Where the country was heading to – if it was moving at all – was beyond our grasp. It seemed that no one had a clue of how and when things would clear up and take the island out of the quagmire it was knee-deep in
The social atmosphere created by economic underdevelopment is something we’d better shelve away in a remotest corner of our brain. We are glad that today’s youngsters are spared of its multiple negative implications. Like a boat stuck in stagnant waters, where the country was heading to – if it was moving at all – was beyond our grasp. It seemed that no one had a clue of how and when things would clear up and take the island out of the quagmire it was knee-deep in. Amid economic stagnation, the whole country was kept in a waiting mode.
“Despite its unfortunately small territory, Singaporean leadership under Lee Kuan Yew had brains, ideas, pragmatic vision and discipline. The advantage at the time of Independence was the already fair general educational level of its people, which makes it today a civilized modern place to live in compared to other small countries. Five million inhabitants and hardly a policeman patrolling the streets. What a feat!”
Loads of educated high school leavers were considered lucky enough to obtain whatever government jobs were available in the Civil Service. Travay gouvernema, the big deal. No, thanks, their peers said, and scanned the horizons for better deals abroad. Yet, the older generation of our parents was doing fine with it. Bless them, and thanks a lot to thousands of Mauritians who stayed behind and kept the whole state apparatus turning.
Blessed be the inner voice which told you to turn down two government job offers which you applied for while fully knowing it was just not your cup of tea. It was not only a dislike for an office job but a deep aversion for getting yourself involved with government appointees of all hues to decide on your worth, promotion and career.
Years later, occasional visits to your bright friends working in the ministries under the supervision of SC Grade 3 bosses whom they addressed as Monsieur, strutting along the corridors like semi-gods appointed by the ones higher up there on Mount Olympus, confirmed that your apprehensions were well-grounded.
I just did not trust them, the people elected to run the country. Why? Too many stories of favouritism, nepotism and jati pati caste discrimination in your adolescent years instilled distrust and caution in subsequent choices. As also a feeling that you would not have your due in the island and you might waste precious years of your life with pent-up frustration – a terrible thing to live with.
It was quite a relief to see that the pessimistic vision was not shared by one and all. It made life easier for them, we presume. Well, just imagine everyone. What your parents expected with the advent of Independence was pretty much the same as you expected. Economic development, high standards of governance, meritocracy and social justice.
“Loads of educated high school leavers were considered lucky enough to obtain whatever government jobs were available in the Civil Service. Travay gouvernema, the big deal. No, thanks, their peers said, and scanned the horizons for better deals abroad. Yet, the older generation of our parents was doing fine with it. Bless them, and thanks a lot to thousands of Mauritians who stayed behind and kept the whole state apparatus turning…”
Let us be honest, even if all the right conditions prevailed in those years, quite a number of people still yearned for better prospects and living conditions abroad which would enable them to help their families back home and indirectly, contribute to the local economy.
Change was what mattered most to others. A glaring lack of excitement, discovery, novelty, emulation, motivation, freedom and fun which could have rendered life more appealing to young people full of energy and desire to live fully was also a determining factor in making them pack up and leave. The niche of freedom we managed to carve out for ourselves which gave us some sort of social life was quite daring in a stifling society, compared to other youngsters who enjoyed no freedom at all away from family supervision. An inbred spirit of freedom led some of us to push the frontiers further.
After travelling for seven endless years from Triolet to Rose-Hill with mixed feelings about what education was all meant to be about, it was time for some respite, you thought to yourself. The travel itself became an ordeal. Unlike your college friends even today, no sentimental nostalgia for the past and certainly not for college years remains. Of course, there is a deep gratitude to some outstanding teachers, much more for their endearing personality. The greatest gift was the green environment of the QEC, the sprawling playground, the alleys lined with tall trees and the gurgling of the water on the pebbles of the stream flowing nearby, the deep call of nature outside was a relish during poetry classes. And not least, the delight of friendship with the girls.
But forty of us sitting within four walls of classrooms all day long for seven years with attention focused on teachers and blackboards overweighed the other small pleasures. HSC results delivery was Liberation Day. With the slip of paper in hand, one felt like running away – like Forrest Gump. Run, run, run. Carpe Diem. After a few years of working with pleasure in a place where hedonism reigned supreme, wait for the right time to pack up and leave.
Several excursions across a small island left one with a yearning to explore new places in the big, big world. Change is stimulating for the brain, and change from the monotony of island life in a stagnating economy is even more so.
Right now in Singapore, seeing how its leaders managed the transportation system to facilitate the life of now five million inhabitants with a most modern underground metro system that takes you from one point to another part of the island in no time, you just wonder whether Mauritian leadership has ever given any serious thought to the key issue of public transport. Or had the means to undertake such a project which would have made life more comfortable for its 1.2 million people. Underground metro linking different regions will have been a most practical solution.
After 50 years of Independence, Mauritian leaders still have no vision or will to modernize public transport for the benefit of the population. Thanks to public funds, they and their families are spared the long, tiring, noisy bus rides and traffic jams. Petty partisan interests and lack of purpose delayed the implementation of what is called Metro Express.
The trend today everywhere is to use public transport. Even in Europe, there is not much need for cars in big cities and having a driving licence is not a must for young adults. In Mauritius, it is the opposite. Cars are status symbols, what defines class is a Rolex watch and Rolls Royce.
Despite its unfortunately small territory, Singaporean leadership under Lee Kuan Yew had brains, ideas, pragmatic vision and discipline. The advantage at the time of Independence was the already fair general educational level of its people, which makes it today a civilized modern place to live in compared to other small countries. Five million inhabitants and hardly a policeman patrolling the streets. What a feat!
Democracy in the hands of incompetent people is what the public has witnessed for many years. A big chunk of the populace has not benefited from any formal education. Backwardness is still a handicap. Generally, whatever failed in Mauritius can be traced back to its poor political leadership. By now, all the institutions have fallen in disgrace – including the presidency. Sadly, we can only wish good luck to the younger generation to take over and put the country on the right track.
* Published in print edition on 9 March 2018
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