten seat belt" signs flashed on. It was followed by a second jolt, more frightening than the first one as the Boeing 737 aircraft plunged into another air pocket. It made some babies to scream and some grown-ups to become uneasy. Even though there were a few more jolts, the passengers got used to the pattern and the pilot managed to keep the plane on its course. However we all heaved a sigh of relief when it was announced that the plane would land at Lusaka International Airport within ten minutes' time.

It was with a severe jolt that the wheels of the aircraft touched down on the tarmac accompanied by a deafening roar of the jet engines as if it were going to pieces. Everyone thought that we had crash-landed and this was the end. However, we soon realized that the plane was taxiing smoothly on the runway while we heard a sweet melodious voice announcing through the plane's public address system ".......Captain Gilby and his crew thank all the passengers who have been frying with us and we hope you enjoyed the fright".

There was no doubt that we did!

Friday, August 27, 2010


King George High School at Broken hill was one of the best schools in Northern Rhodesia during the colonial rule. Even though its name was changed to Kabwe Secondary School soon after Independence, the headmaster Mr. R. M. Brown did not spare any efforts in maintaining the high standards of academic performance and discipline for which the school had a reputation.

Broken hill was the provincial capital of the central province. Its name was changed to Kabwe soon after Independence. Before the formation of Zambia and the establishment of Lusaka as its capital, Broken hill was the head quarters of the Northern Rhodesian Army. Even after Independence, it continued to remain as the army H.Q. During the early days of Independence, there were still many "whites" occupying key positions in the army, railways and government ministries. The government's policy was to have zambianization done in a slow and steady manner.

Mr. R. M. Brown was from Britain. He was a good teacher and a strict disciplinarian. After serving for some time as the deputy head of Mufulira high school on the Copper-belt, Mr. Brown was transferred to Kabwe Secondary School as the headmaster.

There were many "whites" among the students. Some of them were quite arrogant and tried to "boss" over the African and Indian students. Even from the very beginning Mr. Brown made it very clear that he would not tolerate any racialism among the students or the teachers of his school. Soon it became evident that if anyone thought he would have any special privilege because of his racial superiority or social status, he was grossly mistaken.

One day during the morning assembly Mr. Brown noticed a few senior students with "Beatle-style" long hair among the population of nearly a thousand students. Mr. Brown did not want his pupils to look like "hippies" and he made it very clear during his announcements that day. He gave them three days' time to get their hair cut short in an acceptable manner so that they too would have a decent sort of look like the rest of the pupils.

Mr. Brown kept his word. After three days he made another inspection of the students during the morning assembly and found that all the long-haired students except one had complied with his orders. After the assembly, he summoned that one to his office and asked the reason. The student replied that he had spoken to his father and he allowed him to have long hair and as such he did not see any reason why he should cut it short. Mr. Brown told him that he would still have to comply with the rules and regulations of the school as long as he wanted to be a student of that school and he would not be allowed to attend lessons until he complied with his instructions.

Mr. Brown had a good view of the front court-yard of the school, from his office. Precisely at 9 AM the next morning he noticed a massive motor car bearing the flag and emblem of the Zambian army pulling up in front of his office and a man in the army uniform getting out of the car while another army man stood aside reverently, holding the car door open. After a few minutes, he heard a brisk tap on his door and bid the visitor to enter. A huge white man in full military uniform strode in. He introduced himself as brigadier John Smith of the Zambian army and sat down heavily on a chair even before being invited by Mr. Brown to sit down. Mr. Brown politely asked him what he could do for him. The brigadier told him in an authoritative manner that he should allow his son whom Mr. Brown had sent away the previous day on a silly charge of having long hair, to go back to the lessons. Mr. Brown, very politely told the brigadier that he could not change the school rules for any particular pupil, even if his father was a brigadier or even general of the army. Now that the father of the pupil had come to the school and talked in an offensive manner, the pupil would have to make an apology in public, at the school assembly when he returned to the school after getting his hair cut. Mr. Brown indicated that the interview was over and the brigadier left in a great fury, promising to have a word with the President so that Mr. Brown would not be sitting in that chair for very long.

