The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the current Dean of St George's Cathedral. Picture: Leon Muller
The Chetty family was our opposite neighbour on York Street in Cravenby Estate, Elsies River. There was our second home and the boys in the family, Nadarajan and Pragasen, were our peers and the first youngsters who befriended us when we arrived in the area in the mid-1960s.

Their sisters, Maharani and Jackie - it took me some time to realise that it was “Jackie” and not “Jeggie” - were older.

The family had strong links with India via the port city of Durban. On one occasion a cousin-brother of Mr Chetty had sourced a husband for one of his daughters from that distant land.

The chap (let’s call him Gopal) had arrived by boat from India and, for a short while, lived next door to us with his new bride in the row of rooms in the backyard of Mr Ramphal Singh, our landlord.

One balmy summer evening after supper, I sat on the stoep outside our room polishing my school shoes. The voice of Savatri (let’s call her such) drew my attention.

I slowed the rhythm of the shoe brush, softening the sound of bristle on leather. I listened, without turning my head in the direction of the source of my 9-year old curiosity.

“Listen here Gopal ” A tension-building pause followed by a repeat of the name of this son of India, “If you do not behave yourself ” I stopped brushing my shoe to hear, without any impediment, the fate of my neighbour.

“If you do not behave yourself then my father will take you back to Durban and from there you can get on that sugar-boat you came on and go back to India. Do you hear me?”

A few weeks later Gopal and Savatri moved deeper into Cravenby and to a more private living arrangement free of my adolescent busgeid (nosiness). I never found out how and why Gopal had offended the snarky Savatri.

I suspect that it was to do with the many empty Red Heart rum bottles Savatri gave my mum before they moved out of the yard.

The home-made ginger beer on sale at the St Andrew’s Church bazaar that year had a decided kick and was popular among the senior altar servers and choir members.

The previous year my 7-year-old brother, Mark, and my 8-year- old self had assembled at the jasmine tree located on the border of the Chetty’s small, but well-treed, garden.

The dense foliage gave some desired privacy for us and our unaware hosts.

It was just as the sun was setting and my mother was still on the Overdale bus on her way home from the factory where she worked in Parow.

Our baby sister, Denise, had not been born yet and our younger brother, John, lived with ‘maBessie in Garden Village. So Mark and I had had some measure of freedom and no sibling impimpis to bribe or threaten.

The Chettys were Hindu and were the first interfaith devotees I knew of as they also attended mass at Holy Trinity, the Catholic Church near the Malawi Camp end of Halt Road.

Mark and I sat on the ground, our backs against the tree - the site of a shrine dedicated to The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.

The smell of sandalwood miaang, its thin smoke whisping from the lit sticks next to the Marian statue, pervaded the early evening air.

Early that day Mrs Chetty, clad in her sari, had placed a bowl of fruit in front of the shrine. She had greeted us warmly as we walked past on our way to school. The bowl of fruit was subjected to our hungry scrutiny when we returned later in the afternoon.

This sacramental fare of bananas and oranges fascinated us as fruit was never found in our home in such abundance. And so we ate what there was before us. All of it.

Perhaps to assuage my conscience, if not his, Mark remarked with a deep-breathed relish, “Die voeltjies sal’it ma’ op gevriet het”.

And we, the Weeder boys, thanked the gods of all for these vestiges of cross-cultural, faith-based syncretism.

* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus