On Visiting my Old Scoutmaster and Teacher

I may or may not have gone to wish him goodbye before I left for my medical studies in August 1965. Many facts of no likely evolutionary significance slip out of our memory as time goes by, and I presume that my forgetfulness about this particular incident in my life falls in that category. Thinking back, though, I must surely have gone to pay my respects to him as I was embarking on my defining adventure in life, quite different from the physical adventures that we had together enjoyed as Boy Scouts. This would make it almost half a century since I last met him. Alternatively, it would be over half a century, probably sometime in 1960/61 when I left the Boy Scouts movement.

‘He’ is Mr Regis Pavaday, now a happy great/grandfather presiding over an extended ‘family of 33’ he proudly — and justifiably so – told me. He is in quite good health for his age I must say, if we go by the World Health Organisation’s definition of health: ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ At 93, he is not only as ‘complete’ as can be but is also ‘comblé’, surrounded as he is by his loving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with nephews and their own families staying not far from where he lives, near Lapeyrouse Government school in Curepipe Road.

As may be expected, he wears glasses, and he needs a walking stick. His daughter went to announce our visit, and shortly after he walked into the sitting room slightly stooped forwards, leaning on his stick. He had a classic felt hat on, the kind that practically all men folk used to sport in the olden days of my youth. After the very warm introductions, we waited for him to sit down before we did so too, and it was time to expand somewhat on the introductory exchanges.

It was Petiot Nahaboo who set the ball rolling as it were. In fact it was Petiot’s idea for the visit, one thought of almost a year ago but which one way or the other got postponed, as happens so often with all of us. We talked about this lapse on our part as we drove down, speculating about its why’s and wherefore’s without coming to any definitive conclusion, save to observe that there seems to be more things to do when one is retired! Petiot happened to catch up with me last Saturday, and we reminded ourselves of our overdue commitment – doubly unacceptable for the ex-Boy Scouts that we were: we still had to conduct our lives in compliance with the Boy Scout’s Honour. Immediately we decided that we must absolutely fulfill our duty, and Tuesday 11 am (i.e. last Tuesday) was fixed for the appointment.

And so it was that shortly before the agreed time, Petiot came to pick me up, ‘dans mo ti l’auto sale-sale la’ he joked – that had always been his hallmark, every occasion could be an opportunity to make fun. He was accompanied by his phoupa (husband of his father’s sister) Habib, who had been a teacher colleague of Mr Pavaday in… 1946! I was meeting him for the first time, and he was certainly in a very good state of health too.

After Mr Pavaday had settled in his armchair Petiot held his hands and repeated again who he was. ‘Ah, tu es Petiot!,’ Mr Pavaday said, with palpable excitement in his voice, and straining somewhat with his thick lenses to make out Petiot’s smiling face, who happily reminded him about the promise made last year to come, but which was being kept now. Next it was the turn of Habib, who walked up to stand near the armchair and leaned to speak closer to his ex-colleague’s ear. He narrated a little story that they had shared years ago about something that had taken place at the Nouvelle France school where they were then working, and it was such a pleasure to watch them crack with laughter at the remembrance of this long past moment in their lives.

When it came to me, and I presented myself, Mr Pavaday exclaimed ‘Tu es Radha!’ as I acquiesced and we held our hands tight for a good few seconds, continuing, ‘tu était comme l’enfant de la maison toi!’ Which was true, because we lived quite near to each other, and our families knew each other very well, from the grandfather generation. Besides, at one point I had taken private tuition from Mr Pavaday. He had been friends with my father and his brother (my chacha). He referred to the latter by his pet name, and was pained to learn that he had passed.

Petiot reminisced about all our Scout friends, many of whom were no more. He had recently dug out some old, black and white photographs that had yellowed but were still clear enough as far as identifying the subjects was concerned. He had made copies which he first showed to Mr Pavaday and then put them back in the envelope which he left for him.

One of them showed four of us in our Scout uniforms, standing holding our bicycles during one of our outings, which I presume was Mare-aux-Vacoas most probably, around 1958/59. We belonged to the St Clement Troop, based at the St Clement Church in Curepipe, of which Mr Pavaday became the Scoutmaster after Mr Tony Dhondee, who himself had succeeded Mr Sydney Cabon who had left for England. The latter was the Scoutmaster when I joined in 1957, shifting from the Vacoas Troop. Both troops were part of the MDBSA: Mauritius Diocesan Boy Scouts’s Association. Among the many things that come to mind, one is that we were very proud to sport our badges and display our belonging to our Troop, and to the MDBSA. There are only good souvenirs of our days as Boy Scouts, which imparted to us a sense of discipline and shared identity, of strong bonds of friendship and mutual understanding and respect, of the need for doing a daily ‘bonne action’ that stood me in good stead in my chosen profession – and many, many things more.

All of this came flooding back as we sat talking about our good old days. There were no regrets, only some sadness on learning about those who were no more, but we could only be philosophical about it all, for that is the only option left to us when we reach this stage of life. True to spirit, Petiot had brought his tripod and took some photos, and we parted on a sweet note – that ere long we must come for a return visit…

* Published in print edition on 11 July 2014

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