Nothing happened for a few days. Then, about a week later, Henry Smith, the son of brigadier John Smith, returned to the school with his hair cut short in an acceptable manner and presented himself to Mr. Brown just before the morning assembly. The headmaster allowed him to say a few words of apology after which he congratulated him for setting an example to the rest of the school by complying with the school rule even though he was a bit reluctant about it at first.

After the above incident, Henry Smith became the most law-abiding student of Kabwe Secondary School and completed his high school education in due course with flying colors before returning to England for higher studies.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Mrs. Njovu (pronounced as 'Injovu') was a member of parliament. Even though she was not considered as a very popular person, she became M.P. through her activities among the UNIP (United National Independence Party) Women. UNIP was the ruling party and President Kaunda liked hard-working people.

Mrs. Njovu used to make some caustic remarks from time to time against the foreigners who worked in that country even though she knew fully well that her country depended very much on them and could not survive without their assistance.

During the colonial days the entire civil service of Northern Rhodesia was under the control of the British, but soon after Independence, top officials were replaced by competent Zambians. As a number of new secondary schools were opened under the T.D.P. (Transitional Development Plan) in many parts of the country, there was a great demand for secondary school teachers. Even though the Zambia government had a preference for British and Irish teachers, soon it became evident that the demand was so great that they had to look elsewhere as well. India could have supplied easily the required number of teachers, but the Zambia government did not want all and sundry. They put up advertisements inviting applications from those who had some experience in teaching in other African countries. They offered better terms and conditions than in most other African countries and as a result there was a great "exodus" of teachers, mainly of Indian, Pakistani and Sreelankan origin from east, west and north African countries to Zambia. Many of the newly recruited teachers were sent to the remotest parts of the country so that even the new schools in the "bush area" could function properly.

Of all the leaders, Mrs. Njovu was the one who apparently had some grudge against the Indians and she used to express her feelings from time to time, but nobody paid any attention to her utterances. However, things came to a head on one occasion when a scathing remark made by her appeared as a front-page headline in the prominent national newspaper, the "Times of Zambia".

It was a Monday. As soon as I reached the school along with my wife, where both of us used to work, I had a feeling that something was wrong. As we stepped into the staff room, we found our colleagues, especially the Indian teachers, standing in a group in the middle of the room and engaged in animated conversation. There were more than twenty Indian teachers among a total of nearly sixty, the rest comprising mainly of Zambian and some European personnel. It was one Mr. Varghese from Kerala who called me by name and asked whether I had seen that day's newspaper. I hadn't. He thrust a copy in my face and asked me to look at the main headline on the front page. It appeared in big bold letters as follows:


The entire text of the M.P's speech was given below along with the picture of a smiling Njovu in her full Zambian gear. Her speech purported to say that fake B.Sc, M.Sc and Ph.D degree certificates were available in India and could be bought from the streets of Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta by anyone who wanted them at a very cheap price. She had even quoted the cost of each in Indian rupees and the equivalent Zambian kwacha.

Just then the bell was rung for the morning assembly. The pupils started taking up their position in the quadrangle. Our school, one of the biggest on the Copper-belt, had more than fifteen hundred pupils. The Indian teachers were considered in great esteem by them. As they were lining up for the assembly, we still continued with our discussion. We were debating what action we should take as none of us was prepared to face the students that morning. We knew that most of our students would have seen the morning newspaper by this time.

The headmaster Mr. R.M. Brown who also was an expatriate, poked his head into the staff room, on his way to address the school assembly. He said casually, "ladies and gentlemen, it is assembly time" and without waiting for any response, proceeded to the podium. It was unusual for the headmaster to remind us of the assembly. Probably he might have got wind of our hesitation to face the students that morning. We looked at each other and followed him silently to the veranda where we took our stand as usual.

The morning assembly always started with a prayer. This was the common practice in all Zambian schools, whether run by government or mission. Contrary to the usual practice, Mr. Brown spread out that day's newspaper so that everyone could see the front page and spoke: "I am quite certain that most of you might have seen today's Times of Zambia newspaper. It contains a serious allegation by a person no less than a member of parliament, against the Indian teachers who are doing an excellent job in this country. Every pupil in this school or elsewhere who has ever been taught by Indian teachers should know how incorrect this allegation is. As a headmaster in this country for the last fifteen years, I can say with all sincerity that the Indian teachers with whom I have come into contact during my career are the best teachers I have ever known. I therefore condemn this article in today's Times of Zambia whole-heartedly and advise all my listeners to do the same."

