9.3 Grand Devil's Claws
Independence Day, 29th March, was a historical day in many ways. The most significant event happened to be the inauguration of the first television station in the country. They say people were glued to the screen though not too many television sets existed in the country. Muaz was lucky enough to watch a black and white television at his CTA office. He thought he was enjoying it but his mind wandered to another episode that just occurred. It only helped to keep his eyes fixed on the screen. A black and white image of the National Flag fluttered in the wind – the red was black and the green was grey, the white was white. Then a portrait of the president appeared on the screen and it looked more familiar though in high tones. He never saw this picture in colour. His mind returned to the television screen and wondered if this picture would be in colour on a colour television.
Noxious! This image of the president’s publicity mugshot was always in black and white. It originally was a black and white portrait. Does it matter! Black or White, you never can tell.
When Muaz came out of the house around seven that evening, the café front was lit and a crowd gathered on the lane. Not precisely the front by the corner but on Black Coral Road between Welcome Café and Mesquite. A Bandiya group prepared to gig.
Those girls wearing mini slip dresses were very young and barefoot to perform in the roadshow. Twelve girls and no lead singer, one drum and one harmonium. This was Moonlight Club from Thora. Muaz did not want them to see him so he parked his bike and watched in the shadows from behind the crowd. Among the dancers, the only busty girl was Muna. This group carried two lanterns and additionally, Welcome Café provided two tube lights from the first-floor balcony. Crowd packed on both sides of the lane. Under the lights, he noticed those thin yellow legs of the teenage girls in little white slips and their dirty feet since they danced without footwear on dusty roads.
The roadshow ended in thirty minutes and they gathered their apparatus to go to the next paid location to perform. They failed to get any booking but they came to Malé in the hope of making a buck.
One moment, Muaz wanted to talk to Muna but he declined, climbed his motorbike and drove up Hadeeja Kamana Magu to his office on Marine Drive.
His senses returned to the screen. It was still the black and white image of the president on display and it stayed there for an hour.
“Do you want a drink?” somebody passed him a Portello.
“Can I have a Lemonade!” he demanded.
“Noman! Get him a Lemonade!”
An announcement and a group of Bandiya girls appeared lined in two rows. Sixteen girls in red and white layered skirts from Sunlight Club made it on television winning a contract. It was dull since sessions did not start quick enough, few cameras rolled to capture their faces and slow in changing angles. Still, it was not boring to the viewers glued to the television screen.
At Hakra Fair, open TV was watched by a crowd of audience every night and a TV cinema already existed at Heenamauge near Galol Ground.
“This will be our future,” uttered Woodie sipping a beer, “Watching television at home.”
“Woodie! I was going to ask,” articulated Muaz, “show me to do a stunt.” He was a good stuntman on his ‘white horse’ dirt bike in Giravaru Village in Mafannu.
“Don’t even think about it,” he motioned a long finger at him, “Not before you buy a safety gear, gloves, jacket, shoes and a good helmet. Do not get killed!”
Sunday, on Farida’s request, Muaz assisted the club to Galol Playground to receive cholera vaccine. At the time a vaccine programme was just beginning. Farida, Salt, their children and two maids received their vaccine shots privately at home administered by a nurse.
As Muaz understood, Farida received a call from the First Lady and a special arrangement was made to get their vaccine at Galol Ground. There were no sufficient supplies of medicine and vaccines, or trained personnel. This nation urgently requested assistance from WHO and UNICEF and issued an appeal for medical supplies and hospital equipment.
Farida led the dancers and musicians up Alifan Magu and turned to Majeedi Magu, wide open roads with low walls walled of tall green trees on the sides, to reach Galol Ground. There were scores of people here to receive vaccine. This batch of dancers was steered to a makeshift table with three nurses in short white uniform complete with cap, apron and shoes.
One of the nurses leaned over to direct a shot in the arm of a child, telling the kid, “If you don’t look, an injection won’t hurt you.”
Farida walked up to him, “Muaz! You must go to work. I think you take your turn and go. Come back after an hour to check on us.”
Muaz went up and the nurse asked, “Name, age and address!”
“Muaz, nineteen years, Mesquite.”
“Do you have a headache or fever?”
“You mean, you feel like vomiting!”
“I do when I see PINK…”
“Stand up and drop your trousers!”
Muaz dropped his jeans and he wore no briefs.
He received a dipstick test and a vaccine shot. No screen to protect an exposure. Then the nurse handed him a slip, “Come with this after two days to get your test results.”
Following day, WHO declared a cholera outbreak in the country and measures to be taken to contain this epidemic. On 18th April, the president took control over the activities to deal with the crisis and Galol Ground was converted into an administrative and mass immunisation centre.
Club Rehendi suspended the shows and the girls were mobilised to assist the medical teams. All available resources and personnel were mobilised to send teams to the outer atolls where unmechanised fishing boats still provide logistics.
Awareness programmes in form of dramas, talk shows and notices aired on radio was a blessing that in the end helped the island people come over it.