The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Made in India, sellout in Johannesburg

If you are an Indian in Johannesburg, there’s no escaping the buzz about Team India. Even on a stroll through Sandton Square, the mega mall with over 840 shops spread across three levels, best wishes for the boys in blue come from every quarter.

And things Indian have never been bigger here. Take the giant posters of an obviously Indian man and woman engrossed in a game that is just not cricket, in a shop window reading Pharmor. What makes for far more interesting reading than the name of the pharmaceutical store are the catchlines above and below the couple in a clinch: “Ancient and Effective Ayurveda Remedies for Men and Women.… Take Control of Your Vitality, Choose MaltiHerb, The Power to Love Better...”

Inside, the blonde behind the counter confirms that while these two Ayurvedic products — Indiaga for men (Vigour. Vitality. Stamina. Energy) and Utejna for women (Passion. Stimulation. Ardour. Vitality) have been catching on for a couple of years, the World Cup focus on Indian vitality (on the cricket field, of course), has pushed up sales of these 100 per cent “wonders of nature”. “We are selling more than 50 a week now, which is more than ever. Everyone, from students to the not-so-young, are picking it up and coming back for more,” smiles the young lady, before adding with a wink: “We haven’t had any of your cricketers dropping in, for Indiaga or Utejna, though.”

Black and White

Still at Sandton Square, always swarming with shoppers and strollers, foodies and flunkies, the apathetic and the amorous.

But through the bright lights in this big city destination, shafts of shadowy reality shine through. Lurking at the end of every spotless staircase, trampled by designer shoes of every hue, are black boys in rags, begging for attention and alms. “Sir, Mr, Ma’am, Missy... buy some food, buy some food...,” they intone. There’s no animated appeal, just a polite plea, followed by a mechanical “Thank you” even when passed by unfeeling fair feet.

But, after hours of pleading haven’t got one of the boys a rand, something snaps; What replaces ‘Thank you’ (“@@@@ you”) is what McGrath might well tell Tendulkar after being hit down the Wanderers ground. What was that about not mattering if you’re black or white'

Maruti or Merc'

From black and white feet to the grey fleet. A cab is a cab only if it’s a grey Merc. That seems to be the mantra of the Indian Cup-craving tourist in Jo’burg in the spring of ’03.

“Yes, maan, you Indians are just crazy about de Mercedes, maan,” declares young Steven, steering his 1992 grey Merc into a pump to fill the “strong old lady” up.

“The maximum number of tourists coming down for the World Cup are Indians, and most insist that they be driven around in a Mercedes. A Toyota Cressida cannot tempt you guys, no sir, it can’t,” he continues.

As a result, the cab companies have pulled out their full fleet of Mercs — from the 1992 model to the C-class to what is referred to by cabbies as the “teardrop model” for round headlights — to keep pace with the Cup bandwagon.

The only problem with the Merc, for the likes of Steven, is that it’s “too expensive” (a used 1994 Merc coming for 50,000 Rand, and costing four times more to service than a Toyota).

A tip for the Jo’burg cabbies: just put up the Merc sign on the bonnet, and pass off any swank looking thing on wheels as a Merc. Four out of three (!) Indians landing in Jo’burg would only know the difference between a Merc and a Maruti, maan.

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