The title ‘Maharaj’ might have been one of the most popular ones in South Africa at the moment, but a few decades ago, the picture was not as rosy.
Keshav Maharaj has become a fan favourite in the rainbow nation after taking international cricket by storm towards the end of 2016.
Maharaj is the fastest South African spinner to claim 50 Test wickets since their readmission in 1992, and the joint-second fastest in the country’s history. The left-arm spinner had already dismissed the likes of Murali Vijay, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Steven Smith and is looking primed to spearhead South Africa’s spin attack in the coming years.
Not surprisingly, Maharaj has become one of the most popular players in the African country with his meteoric rise in international cricket where he has taken 56 wickets in just 15 Tests.
The picture, however, was a lot different for his ancestors when they migrated to South Africa in the 19th century. Maharaj’s forefathers were part of an Indian contingent which famously came to be called as indentured labourers of the 19thcentury, perhaps a milder word to describe bonded labourers or slaves. A resident of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav’s great great grandfather, arrived in Durban in a British ship in 1874 with a group of Indian labourers.
“On September 1, 1874, my great great grandfather arrived in Durban from Sultanpur in UP. That was the time when the Indian people used to come across to South Africa in search of work. The opportunities that were presented here were many. South Africa was looking for skilled labourers and the Indians, with their experience in farming and other sectors, contributed to the South African development,” Athmanand Maharaj, Keshav’s father’ was quoted as saying by Mumbai Mirror.
“We’re the fifth or sixth generation Indians, and one of my possessions is the certificate of origin. When I went down to India to study, I needed this certificate. That was how I could trace back my origins and family history. The stay in India (Mysore) was not very happy, so I came back. I took up physical education and taught in schools,” he added.
Maharaj senior is also well aware of the weight his surname carries as he said:
“The Maharaj surname was carried over from my forefathers. The title is not something we chose. It came through the hierarchy and generations. I know the significance of the name in India.”
The Maharaj family resides in Durban. Athmanand lives with wife Kanchan Mala, son Keshav while the daughter Tarisma is married to Mahesin, a Sri Lankan.
Athmanand further spoke on the ordeals he faced during the apartheid era.
“It was difficult those days. We had no facilities, no grounds, no infrastructure. We would carry the mat to practice grounds,” recalled Athmanand who himself played for the Kwazulu Natal Province as a wicketkeeper.
Well, things have changed for the better now, and the Maharaj surname is looking set to become a part of South African folklore. Keshav recently bowled against India for the first time and although he did not pick up any wicket in the first Test of the three-match series, playing against the country of his ancestors would have been a proud moment for him and his family.
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