Kanthan's speech at his firstborn's wedding

Monday, 19 January 2009

As is the case with most good things, Kashnie came into my life by accident. I was 21 years old and a student at Wits and I was living at my father's place in Lenz extension 10. To get myself out to Wits every day, I would need to be up at 5 in the morning to get a lift with my father to the centre of Lenz by 6 o'clock. There I would wait for the bus to Wits which would leave at 7 to get me to campus for my first lecture at 8h30. In the evening, I would catch the 6 pm bus back to Lenz and be picked up by my father at around 7h30 to finally be at his home for supper by 8. By 9, I would start studying and fall asleep by midnight, exhausted. The next day, the cycle would start again. I couldn't take it. At that point, my stepfather told me to contact his niece who was living in Hillbrow. So I called Managay who was working at Somcor close to the university, and she took me home to meet the family at Branksome Towers in Joubert Park across the road from the station.

I shook hands with Danny and was sitting in the lounge chatting with him when this little minx, barely 5 years old, came up to me, climbed onto my lap, and made herself comfortable. Danny invited me to come and live with them until he could find me a flat close to them. I jumped at the chance. And as I was getting up to go, and picked Kashnie off my lap and put her down, Danny turned to her and said: "Give it back to him."

And I said: "Give me what back?"

And Kashnie reluctantly held out her hand which was holding my watch.

I moved into the Moodley home. I slept mainly on the couch. When there were visitors from out of town, mattresses would be stretched out on the lounge floor and we would sleep as many as 5 or 6 people there, Thanusha and Mahesh among them. But I could now get up at 7 in the morning, leave home by 8 to walk to campus, and still be in time for my first lecture. When lectures and labs finished, I would walk back home, pick up Kashnie, and take her down to Joubert Park where I would study and she would play on the swings and with the giant chess pieces.

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And that was when I started referring to Kashnie as my firstborn. Up until that time, I had no space in my life for children. Kashnie was the first child I had ever voluntarily taken care of. And I delighted in it. I would get home and this little ball of greased lightning would fling herself at me with that huge smile that she still has.

Danny Moodley became the closest friend I had ever had. We would stay up late at night after dinner having conversations into the small hours of the morning. I could see Managay getting quite irritated sometime at coming to the kitchen at 1 in the morning and seeing us sitting there drinking tea with condensed milk and smoking cigarettes.

We didn't have much money between us. Managay's job was frequently the only source of income. Whenever Danny struck one of his windfalls, we would feast like kings.

Then in June, I was injured in a car crash which put me in Coronation Hospital in traction for almost three months. During that time, come rain or shine, Danny was at my bedside in hospital every day without fail. And I remember telling him that I was going to get out of there and buy myself a GTi.

I got out of hospital and moved back to Durban and got back into journalism full time. And I bought that GTi and drove it to Jo'burg and gave it to Danny to go off to Sun City with Managay and the girls. I would frequently arrive in Jo'burg in the small hours of the morning and break into the flat and surprise them. When I woke up in the morning, I would inevitably find Kashnie curled up next to me.

Danny took my comings and goings in his stride. When the security branch came to Branksome Towers looking for me, he just told them to get out. I remember returning from Zimbabwe in the small hours of the morning with Danny pointing out the security branch person meant to be staking out the place asleep across the road in the car.

I left the country in 1986 after the State of Emergency. When I got back for a visit in 92, Danny had realised his dream which was to buy the shop and the house in Norkem Park. But he wasn't looking right. And I hauled him into the kitchen and asked him: "Danny, what are you not telling me?" "Nothing," he said. "Don't lie," I said. And he finally told me that he had cancer.

I cut short my visit to Durban and came back to Jo'burg to haul Danny off to hospital where they told him what he needed to do by way of chemotherapy to fight it. I remember him refusing to do so and I remember holding him by his shirt front and shaking him and shouting at him to fight this thing. But it was Danny's nature to not be prepared to put up with doctors and hospitals. He died a little more than a year later -- a week after my biological daughter Aura was born.

Many of you here today have not had the pleasure or the privilege of knowing Danny Moodley. I will tell you today that Danny was the best friend any person could hope for. He gave of his love freely and was unstinting in his generosity. To me, he was the big brother who could always be relied upon for support and love but never criticism. He was my role model in terms of his passionate love for Managay and his four daughters. To him, I was also many things -- I was the son he had never had but always wanted, I was the confidante he would pour his heart out to about his dreams and fears for the future. I know the girls most frequently saw the side of Danny that was implacable and would strike terror into the hearts of potential boyfriends. But it's the nature of men that we don't speak freely of these feelings to the women in our lives, and I was privy to the side of Danny that would gladly give everything and more for Managay and his four daughters.

There are many things about my firstborn that I will not tell you today. I won't tell you that I walloped her once and once only -- when she climbed onto the kitchen table when I had told her not to, and she slipped and fell and her face was about to fall into the boiling pot on the stove when I caught her in mid air. I won't tell you about waking her up at night when I was about to go to bed to haul her off to the toilet so that she would not wet the bed. I won't tell you about the jokes Danny and I would make about the ship being stuck in the harbour -- a reference to Kashnie's bottom in this cute sailor outfit she used to wear.

I won't tell you that Kashnie disapproved of all my girlfriends over the years without exception. When I introduced her to Tracy some eight years ago, Kashnie did this very pointed imitation of Tracy's accent which she might share with us at some point. I won't tell you how when Kashnie came to live with me in Durban for a while and I got her a part time job at the Daily News, she left a trail of broken hearts in the newsroom.

I will tell you of my profound sense of pride as I have watched her grow from that 5 year old who stole my watch to the confident self-assured beautiful loving person we see here today. Amidst the devastating loss of Nalini in our lives last year, I took pride in how Kashnie became a tower of strength, holding the family together and getting everything done in spite of what I could feel she was going through. I was glad to be there when she needed me, but was more glad that at that most trying moment in our lives, she had the strength and courage to do what needed to be done without my help. I don't believe any parent wants anything else from a child.

It's more than 25 years since the Moodleys have been my family. It's more than 15 years since my best friend passed on and I have called his daughter my firstborn and she has called me her dad, and I have been honoured and proud to play some small part in what she is today. But the truth of the matter is that the single constant in her life and the lives of her sisters has been Managay. It was always Managay who ensured that no matter what happened, there was a roof above their heads, food on the table, their teeth were brushed, and they were sent off to school. I know of no one who has done as fine a job as she has.

Of Pravesh, I will repeat what I told Kashnie: He is not good enough for you because no one is ever good enough for my daughter, but he is the best you are ever likely to find. Pravesh: Best you take good care of her, or else!