Everyone was stunned. There was absolute silence for many seconds and then Mr. Brown said "let us pray" and continued with the morning assembly.

There was no further hesitation on the part of the Indian teachers to go to their classes and face the students. Mr. R.M. Brown had spoken for us as no one had spoken ever before knowing fully well that he was not only risking his career but also would be liable to imprisonment and deportation. However, no such things happened.

Well done, Mr. Brown, Sir, we admire your courage and the way you stood for us. It is a privilege to have worked under you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


The military camp of the Mufulira Engineering Corps was situated about a kilometre away from my school. During my stay of twenty five years in Mufulira, I had gone there two or three times on some business related to my school, but never had taken my vehicle beyond the sentry box at the main entrance as civilian vehicles were not allowed in without a special pass. I was always accompanied by a Zambian colleague who would talk in 'cibemba' (local language) to the sentry who would then allow us to go in after leaving the vehicle outside. There was a government primary school within the campus. It was mainly for the children of the military personnel. Some of the teachers of that school were our former colleagues who used to drop in to borrow some science equipments or for a friendly chat. Major Mwambwa, one of our colleagues who used to be in charge of the cadets in the school had acquaintances among the army people. Being a foreigner working in Zambia, I did not have any close contact with the army people.

It was my final year in Mufulira. About three months before my retirement, there was an 'end of the term’ party, at the school. Party times were when all staff members would come together and spend a lot of time singing and dancing. Some of us who were not singers or dancers would be merely sitting around sipping a Coke or Fanta and watching. As in most get-together parties in Zambia, a lot of beer would be flowing and those who were habitual drinkers would be having a ‘really good time'.

We could hardly make any conversation because of the music that was blaring. The volume knob of the amplifier was turned to the highest degree. The pupils were given a "free" afternoon because of the staff party. Even the clerical staff and laboratory assistants left their cubicles and joined the crowd of dancers in the school hall.

While I was trying to make some conversation with one of the colleagues sitting next to me, Mr. Mweshi came to me and said he wanted to talk to me. Mr. Mweshi was a good friend of mine. He was one of the organizers of the staff parties. I asked him what the matter was. He wanted me to go with him to the military canteen and bring from there a few crates of beer in my station wagon. I said I would talk to the boss and then accompany him. In fact it was a common practice among the staff that those who had their own vehicles would make trips for the school or for other colleagues if the need arose, as the school bus was not available most of the time due to one reason or other.

When we reached the camp, I was about to park my vehicle outside the gates as I had done in the past. Mr. Mweshi told me that we would have to take the car inside as the canteen was situated at some distance away from the main entrance. He talked to the sentry in the local language and mentioned the name of the officer whom he was going to meet. The sentry talked to someone on the telephone and then opened the gates for us to take the vehicle in. Mr. Mweshi got in beside me and gave me directions. We travelled some distance and reached an area where some large trees stood majestically. I could see many low, single storied buildings beyond the belt of trees. Mr. Mweshi told me to park the car under one of the trees and wait for a few minutes so that he could go in and organize the stuff. I settled down in the front passenger seat and started reading a book which I had with me in the glove compartment of the car.

As I was deeply engrossed in the reading of the book, I did not realize the passing of time. When I checked the time, I was surprised to note that almost an hour had passed since Mr. Mweshi left me for "a few minutes". Before I diverted my attention to the book, I noticed someone standing at a distance, without any movement. I watched him for a few minutes and realized that he was looking intently in my direction. He was in army uniform. Even though it was not uncommon to find a uniformed soldier in an army camp, I felt a little discomfort at seeing him there, probably watching me surreptitiously for how long, I did not know.

He might have stood there for another ten minutes or so and then walked away. By this time I had lost all interest in my reading and followed him with my eyes. He went inside one of the buildings and remained there for some time. Then he came out along with another uniformed soldier who had a rifle slung from his shoulder. They walked slowly in my direction and stood at the border of the belt of trees, presumably watching my vehicle and waiting to find out what my intention was.

