Dr Gopee

Hallooman Girdharee of Barlow: Icon and Examplar 

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee 

On Saturday last the ‘Force Vive de Barlow’ and the Phooliyar Nagar Kalimata Mandir Association held a function at Antoinette Phooliyar in the district of Riviere du Rempart on the occasion of the 177th anniversary of the arrival of Indian Indentured Labour to Mauritius, which took place on 2nd November 1834.

  As Mrs Sarita Bodhoo showed in her article in last week’s issue of the MT, this first batch was recruited by the firm Arbuthnot and Co. and the 34 workers were sent to work at the sugar estate in Antoinette. It is from that cohort, subsequently, as I learned on that occasion, that people went to populate neighbouring villages, but the umbilical memory to Phooliyar remains. This was reflected in the answer given by some ladies who had come from Barlow and the adjoining villages to participate. When asked where they had come from, they did not name one village, but said sagro se in Bhojpuri, meaning, ‘from everywhere’ (in the vicinity understood).

As was the case last year, this year too the ‘Force Vive de Barlow’ put up a comprehensive programme, which involved the participation of all communities and faiths, and had invited several personalities, the Chief Guest being Hon Anil Bachoo, Deputy Prime Minister. He delivered his message in the choice Hindi for which he is known, and was focused on bhaichara, the need to transmit dharmic values to children and for adults to practise them in their daily lives, which is the best way to honour our valiant ancestors.

Without their fortitude in the face of all the obstacles they had to face during their hard struggle for existence, our cultures would not have survived to the present day. It is our duty, we their descendants, to keep alive the flame of our respective cultures, practice the essential values which they embody and that, shared, can enrich our diversity.

Mischma Boodhooa, a young lady, captured the essence in poem she read at last year’s function, and I quote her last lines:

Kari mehnat se kharida zamin ka tukra
Jispar chhotasaghar banaya apna
Chalo hum sab milkar yaad kare unko
Jinhone sukhi banaya hum sabko

Aaj unki kripa se hum hai sukhi
Chalo milkar unhe yaad kare hum sabhi
Hamare purvazon ki Jai Ho!

The driving force behind that day’s organization was Ghanshyam Boodhun, the indefatigable president of the ‘Force Vive de Barlow’ who, with his equally hardworking members, managed to pull things together to make the people in that part of the island spend an enjoyable afternoon. Many children too took part, and they must be encouraged and congratulated for coming forward under the guidance, naturally, of their teachers and parents.

In the audience was Shri Halloooman Girdharee, known to close ones as Sudama, a notable of Barlow village next door whom I have known for nearly half a century now, when my sister got married to Shri Lallah Luchoomun in the village. They were neighbours, and he was a teacher at the Riviere du Rempart primary school. He was born in Barlow in 1933 and still lives there. He had his primary school education at Belle Vue Maurel. He went on to train at the then Teacher’s Training College for two years before being appointed a General Purpose teacher at Riviere du Rempart. For a while he worked at Plaine des Roches, but returned to Riviere du Rempart as Head Teacher. He was promoted to Inspector of schools, and occupied that post until his retirement in 1983.

Shri Girdharee is one of those for whom retirement did not mean retreat from active life. Far from it! He had innumerable commitments to keep him more than busy, because of his involvement with the teaching of Hindi and Sanskrit, in both of which languages he had taken a keen interest early in his life, through his friend Tarakeswar Luchoomun (late elder brother of Lallah Luchoomun) who was also a teacher, as also through late Muneshwarlall Chintamanee who was his co-trainee at the TTC, and his contact with Pandit Jugdish Sharma for Sanskrit. He has been taking part all these years in the conduct of the exams organized by the Hindi Pracharini Sabha (of which he is Vice-President), an activity which continues to this day. He finds time to oversee the running of the Barlow Umanath Mandir, a project in which he was instrumental.

I had the pleasure to come into more regular contact with him as a co-Trustee of the Ramayana Centre. For the past several years, we have been attending Committee meetings and taking part in all the activities of the Ramayana Centre from start to finish. He edits the Ram Sandesh, the regular newsletter of the Centre, and at all functions of the Centre he is requested to share his thoughts and give his message to the audience.

In spite of some frailty in his health, he makes it a point to be present at all times: it is not so easy for a nearly 80-year old person to travel all the way back and forth from Barlow to Union Park, attend a meeting or satsang sessions, or other activity that can last a few hours on occasions. Yet Guruji Girdharee does it without fail. No function at the Ramayana Centre would be complete without his respected and venerable presence, and he is deeply missed if for any reason he is not present.

Dedicated professional in education, devoted worker in the social and cultural fields, such people as Guruji are the true custodians of a country’s future. For his contribution to the celebrations at Antoinette Phooliyar in 1984 he was awarded the MBE.

Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah…

RN Gopee

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