Deep within things do not change…

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Straggling clouds move raggedly towards the last rays of winter sunset glowing in the sky. The balcony of the two-storeyed house at Pointe-aux-Piments offers a panoramic view of the fields nearby, the RES project and the seaside lined up by filao trees where sparrows, mynas and pingos or condés noisily hover around their nests before a night’s sleep. A small, old concrete house with corrugated-iron roof stands idly in the yard; it is rather used like a shed for poultry and for storing tools. Chilli and bringel plants are still grown in the fertile soil of the plot of land. One can figure out that the old house used to be a straw-thatched hut fifty years ago. Like many other houses in the island, the two-storeyed house started off like a simple concrete house decades ago, and the two storeys piled up following the good fortune of the owner over decades. In summer, pieces of cotton cloth with colourful designs, and sometimes plastic tablecloths are randomly used as curtains on the balcony to keep the glaring sunrays at bay.

Three generations live together with dada and dadi occupying the second floor. Bhai is the dada of the family and friend of the neighbourhood. If you are looking for the perfect man with everlasting love for his sweet wife he married at a very young age, this is the place. Bhai is all praise for the one he calls his best friend on earth, the jeevan saathi he looks up to as a goddess. A frequent visitor from Ninth Mile Triolet, a dark-skinned woman wearing a long skirt, a blouse and a horni covering her head relates her week’s occupations. Besides being a part-time labourer, she is also a dhai who massages mothers and their new-born babies. Luckily, women have kept the ancestral know-how of providing care to other women. A shining pouli and gold earrings lit up her dark complexion. She looks much like the ancestors who walked down the steps of Aaparvasi Ghat in the 1850s.  

“Should we start preparing pickles and koutcha?”Jaya asked me. “Do you want to take some back?”

“Oh no!” It is getting late; darkness falls suddenly and we have already started to unpack the briyani take-away I brought along. We all agree that take-aways are worthless and we’d better cook our own food. Most members of the household are vegetarian except Bhai who occasionally goes for meat. The veg briyani is okay despite lacking the right flavour depending where you purchase it, the best ones being from one of ISKON’s outlets. The chicken briyani is a fool’s trap folks fall into whenever they forget about being cautious and selective in purchasing habit. The dhall and vegetables Manisha, Bhai’s wife, has been preparing would have made our day. 

“Let us do it next time I am visiting, Didi.” I thanked Jaya for her kind proposal. We also postpone our intention to talk about wedding songs in Bhojpuri, which I think any anthropologist in Mauritius should be interested in, the songs of separation or departure, rather of the bridegroom and the bride for a new life, and the song welcoming the bride in her new home. I guess Sarita Boodhoo must have gathered some valuable texts on the topic from research work done by her associates. The point is to be aware of the fact that from times immemorial Hindu civilisation has explored and thought about every major life events of its members and celebrate these events with prayers and songs, including soothing songs for the baby elephant snatched from its mother and trained to be tamed and to carry out a few tasks for human society.

“Whoever told you to do this? Are you crazy?”, Bhai gets down the stairs and stops one of the boys from cutting the branch of a mango tree. For someone who never raises his voice, he is really outraged at the sight of the boy bringing down an axe on the tree.

Crime number one: the boy is mutilating a tree without any prayer for forgiveness.

Crime number two: He is doing it after the sunset when trees, plants and the whole world of vegetation goes for a night’s rest, and he has not even asked the tree’s permission before taking the life out of it.

Kreol sounds out of place in an environment where the family, neighbours and guests are 100% bhojpuriphone. I feel like I am sort of polluting the place, the odd person out there speaking approximate bhojpuri now and then. Shreya, the grand-daughter, who has taken up a job after university studies, is a fervent Shivyog follower and totally vegetarian. Not the sort of young lady who goes crazy over Facebook, friends and physical appearance.

On the following day a ceremony was held at a relative’s place to mark 40th day of the mourning period in the wake of the demise of a cousin. The 40th day memorial ceremony is common to different civilizations since millennia much before the advent of ‘religions’ in the modern sense of the word. The pundit recited prayers in Sanskrit after placing the leaves in the four corners of the havan kund to evoke different planets. Conversation among the men folk in the row behind centres on Hinduism in India and the cultural assaults on it across centuries and still going on today.

Sanskrit is a blessing in itself in that elevates the soul and connects one to millennia-old tradition. It all gives a sense of continuity in the way we think and do things. Just like the soothing songs for the baby elephants, the caring songs for brides and bridegrooms, the respect for trees and nature, the Bhojpuri-speaking family at Pointe-aux-Piments make you feel that deep within things do not change and Time is a subjective concept.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 15 July 2022

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