IN MEMORY OF

I.V. Durai

1933 to 1973

 

My father, I.V. Durai, was a mathematics teacher in India and Zambia. He was also a deputy headmaster in the last years of his life. He went to the newly independent Zambia in late 1965, followed shortly by my mother, Hepzy Durai, my sister, Irene, and me. He taught at Namwala Secondary School in Namwala, Chifubu Secondary School in Ndola and Roan Antelope Secondary School in Luanshya, serving also as deputy headmaster at the last two schools.

Though I was only 8 when he died, I have many fond memories of him. I remember him to be a friendly kind-hearted man (despite those occasional spankings I received). He loved to buy toys for all the kids at Christmas. He had many friends and enjoyed getting together with them.

Dad was a religious man, a regular churchgoer who, unlike me, sang those hymns with passion and confidence. Every night, he would assemble the family for a prayer. We would kneel on the floor and listen to him pray in Tamil. I didn't understand many of the words and would occasionally fall asleep on my hands and knees.

My dad's favorite singer was Jim Reeves -- or so it seemed. He had a cassette of Reeves' Christian songs and would never tire of playing it in the car.

He enjoyed gardening and would often be spotted watering the flowers and vegetables. I remember him growing a drumstick tree from a cutting, then sharing cuttings with his friends.

He had played basketball in high school and helped coach the team at Chifubu. He was very active in school and would have been a headmaster, were it not for a movement to "Zambianize" such jobs.

Among my fondest memories are the times my dad took my sister and me to the bookstore to buy comics. We'd each pick up a single copy (usually Beano or Cor, in my case). My dad would ask us if we wanted more and we'd say "no." (At least that's how I recall it.)

About a year before he died, my dad sold his bluish green Ford Anglia and bought a white Peugeot 504, which he could drive a lot faster. That proved to be his undoing, along with the unworn seat belt. We were all in the car on Sept. 5, 1973, driving to Mukinge in North-Western Province to visit his younger brother Jeyaraj's family (my Aunt Shanthi had just given birth). We had to use an unpaved, bumpy road for part of the journey. My dad, speeding as usual, lost control of the car and went off the road. The car rolled a couple of times, ejecting him through the windshield. The grass was long and it took us a few minutes to find him. He was gritting his teeth in pain. We were helpless, watching him take his last few breaths.

A couple of motorists passed us without stopping to help. Eventually a kind trucker stopped. We sat on the bed of his truck and traveled to Mukinge, along with my dad's body. My mother cried along the way. Her 8-year-old son, too young to comprehend the meaning of death, was excited about riding in a truck.

It took me several months to understand that my father would never come back. He would appear in my dreams and I would believe (and hope) that he would eventually appear in the flesh.

I was amazed how many people came to his funeral. The line of cars heading from the Presbyterian church in Ndola to the cemetery seemed to stretch for miles.

Dad wasn't a politician or celebrity, but in his own simple way, he had made an impression on many people.