Celebrating Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam

On the occasion of SSR’s 113th birthday, many activities have been scheduled by various ministries and institutions. But the Ministry of Education, in particular, is much more focused with its series of events, to mark the day. These include Quiz Competitions, Essay Writing, Calligraphy, Posters, Exhibitions, Drawings, Paintings, Sketches and Poem writing on the Father of the Nation, the man himself and his vision for his motherland.

Some schools have had this very nice idea to have one saying of SSR per day on their notice boards, hence I got the idea of writing these lines.

First and foremost, all these activities being held to celebrate Chacha’s birthday are a laudable initiative, for directly or indirectly our once ignorant children are being provided with a dose of the history of their country, which they should have known since long, and with a sense of belonging and patriotism which most of our students are devoid of. A visitor to Mauritius once remarked that “there is everything in Mauritius except patriotism”. In short there is a dearth of patriots and that aspect is felt more tangible in the young minds of today.

To fill in this lacuna, there is a pattern to follow and it starts with the teaching of the history of the country. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Young men, claiming to be the fathers of tomorrow, should be the salt of the nation. If the salt loses its flavour, wherewith shall it be salted?”

To be the fathers of tomorrow, it is apt to know the fathers of yesterday, much more so the Father of the Nation – and there’s no better way to know this than through the parcours of the first Prime Minister of Mauritius, his teachings, and his principles, and to read what he had said on different subjects at different times.

This man whose destiny led him from a remote village hut of Belle Rive to the prestigious Royal College of Curepipe, and farther afield head to the great city of London, and much further on the Champ de Mars ground on a 12th March 1968 to witness the hoisting of the Mauritian flag for the first time as the first Prime Minister of this country, was is no doubt, as in the words of Ben Johnson: “He was not for an age, but for all times.”

Chacha Ramgoolam was a man of great moral values. Politeness was the key with which he could open the doors of all human hearts. He said: “We say our prayers in the morning and then forget all about that until we come back at six in the evening to do the same. Then we realise, then we feel that we have not been nice and polite to our neighbours.”

The hero he was for all the Mauritians, mostly the Indo Mauritians,and perhaps specifically the descendants of the indentured labourers, ( which was another form of slavery in disguise) said that “the heart of man is the noblest shrine to which a hero can aspire.”

SSR was the “force motrice” behind the workers, who he believed were the rocks on which all the infrastructures of progress could stand and rest upon. But workers happen to belong to that category of people who are always exploited, oppressed, harassed and at times broken down. SSR saw their plight and observed that: “The workers of this country are a very docile race, whether they are attached to factories, cane fields or estates, they are very docile and yet this docile race can awake. They can awake against the background of inequities, falsehoods, miseries and sufferings.”

SSR believed in his people, the people of Mauritius, his own, the children of the nation, for whom he had great affection and even a sense of propriety. The progress of his country’s children was always a sign of joy for him, for he assumed that “we shall all work together, for the country belongs to all of us, and let us contribute our share in the building of a strong, free and happy Mauritius.”

SSR was the architect of the independence of Mauritius, an independence he could bring to his people on showing to the colonizers that the country was in safe hands. To mark this event, he said: “We have come to an end of an arduous road, and it is only after years of tribulations and struggle that this nation is being born to assume its rightful place among the democratic countries of the world.”

On his modest beginnings in life, in all humility and good heartedness, he had this to say: “I am the son of a man who has suffered in this country. There can be no one who carries more that badge of slavery, humiliation, abuse than I.”

On the occasion of the celebrations of his birthday, may his teachings thrive.

* Published in print edition on 14 September 2013

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