I panicked. I have heard of stories of foreigners who had strayed unwittingly to sensitive areas having been apprehended and then disappearing without trace in some African and Latin American countries. Whatever the military would do to a suspected “spy” was their business and was beyond any routine enquiry. Occasionally we used to read in the newspapers about people of other nationality who were "found spying for an un-named foreign country" and taken into custody by the security men. Here I, a foreigner, had been inside an African military camp for the past hour or so with no legitimate explanation to offer and could easily be mistaken for a spy. There was no sign of the person whom I accompanied and I did not know even the name of the officer whom he had gone to see. In the meanwhile, I thought that the two soldiers whom I had noticed before were advancing slowly in my direction.

While I was thus engrossed in my thoughts in a panic-stricken state of mind, I hardly noticed someone coming from the other direction. He too was wearing an army uniform and glanced casually in my direction as he passed on. All on a sudden he stopped in mid-stride and came back to my vehicle. He looked in, addressed me by name and asked me what I was doing in their campus. He was smiling broadly. I got out of the car, still wondering who this person might be . In the same instant that recognition came to me, he said, "I am Mishek Musonda, your former student, now a captain in the Zambian Army" and caught hold of my hand in a firm grip as a prelude to a hearty shake-hand. He asked about my family and we spent some time chatting. Then I told him the reason for my presence there and added that I had been waiting for more than an hour for Mr. Mweshi who had gone in. The captain remarked with a smile that Mr. Mweshi might have been doing a little bit of "warming up" in the canteen and forgotten all about his errand. He promised to go and look him up. He also said he would find some "boys" (junior soldiers) to carry the crates to my vehicle and then left.

After the captain's departure, I remembered about the two soldiers who were watching me and who, in all probability, were about to pounce on me, but could not see any sign of them. They might have made a hasty retreat when they saw the familiarity with which the captain treated me.

I got into my vehicle and settled comfortably in the driver's seat, awaiting Mr. Mweshi's return.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


While I was away, someone had telephoned the local police and I found an inspector accompanied by a couple of policemen on my return to the scene of the accident. By this time, many of the onlookers had dispersed. However, a number of people lingered around, most of them at a respectable distance. There were some eye witnesses among them. The police took their statements and cautioned them to be available for further clarification if necessary. As soon as I appeared on the scene, they turned their attention on me. I answered their questions and told them exactly what had happened according to my knowledge. It seemed they were satisfied with my answers. As they had already taken a statement from the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident and the eye witnesses corroborated his statement, they wanted the car to be moved to the police station for fitness examination by their experts and the driver to accompany them for other formalities.

With the help of the police and that of the on-lookers, we managed to push the Volkswagen up the gradient to the road. We noticed that the laminated wind screen had cracked all over but still the pieces held together. The right headlamp was shattered and its reflector with a broken bulb in it, hung out on a wire. The engine started easily and as the clutch was released, the vehicle moved forward smoothly. Obviously it was in running condition. My friend drove the car while a policeman sat in the front passenger seat and gave directions. The rest of our party crammed into my car and we followed the Volkswagen to the police station.

We sat on some benches and waited in a narrow hall for at least three quarters of an hour before the driver of the accident car was summoned to the presence of the officer in charge. I accompanied him without being invited. The officer waved us to a couple of straight-backed chairs and asked the driver to narrate in detail the events that led to the accident. He interrupted him at times to ask him a question or two, while making a note on a notepad in front of him. He asked the questions in a friendly manner and there was no threat or intimidation in his voice. Later he asked me also a few questions pertaining to my role in the whole affair. By the end of the session, it appeared that he was convinced that the cyclist was at fault and the motorist could not have avoided hitting him as he crossed the road so suddenly into the path of the oncoming vehicle. Just a few minutes before the accident, the red Volkswagen had overtaken my friend's vehicle and the cyclist might not have seen or even heard the car behind.

