Tirez Sardine, Mettez Piments!

Mind Your Language

By Dr B Foogooa

Up till the late 1950s, there were three shops in the village of Poudre d’Or Hamlet (PDH). There was La boutique Appadoo, la boutique Bagan and la boutique Longaille (LBL). Like most Chinese shopkeepers in the villages in those days, Longaille was a very humble and affable person. He had several appellations.The LBL was the most flourishing of all three shops, because it offered credit during the intercrop season. Longaille had left his family in China and had come to Mauritius, more precisely to PDH, where he ran his shop with the help of his commis1. After some years, he could communicate in Creole and Bhojpuri, though with a pronounced Chinese accent.  

Ladies usually called him Captan, kids Ton Longaille and men Bonhomme Longaille.

Damodarr, a labourer employed at the nearby Labourdonnais sugar estate, was one of the many customers of the LBL. He had a family of five children. In order to make both ends meet, he used to keep some goats and a couple of cows. Luckily, his wife and children helped him look after the animals. Because of his peculiar way of speaking Creole and his so to say naïve demeanour, our Damodarr was the poppet of PDH. But, he was never ever a knave.

One Saturday afternoon, Damodarr was passing by the LBL with his bundle of fodder when he felt like having his favourite bite of du pain, sardine and piments confit2. So, he leaned his bundle against the wall of the shop and went in. Glancing in the glass food case, he noticed a glass vessel in which there was a large-size sardine and all the oil which a sardine can could contain.

In those days, a bread roll costs 5 cents, a small-size sardine 5 cents and a large-size one 7 cents. Piments confit was usually provided free in all Mauritian shops. Unfortunately, on that fateful afternoon, dear Damodarr had only 10 cents in his pocket. Even so, he ordered his du-pain-sardine-piments. Bonhomme Longaille sliced the bread roll in two, opened it up and poured all the oil in, after carefully placing the sardine.

Damodarr, very apprehensive about the price of the snack by now, enquired, “Bonhomme Longaille, sardine combine couter?”3

“Sept sous,”4 replied BL.

Damodarr peremptorily ordered, “Tirer sardine, metter piments.”5

It thus happened that, for only 5 cents, poor Damodarr was able to get his bread, chilies and……tasty sardine oil!

Dr B Foogooa

  1. Assistant.
  2. Bread, sardine and pickled chilies.
  3. How much is the sardine?
  4. 7 cents.
  5. Remove the sardine, but add the chilies. 
  6. This story was recounted to me by my very close and dear friend, late Bagan, most fondly called Charlie. He was an inhabitant of PDH. Some details have been kindly filled in by his younger brother, who now lives near the Candos Hill. I am very much obliged to both of them.

The LBL was situated about half a kilometre from the railway track and was run by a middle-aged Chinaman who, unlike most of his fellow countrymen, was a six-footer.

* Published in print edition on 4 November 2010

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