I first met him on a Wednesday many years ago. Tall and thin he was, with great affinity and capacity for life, justice, and beer. There was a small, silver crucifix dangling from his left ear and a battered sarong tied around his waist.
Quoting Henry Miller he declared himself to be: “citizen of the world . . . dedicated to the recovery of the divinity of man”.
And thus started our friendship.
For twenty years he called me ‘Shorty’ and never once did we shake hands to say hallo or goodbye. There was no need, for our bond was never interrupted by space or time. It just was.
A true champion of the poor and neglected, he could work and slaughter any system, and be in time for his 2 o’clock beer.
First, there was the fight to abolish the dreaded “dop-stelsel” on the South African wine farms. Wine-as-pay turned workers into alcoholics and their children suffered from alcohol-fetus-syndrome.
Then there was land reform. Our colossus negotiated trust agreements whereby ordinary farm workers became co-owners of the farm businesses they worked for.
Relentlessly he worked to persuade successful farmers to mentor their less privileged neighbours. And he convinced them to brag about it. “Have your meeting next to the main road”, he said, “so that those who drive by can see the good that you do”.
He was as comfortable in boardrooms as he was in shebeens. And always true to his principles. And he was respected for it, even in confrontation.
Once, when asked what his purpose was, he told the aggressive and inebriated patrons of a white rural bar, that he was there to transfer white land to black farmers.
He argued and discussed and played them folk songs on a borrowed guitar until most strings were broken. A few days later he couriered them replacement strings. They send him a letter calling him “friend”.
Then he got sick. They told him his time was near and that there is no cure.
During this time he came to visit, even more thin and very frail. He wanted “to say goodbye and have a final beer with everyone here”, he said. Opportunistic infections set in and he was hurried back. Mission incomplete.
He was clear from the onset, he will spend his final days at home with his family.
His dear wife asked his mother for his favorite childhood recipes and cooked these for his comfort.
I saw him twice since then and toward the end I was the only one outside the family to see him. A big sign on the front gate told everyone that he was home but in no condition to receive guests.
Toward the end the illness devoured his body. Wounds no longer healed, and bottles of Purity replaced home-cooked meals. With it, he used beer to boost the morphine.
We never spoke about death. “That is my issue”, he said. “Yours is staying behind. Let us not mix or collate the two.”
During that last week he mentioned that he craves a good curry. Not too spicy but full of flavor. Purity has no such flavor.
Death came a day before Christmas that year. With his family around him, our colossus gently departed. At peace, having led a life of giving.
This curry is my tribute to our colossus. Originally from Kashmir and traditionally using Moval (dried cock’s comb) to give the dish its passionate red colour, it is a rather mild curry made with lamb and served with naan bread.
Our colossus would have used the bread to eat some of the rich sauce and leave the sweet meat to everyone else. Such was the giving nature of the man.