Now the big question in our mind was "what next?" As if reading our thoughts the officer said that the driver of the accident car would have to stay behind until certain formalities were done including the fitness examination of his vehicle by an examiner from the police headquarters in order to find out whether the vehicle was in a roadworthy condition at the time of the accident. The rest of us were free to resume our journey. At this point, I politely told him that we would not leave our friend alone in a foreign country under such circumstances but would rather stay around until he was allowed to proceed along with us. He replied that there was a government guest house nearby where we could find food and accommodation and gave directions to reach there. However, he wanted the driver of the accident car to return to the police station as soon as possible after arranging accommodation for his family at the guest house. In the meanwhile his passport, car keys and blue book (car's registration book) were to be left behind.

All of us piled into my Datsun and went in search of the guest house. Soon we found the place and secured a couple of rooms for our overnight stay. We had a bite of lunch after which we left the ladies and the children at the guest house and returned to the police station.

The officer in charge had gone out and the door to his office was found closed. Someone had moved the accident car to the far end of the court yard, close to the inspection pit. One of the policemen told us to wait in the same dismal hall were we had waited earlier. We sat down on a bench and soon got immersed in our own thoughts, presumably on our present predicament and how and when we would be able to get out of it.

By 6 PM, it was quite dark outside and we could see the headlights of a few motor vehicles moving on the highway nearby. It was Easter Saturday and the traffic was very sparse. Most people were enjoying their long weekend either with their families or elsewhere. We were told that a radio message had been sent to summon the vehicle examiner from the police headquarters but no reply had been received so far. May be he was out of town, enjoying his Easter weekend or out of range to the radio call. Any way we had to stay around until we were permitted by the O/C to leave.

At 7.30 PM the officer in charge breezed in. He was no longer in the police uniform but smartly dressed in a sports jacket and dress pants. He nodded to us and went in to his office. There was very little activity going on in the building. As the night progressed, the temperature dropped and we felt a chill in the atmosphere. The yellow light from a single electric bulb in the hall made the place appear all the more gloomy. Two or three policemen on the night shift were seen moving around and no one paid any attention to us.

All on a sudden we noticed the bright headlights of a vehicle coming in through the gates. The vehicle, a Peugeot 504, came up to the car port in front of the building and screeched to a stop. A tall stout man wearing a long, white overcoat came out of the car with a clip board in one hand and a Hunter lantern in the other. We realized that the vehicle inspector had arrived. After reporting to the officer in charge, he went out to the parking lot accompanied by one of the policemen and began his work. However, his inspection did not take too long. He examined the condition of the tires, brakes, steering mechanism and the general condition of the car and noted down his findings and comments on a single sheet of paper. After handing his report to the officer in charge, he got into his car and drove away.

After a while, a constable came and told us that the officer in charge would like to see us. We went in and he pointed to the chairs so that we may sit down. The case file was in front of him. He told us that the vehicle examiner's report was sufficient proof to the fact that the vehicle was in a roadworthy condition at the time of the accident which meant that the accident was not caused by driving a faulty vehicle. As all other factors such as drunken driving, careless driving, exceeding the speed limit etc. had been ruled out in the earlier report by the police, the only charge applicable would be "unintentional man- slaughter". He added that after giving a signed statement to the effect that he would appear at his own expense for the trial whenever he was summoned by the court, the driver was free to leave the country. Then he handed back the car key and the documents he had taken earlier from the driver.

By the time we finished the formalities at the police station it was nearly 10 PM. As it was too late and we could not resume our journey during the night, we wanted to leave the accident car on the station premises until next morning. Our request was granted. When we thanked the officer in charge for all the kindness shown to us in spite of what had happened, he pointed to a framed photograph of the President of that country and told us in a matter of fact voice, "it is the wish of our President that we should be as helpful as possible to innocent people, especially to foreigners, who get into difficulties while they are in our country due to circumstances beyond their control. Gentlemen, I wish you and your families a safe journey back home".

Friday, February 26, 2010


We were on our way to Lusaka after having a very pleasant holiday in the tourist capital of a neighboring country. It was the Easter weekend. Our party consisted of two families, travelling in two motor cars. The friend and family who were accompanying us were stationed at a rural area in Zambia near the border. Our aim was to reach that place before nightfall so as to have a good night's rest and proceed to Lusaka early next morning.

The tar-macadam road leading from the capital to the border was well-maintained and the traffic was not heavy. We came across an occasional truck or car moving towards or away from the capital. We overtook one or two slow moving vehicles hauling boats on trailers, probably heading to the well-known holiday resort at the lake-side.

