The Mauritius of Malcolm de Chazal

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Returning to the country after one week of nesting in tranquility and watching sunrise spreading its hue and warmth over the jungle, I learnt about the amount of heat that the AH1N1 virus had generated. A friend I met on the plane who is an avid reader of the news – unlike myself, especially when I have gone away to precisely be cut off from it all – asked me what all the fuss was about, since for the rest of the world the AH1N1 had stopped being news.

I could not help referring him to what I have read that Malcolm de Chazal had said, to wit that in Mauritius we cultivate sugarcane and gossip. It seemed to him that a mountain was being made of a molehill. I told him that, as a matter of fact, I had seen a lot of termite mounds in the jungle. His reply was that at least these industrious creatures were doing their bit to maintain ecological balance. He could not, he said, say as much for the creatures who were so obsessed with the virus of fading notoriety.

For indeed, one wonders whether the AH1N1 virus had ever imagined that it would be the subject of so much attention in a faraway island lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean after it had started its spread across the globe from North America. It must be feeling very proud indeed to be treated like a star, since it is now but a common partner with the other viruses that are the cause of seasonal influenza, and that we know kill people by the hundreds of thousands in the world every year. 36000 in the US alone, for example, who die of an infection of the lung known as bronchopneumonia. Especially those above sixty-years old, who are advised to get themselves vaccinated every year because these viruses keep mutating: changing their faces, as it were. As for the AH1N1, all the studies done so far show that it has remained the same.

In fact, not only has it not mutated, but it has become so widespread now that it has joined the trillions upon trillions of other microbes that populate our body, both on the outside and the inside. In the intestines, for example, it is presumed that there are perhaps three times as many bacteria as there are cells (the building bricks of which we are made) in our body. That so much of energy has been and is being expended on just one type among those trillions must make the AH1N1 viruses particularly proud. If only they could express themselves, we might hear some surprising remarks about those who have been overly busy tracking its routine transits across living things, which is what viruses and other microbes spend their time doing. We are here to stay, we might well be told, like it or not! Perhaps even most innocently, without any pretence at wanting to show their presence particularly, since for them the whole world is now their playground.

And what a beautiful playground, come to think of it, another facet which Malcolm de Chazal saw when he spoke to the azaleas, as I believe his poetic imagination did. Like him, we should spend more time in the contemplation of truth, beauty and love and accept some realities of life and living which form its complex canvas.

All three suffused the view that greeted me this morning at Trou-0-Cerfs. It was still dark, and there was an aerial view of the scintillating lights reminiscent of the sight from a plane’s window as it starts its descent for landing, something that cannot leave anybody without a sense of wonder however many times one may have witnessed it. Add to this the cool fresh air that was gently caressing the face, and the palpable magnificence of nature’s goodness cannot but make one be thankful for such unsolicited generosity.

Such splendour can only be felt if one has the inner splendour that recognizes like for like, and I recalled a book that I had read almost 50 years ago titled The Imprisoned Splendour by Raynor Johnson, a physicist who had turned his search inwards after researching the external world for years as his career. And I can only provide a glimpse of what he evokes:

 ‘When we turn to the things which are more significant in human life, to which the greatest of the human race have contributed most, and in which our real wealth consists – the love of truth and beauty, the inspirations which have led to great art, music and sculpture, and that simple goodness of character to which we pay involuntary tribute whenever we meet it – the capacity of reason to explain them is almost negligible. Reason may help us to discover truth, but it cannot explain the hunger of men to discover it…

…the deep passion of enduring hours

And endless seeking after endless Truth.’

But ici-bas, who cares for Truth… AH1N1 must be laughing away at our stupidities!

* Published in print edition on 23 July 2010

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