At Canton-Nancy, Pamplemousses…
“It’s no longer any big deal to know or speak fluent English and French – à la métropole too – and try to impress in the erstwhile villages, because the game-changer has been education. The veneer of urban superiority fast evaporates when exposed for its cultural vacuity. The truly cultured, and educated to boot, are now all over the island, a large number in the rural conurbations, with the city dwellers trailing behind culturally. We ought to catch up before it is too late…”
— Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
On the occasion of Tulsi Jayantee 2012, activities were held by different groups and institutions throughout the island. The Canton-Nancy Swatantrata Sabha, Pamplemousses had a three-day Ramayan Satsang programme which came to closure on Wednesday 25th July, the day of Tulsi Jayantee.
Nearly two months earlier, I had been contacted by a member of the Sabha, and invited to come on that day, to talk about human and family values found in the Ramayana, as my association with the Ramayana Centre, Union Park is generally known. On the day before, that is Tuesday 24th, another trustee of the RC, Guruji Shri Hallooman Geerdharee had been present to give his message. An ex-Head Teacher, and approaching 80 years of age, Shri Geerdharee is among those few people who are ‘retired but not tired,’ so busy is he on several social, cultural and educational fronts, a shining example of a dedicated and respected contributor to the upliftment of society.
I had worked at the SSRN Hospital in the early 1970s and 1980s, but had never heard of Canton-Nancy. I must surely have had patients coming from that locality, unbeknown to me. In the present context, I did not personally know anyone at the Sabha, except the member who had contacted me and whom I had met briefly during an official meeting. I was therefore overwhelmed by the genuine affection, respect and esteem with which I was greeted when I reached there on that Wednesday evening.
The seating area of the temple was fully occupied. I was led to my seat, and listened as my contact was speaking about some aspects of the life of Goswami Tulsidas, author of the Ramcharitmanas. After that, he invited me to address the audience, having introduced me first. I was pleased to see a good number of young children, a few of whom were playful and a little noisy – but that’s part of the scene, and that’s children’s nature which we have to accommodate, as the MC, a young lady who spoke in shuddh Hindi – which is always a delight to the ears – observed when she was winding up.
She was a very able MC, seemingly seasoned in the art. Unsurprisingly, for I learnt subsequently that she has a Master of Arts degree in Hindi/ Hindi Literature and teaches in a State Secondary School, and was planning to pursue a PhD. That explained her pedagogical approach when she was conducting a quiz on the Ramcharitmanas in the concluding part of the programme, with prizes given to those who had the winning answers. These small incentives go a long way to encourage children and indeed some of them did seem to have done their homework quite well.
I felt a little jealous of them, I must admit, because when I was at their age I knew nothing about Hindu scriptures, and knew the Ramayana only by name, as I had told the gathering at the beginning of my intervention, there being no baithka in Curepipe Road where I grew up, or any other place that we as children were sent to for learning about such matters. At the same time, therefore, I was pleased to learn that these children were being catered for in regular classes held at the Sabha, and later I had the occasion to see on the first floor that there was a dedicated corner with the appropriate children’s books lying on a bookshelf.
In spite of our ignorance of our culture, we urbanites – certainly in those days, perhaps or hopefully less so now – tended to have a sense of, er, effortless superiority vis-à-vis our brethren who lived in the villages, and that included relatives. Perhaps it was because many of them used to live in thatched houses while we lived in the so-called colonial houses made of iron sheets and wood. And they spoke Bhojpuri: I would not be able to pronounce about those speaking other Indian languages but I must assume that probably a similar situation prevailed. We, on the other hand, spoke Creole, and some French too. And also went to school, where we learnt some esoteric sounding stuff, including knowing some Christian prayers.
It was true that there were some country bumpkins, but so were there uncouth and impolite city guys. Things, though, have changed. Some years ago, on a similar occasion – Tulsi Jayantee – at the Ramayana Centre, while we were clearing up after the guests had had their lunch and left, I asked a couple of youngsters who were helping me to collect the remaining litter into a bin what they did. One of them was an IT manager, the other had a degree in finance and was employed in a private firm: both of them were from villages in the south. And we can multiply this example a thousand-fold now.
My hosts at Canton-Nancy shared a nice hot bhojan prasad of jackfruit pulao accompanied with cotomili-tomato chutney with me, and our conversation ranged from the beauty of the coulourful glass windows at the Canterbury and Cologne Cathedrals to deep spiritual experiences in India. We also had some discussions about Hindu philosophy that would have lasted the night were it for the fact that we all had to go to work the next morning.
It’s no longer any big deal to know or speak fluent English and French – à la métropole too – and try to impress in the erstwhile villages, because the game-changer has been education. The veneer of urban superiority fast evaporates when exposed for its cultural vacuity. The truly cultured, and educated to boot, are now all over the island, a large number in the rural conurbations, with the city dwellers trailing behind culturally. We ought to catch up before it is too late.
I will certainly go back to Canton-Nancy again, where I had a feeling of homely rootedness, to share and learn. As the poet said, there are promises to keep, and miles to go…