By 8.45 AM, we passed through a fairly large town on our way. The town was in the process of waking up and a number of shops still remained un-open. We were feeling quite hungry as our early morning breakfast was very light. We thought we would find a lay-by somewhere in the outskirts of the town where we could stop for a few minutes and fortify ourselves with some coffee and snacks that we were having with us.

I was driving a Datsun 1600, with my wife and the two children along with me. My friend and family travelled in the beige Volkswagen that followed us. Even though there was some distance between the two cars, being the driver of the car in front, I made sure that the Volkswagen was always visible in my rear view mirror.

A few kilometres away from the town, I noticed in my mirror another car far behind. It was a red Volkswagen. It was coming at a steady pace and kept its distance. Sometimes it went out of my field of vision in the mirror.

The road rose into an incline and I thought my engine was dragging a bit. I stepped on the gas pedal and the ninety-seven b.h.p engine responded quickly. The car surged forward. By the time we reached the top of the incline, we lost sight of both the cars behind. There was some level ground to the left, sufficient to park two or three cars, and we decided to pull up and wait for the other car. We moved to the side of the road and I switched off the engine.

We might have waited for five minutes at the most when we heard the familiar sound of the Volkswagen’s air-cooled engine and looked back expectantly. It was the red Volkswagen with its lone European occupant that passed us at a brisk pace. We looked for the other car but there was no sign of it.

All on a sudden I had a strong feeling that something had gone wrong with the other car and its occupants. I started my car and took a U-turn. We had to go back and find out the cause of their delay.

From the top of the incline we had an uninterrupted view of at least a kilometre of the road. Far away, we saw a crowd on the road and no sign of the car. "Oh God, what could have happened?" We rushed to the spot.

I stopped my car just a metre away from the crowd and jumped out. At a glance I saw the disheveled forms of my friend and his wife and children standing on one side of the road, a little distance away from the crowd and their car in a shallow ditch below the road, but on all four wheels. It had a funny, lop-sided appearance. A number of people stood in the middle of the road, forming a circle.

The realization that my friend and family were unhurt, not seriously anyway, sent a wave of relief through my mind, but it lasted only until I pushed through the crowd and had a look inside the circle of people.

A man lay crumpled on the ground littered with broken glass, near the twisted remains of a bicycle. There was blood all over his body. His right eye was popped out and his left eye looked at me in a fixed stare. Even when I asked the onlookers to put the man in my car and at the same time my wife and children got out hurriedly to make room for him, I knew he was either dead or dying. However I had to take him to the nearest hospital.

At first the people around were not too eager to comply with my request but when I implored to them, two or three people obliged. I told someone to get into the front passenger seat and direct me to the hospital. A young man got in reluctantly. We had come a little over seven kilometres from the town. The district hospital was situated near the centre of the town. I drove back along the same way we had come just a while ago until the large sprawling structure of the district hospital was seen. We passed through the gates and travelled a few metres before I could see the red bold sign of the Casualty. I took the vehicle as close to the entrance as possible, jumped out and ran in to some kind of a waiting room where there was no one. I passed through another door and entered a hall where a number of people were seated and a man wearing a doctor's white overcoat was examining someone through a stethoscope.
"Doctor, there is a dying man in my car. Can you please come out and take a look at him?" I almost screamed.

The man in the doctor's coat came out to the car without any hesitation. He briefly examined the injured man and said, "But he is already dead. There is nothing I can do for him."

I was totally disconcerted. "Oh God, what do I do now?"

"You drive along this road and take the first turn to the left. You will see the mortuary at the far end. Leave the body there and report to the Police", he said.

