Warships, business dinner and history

19 September 2010 - 02:00 By Yasantha Naidoo and Nawhal Kara

I was reminded of Dionne Warwick's That's What Friends Are For on board the Indian destroyer Mysore last Saturday night after a string of speakers punted the raison d'etre for the emerging superpower's strong naval presence in the country last week.

The Mysore, flanked by the cruise missile warship INS Tabar, tanker INS Aditya and double-banked with navy frigate INS Ganga - from the Indian Navy's Western Naval Command, headquartered in Mumbai - were the leaders in a trilateral naval exercise as part of the second India Brazil South Africa Maritime (IBSAMAR) war games. About a 100 locals were charmed by the hospitality of the white-uniformed naval officers led by Commander Ramakant Patnaik.

WAVE YOUR FLAG: Patnaik opened the evening's formalities by saying that despite guests being on "warship territory we don't demand passports or visas" but want only friendship. He explained the naval service was on a mission to "carry the love and affection of the Indian people and safeguard the maritime interests, with the Brazilian nation, of the coastal citizens. The sentiment was echoed by Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta who said the visit by the 1400 "sailors" signified the friendship and strategic relationship between India and SA. Chatting later to him, Gupta also spoke about preparations for the mini-Pravasi Bharatiya Divas - a gathering of the Indian diaspora for networking - which, on October 1 and 2, will be another Indian bridge-building experience in South Africa.

CRICKET CRAZY: Also on board was Indian cabinet minister for New and Renewable Energy and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah. The 72-year-old politician- who is also a medical doctor and whose son, Omar, is the current chief minister in the conflict-ridden states of India - was poetic as he described the turbulent global threats, India's hand of friendship and dream to "either live in peace together or die one by one". Abdullah, who is also an Indian Premier League governing council member, was said to be in the country to watch the current Cricket Championship League matches among other duties. Incidentally, off-duty naval officers from the ships took the opportunity to watch the Chennai Super Kings thrash the Central Stags at Kingsmead Stadium in Durban.

INDIAN SPLENDOUR: After the formalities, which closed with an address by South African Navy Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimo, guests, including businessman, Vivian Reddy and his wife, Sorisha Naidoo, mingled or witnessed the on-board demonstration of Indian martial arts and a Punjabi folk dance. Naidoo, who was positively beaming about her one-month-old daughter, Kalina, looked svelte in a gold kurthi and churidhar pants. She ribbed her husband about his undeniable imprint on their daughter. The couple had earlier in the day accompanied city deputy mayor Logie Naidoo to a temple in Umgeni Road to celebrate Ganesha prayers.

OVERALL: It was an enjoyable evening and I had to laugh as some of the female guests openly ogled at the men in uniforms. I wanted to cringe in embarrassment when a few took being friendly to new limits to amusement from the polite seamen. It was then that I decided to walk the gangplank home.

TWO days later, about 850 of the pro- vince's cash-flush entrepeneurs (a few tenderpreneurs), aspiring elite and corporate economic heavyweights added a bit of bling to their business attire in honour of the Durban Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner at the Durban Exhibition Centre. A colleague commented that the venue looked like it was set up for an Indian wedding - fairy lights, elaborate drapes, blue-light centrepieces and a pillar centre stage - but that's probably a Durban trademark by now (after all, it was done by sought-after wedding venue decorator Koogan Pillay).

TIME IS MONEY: I was delighted that formalities kicked off on time, facilitated by the witty Andrew Layman who is chief executive of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce. Starters and the main meal (impeccably served and prepared by the Elangeni Hotel) preceded the main speakers, president Clive Manci and the evening's keynote speaker and doyen of supermarket retailing, Raymond Ackerman. Golden-voiced Swazi Dlamini provided an up-tempo beat in the interim.

TALK TALK: Manci, who is a dynamic and confident president, was quick to point out that, unlike a previous speaker, a corporate sponsor whose notes were on his iPad, his was the old-fashioned way on paper. He joked that as this was a networking function, guests should go home having made at least eight new customers. Manci touched briefly on the chamber's controversial executive changes and thanked architect TC Chetty for stepping up to assume caretaker position as chief executive.

EXPLOSIVE TALK: The founder of Checkers and the Pick n Pay retail chain, Ackerman, was a delight as he imparted sage advice, funny anecdotes and optimism on the future of the country. His analogy that South Africa, with its strikes and mining problems, was like a pimply faced teen in that they "are remarkable but do some crazy things" was very apt. Exploding fireworks from the cricket stadium across the road almost drowned out his speech, prompting him to ask "is that Checkers/Shoprite over there?" to a roar of laughter from the audience. He also received huge reaction when he promised to provide advice or support to Durban's Olympic bid.

OOPS: Shortly before he closed, Layman regaled guests with definitions of words that meant something else before the introduction of computers, including four-inch floppies, saying they were "something you hoped no one found out about" before calling on Chetty to end formalities with a vote of thanks. Chetty didn't even respond to the comment before proceeding to pay the bills, verbally, of course.

OVERALL: Networking functions are what you make of it - it was a pleasant evening, with great company (including the vivacious lawyer Sheena Ragavjee at our table) good entertainment and, of course, the dessert was the icing on the cake. - YN

AS THE Shared History bouquet of events reaches the half way mark, many cultural enthusiasts seem to be revelling in the jam-packed calendar. However, other social butterflies are taking strain. I think those guests who attended Jayesperi Moopen's From Canefields to Freedom on Wednesday night and were eager to rush home immediately after the performance fall into the latter category.

TARDY START: As I hurried from work to make it on time for the show, I realised most of the guests were still outside the Dance Factory in Newtown also rushing into the venue. An abrupt usher was shouting to the crowd to take the seats, blaming them for the late start to the show.

RAT RACE: Inside the theatre, guests stood about and chatted, happy for an opportunity to catch up. Candice Moodley from Eastern Mosaic, who was wearing a turquoise ensemble with matching shoes, said her day was so busy filming that she dressed in the car on the way. Despite this, she looked gorgeous as always.

SPACE SAVER: Two couples whom I met at a Shared History function last week kept me a seat. Teacher and unionist Rej Brijraj was in high spirits despite the strike ending a week later than he anticipated as he mentioned two weeks before at the launch of the India Food Week. Brijraj said it had taken a toll on him and he was relieved it was over.

WHAT A SHOW: The hour-and-a-half-long production, which ended at 9.30pm, was, on the whole, moving and made for compelling viewing. Dance sequences and comic relief used to lighten the audiences' mood while addressing the emotional topic of indenture labour and oppressive legislature were impressive. Actress Priya Naidoo played the part of a female labourer and wife of a revolutionary worker - she deserves a personal applause for her dramatisation. Moopen, founder of the Tribhangi Dance Theatre, humbly accepted her ovation at the end in a black-and-silver punjabi.

OVERALL: It was good to see many young faces of all race groups and cultures in the crowd. All in all, the evening and production was a success and I'm sure Teamwork Productions, responsible for the festival, were celebrating as well. - NK