By Chit Dukhira
First set up in 1926, then known as Teeluck Vidyalaye (after India’s educationist-politician B.G. Teeluck), the Hindi Pracharini Sabha (HPS) was only officially registered on 24 December 1935. Very soon there followed the opening of its branch (Saraswati Pathsala) at the adjoining Crève Coeur. The name HPS was suggested to the Bhagat brothers, the pillar of this national institution, based at Long Mountain, by their Indian guru, Pandit Rambhans Trivedi (of Bihar), who used to stay with their family for long periods. The first committee members of the HPS included Pandit Baloram Muktaram Chaterjee (chairman), who had set up a girls’ school (later called Saraswati Kanya Kunmari Pathshala) with the help of Nemnarain Quedoo Gupta in February 1934, Rughoonanun Ramujuttun (vice-president), Ramlal Bhagat (secretary), Surya Prasad Mungur (SPM) Bhagat (assistant secretary), and Ramgoon (Dewa) Jeebossea (treasurer), as well as Anirood Dwarka, Jankiparsad (Mohun) Lallman, Shivparsad Jeewoolall, Mohabeer Foogooa (MP from 1959 to 1973), Gireeraj Bhuckory, Ramsoondur Chummun and Shiv Shankar Ghoorunsingh MBE. On 25 May 1913, Pandit Baloram founded the Long Mountain Co-operative Credit Society, the country’s oldest such existing primary institution. His name was reportedly mooted for occupying the seat as legislator left vacant by the demise of Seeparsad Seerbookun, but Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (later Sir) was appointed in 1940.
The self-taught SPM Bhagat (1908-1976), the HPS first teacher, later acknowledged a top Hindi intellectual in Mauritius and perhaps the country’s best Hindi grammarian, tutored numerous students of all ages and at all stages across the country. Editor of Durga (1935-1938), a 60-page handwritten monthly Hindi literary magazine distributed free, he was a famous journalist who afterwards edited the daily Janata, next after Jaynarain Roy, and then the weekly Nav Jeevan (1962-1965). SPM Bhagat used the pen-name of Jwala Mukhi (Volcano), while he also contributed other articles including short stories under other pseudonyms, in Durga. He was HPS full-time voluntary general secretary cum educationist (1935-1976).
After returning home after studies in India, JNR (MA. LLB) became a prominent trade unionist, politician, writer, journalist, literary figure, poet, biographer and playwright in English and Hindi. With his knowledge of Law and Politics which he had studied at an advanced level in India, he was the rare Mauritian patriot to make noteworthy submissions in the 1940s for the country’s constitutional progress. An elected legislator between 1948 and 1967, he withdrew from active politics, though still promoting Independence. Having joined the HPS in 1937, JNR chaired it for 35 years (1943-1978).
JNR’s fast friend, Oomashankar Geerjanand, was the vice-chairman of the HPS most of the time. An ex-student of Royal College Curepipe (RCC) and holder of BA (English, French, Politics and Hindi) from Banaras Hindu University, Geerjanand first taught at New Eton College, Rose Hill, before working as government inspector of co-operatives. The first Mauritian to have graduated in India, he was the first full-time Indian Programme Organiser at the MBC/TV (1953-1966).
In 1936, Jugdutt (1910-1958) opened, under the auspices of the Arya Sabha Mauritius, the Mesnil Girls’ School where he voluntarily trained Hindi teachers, male and female. A former student of RCC, he was an outstanding Hindi protagonist and champion of unity by preaching the Bhagavadgita as well as remarkable scholar writing and speaking English, French and Hindi with equal ease. A co-founder of the papers, Janata (in 1947) and Mauritius Times (in 1954), in 1958, shortly before his death, he re-edited his book, “In the Service of Man and God,” published in 1948.
In the 1960s, the other committee members, all still remembered for their precious contribution to the teaching of Hindi, were Seetaram Narain, Lutchmee Parsad Ramyead, Somduth Bhuckory, M. Beedaysee, Naresh Raghen, R. S. Kowlessur and Deopal Rughoo. A teacher and social worker, versed in English, French and Hindi, who later was promoted head teacher and chaired the local social welfare committee, Anirood Dwarka was the devoted treasurer of the HPS for a long time, since 1935 until his death.
Dr Brajendra Mungur Bhagat, though not a committee member, was also a pride of the HPS. He was the first Indo-Mauritian gramophone singer, whose eight songs were played on disc between 1939 and 1948 in Bombay where he also recited his poems over the All-India Radio. He was the only Mauritian Bhojpuri ashu kavi (instantaneous composer). From 1948 to 1967, he sang on constitutional progress at political rallies. He regularly published in Mauritius Times a topical poem in Bhojpuri (in Roman script) since its inception (1954). The crowd attending the HPS function, at Long Mountain at every end-of-the-year, liked listening to his song composed for the occasion.
Best Hindi institution in Mauritius
The HPS was the country’s best equipped institution to propagate Hindi by the early 1950s. Under its aegis, JNR came out with his play “Jeevan Sangini” (Life’s Companion) in 1941, the first of its kind in Mauritius, and the “First Book of Hindi for Beginners” (1944). The name of Nemnarain Khedoo Gupta, who served as the inspector, moving in the villages across the country to supervise the teaching of Hindi at the HPS-run schools, has been given to its library, at Long Mountain, considered perhaps the best of the sort outside India. With 170 affiliated part-time schools since 1961, it organises examinations, under the aegis of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (University) of Allahabad, as from 1946.
In 1941, along with Prof. Basdeo Bissoondoyal, the HPS organised in Port-Louis the country’s first national Hindi Conference and Exhibition (of handwritten and printed publications). In 1964, it organised the first International Hindi Convention (Hindi Diwas) in Mauritius, attended by India’s poet laureate Rajinder Singh Dinkar. It held a Birha (folk) Song Competition in 1959 and Hindi Sapta (Week) in 1963. In 1985, when Bholanath Sembhoo was chairman (1981-1987), the HPS celebrated its golden jubilee. Besides literary activities, medals were presented to 50 Hindi promoters. Preceded by Deopal Rughoo (1978-1981), he was briefly succeeded as chairman by R. S. Kowlessur.
Governed by an Act since 2004, the HPS has since 1988 Ajamil Matabadul as chairman, H. Dubey Girdharee and Ms Satiavati Jugmohun (vice-chairpersons), Dhunraz Sembhoo (secretary) and Tahul Ramdin (treasurer).
* Published in print edition on 23 December 2010