I got back behind the wheel as if in a trance and drove in the direction indicated by the man.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


After twenty-seven years of undisputed leadership, President Kenneth David Kaunda was losing his popularity. The economy of Zambia was in shambles and the once prosperous African country was on the brink of bankruptcy. The Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) which was formed after the nationalization of the mines to prevent the drain of foreign exchange proved to be a mammoth white elephant that contributed to the depletion of the country's economy as never before.
ZCCM along with a number of ‘parastatal’ companies went on such a rampage that they spent much more than what they could earn by digging deeper and deeper into the country's resources and left the nation literally penniless. It was the common man who suffered from the ill-effects of the economic decline. Food, clothing and other essential commodities became so expensive and unaffordable. Working class people found it impossible to make both ends meet. The rich man, to the contrary, became richer while the political leaders and their minions thrived beyond description. The realization by the people of Zambia that they needed something better than Kaunda's principle of Humanism and United National Independent Party's(UNIP) One Party Participatory Democracy led to the formation of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) under the leadership of a trade union leader by the name Frederick Chiluba.

In spite of all the fringe benefits given and unfulfilled promises made, the people of Zambia were not willing to be satisfied with nothing less than a general election. Chiluba and his followers held meetings, rallies and demonstrations throughout the country in which thousands of people participated. The momentum increased and the pressure on the government was so great that a general election was declared towards the end of 1991.

Even though the thousands of foreigners working in the country had no voting right and had nothing to do with the election, they had become very apprehensive about the after-effects of the election especially as there was a lot of resentment among the local workers towards the expatriates who were earning more than ten times of what their Zambian counterparts were earning. There was a strong rumour of the possibility of a military take-over either just before the election or immediately after it. In either case it would have meant disaster for the foreigners, especially for members of the Asian community.

And with good reasons too. The Asian businessmen had the monopoly of trading in Zambia. They were exploiters of the worst kind. Even though many of them were citizens of Zambia by birth as their parents or grand parents had migrated from India long time back, they had all the savings stashed away in foreign banks and were in the process of working out the formalities of emigrating to Britain, the United States or Canada. There was no doubt that if there was a military take-over, the Asians would have been the first victims. In such case, there would not have been any differentiation between the expatriate Asian workers and the Asian business community.

Even the Indian High Commission, in their circular to the Indians in Zambia, outlined in no unmistakable terms the procedure they should adopt in order to make a speedy exit from the country in the event of a military coup. The circular contained guidelines on various precautions to be taken, the preparation of survival kits and emergency contact addresses. On the whole, the Asians in Zambia were the most frightened people on earth during the pre-election months.

As a result, many expatriate and resident Asian workers decided to leave the country for a "holiday" during the election month. To be on the safe side, many businessmen made arrangements to send their wives and children to Zimbabwe, East Africa or India just before the election. However, things were not so easy for the expatriate workers employed in the copper mines, parastatal companies and government departments. The authorities being aware of the Asian workers' intention to leave the country "en masse" made it clear that no leave would be granted except in emergencies. Some of the clever fellows managed to obtain telegrams from India saying that one of the parents died suddenly or was in the process of dying and managed to get compassionate leave but when it came to the attention of the Zambian authorities that too many parents in India were dying all on a sudden, they realized that they were being tricked.

Those expatriates who could not get permission to leave the country or those who decided to stay on come whatever may, made some preparations to stay strictly indoors for a couple of weeks or so, in case of a military coup or popular agitation. These included fortifying the doors and windows by means of iron bars, storing all sorts of provision to last at least a month and making alternate arrangements for cooking and lighting in case of massive power failure.

At last the much dreaded election day arrived. As it was a normal working day, we went for work as usual. One of our school buildings was taken over and converted into a polling station. We saw a long line of people waiting patiently for their turn to go in and cast their votes. There were two or three policemen lazing around and the atmosphere was quite peaceful. There were no party militants or "booth snatchers" and no surreptitious canvassing.

With thumping hearts we listened to the radio and television newscast at lunch time and also in the evening, bracing ourselves to hear the worst possible news but came to know to our great relief that polling took place peacefully in all polling stations throughout the country and there was not even a single incident of blood shed or violence in connection with the election anywhere in Zambia.

The days that followed during which the results were announced and a new government was sworn in, were equally peaceful and the transfer of power from UNIP(United National Independence Party) to MMD (Movement for Multi-party Democracy) was the smoothest ever seen. The days of anxiety were over.

The credit goes mainly to that great statesman of Africa, President Kenneth Kaunda, who ensured that the Zambian election would be free and fair and also to the peace-loving people of Zambia who did not interfere in any way with the procedures of the election.