Ugly Curepipe

I am saddened and rather ashamed to have to use this title, but have to face the hard fact that my town of Curepipe is no longer the ‘Ville de Lumière’ that was its claim to fame many years ago.

And with justification too. Given that municipal elections are in the air, this is both a cry and an appeal to those who will be called upon to govern it, come next June, to make it shine once again and regain its rightful place in the Mauritian landscape.

I remember one Sunday afternoon, on coming back to the country after a trip abroad, driving through the Royal Road from the Royal College towards Curepipe-Road and the sinking feeling I had in the pit of my stomach at the drabness of what used to be an attractive town centre in days gone by, even with its then old colonial type buildings. True, it was late afternoon, but still there was an eeriness in the air, compounded of the ‘deadness’ of the area and the black fungus-covered facades of the buildings that lined the thoroughfare.

It reminded me of the dreary line of Council estate houses in England, whose monotone brown brick colour and uniform shape were enough to send one into depression. I realized this acutely when, after staying continuously in England for nearly two and a half years in 1978, we took a trip to the Costa del Sol in Spain – and were so happy to see the bright colours as the plane came to land, gosh what a contrast to dull, and grey, England!

These musings have come to mind afresh during the past few days on seeing the ‘Mauvilac’ coat of painting that has been applied to the cylindrical wells that rise above the roof of the Curepipe market. The gleaming white of the paint is in sharp contrast to the sloping perspex (? – plastic anyway) strips that, fan-like, slope downwards from the junction with the cylinders. They are a dirty yellow from years and years of wear and tear. I don’t know how much of maintenance is possible in their case, but I doubt if they can be washed and cleaned at all with any detergent. What is certain is that they are due for replacement. The part of the building that houses the food vendors, facing Jan Palach South, with its flaking coat of paint and dirt patches, is equally ugh! In fact, the monstrosity known as Curepipe market that scars the town’s landscape is definitely well past by date: Curepipeans need a new, modern market to restore some of their town’s reputation!

Oh yes, of course, there’s a new ‘Forum’ coming up, and I do pray that it will not start to show signs of rot and rust, and the metal supports and beams begin to be eaten away and threaten to crumble as soon as did those of the first Forum building! So much has been written about that notorious Forum that no more need be said. The controversy about it was enough to make one wonder whether we have any sense of pride left in us for our common legacy, what we will leave for posterity, let alone in our own work. To look at any object, or result, and proclaim ‘it’s my handiwork!’ should be one of the greatest satisfactions of a professional’s life, surely? And yet, and yet, we had this second monstrosity to tarnish the Curepipe landscape. True, it was away from the town centre, but that was neither excuse nor reason to make it substandard. But thank goodness it, at least, is being replaced.

I concede that the Curepipe weather does not help, what with its humidity and rain, responsible to a large extent for the blackened walls of the buildings that line the shopping areas of the town centre, along Chasteauneuf Street and the Royal Road, as well as around Salaffa. With all the modern techniques being developed, there surely must be expertise around to counsel as to the best way of maintenance of the look of these buildings, for they really are an eyesore once any new coat of paint starts getting damaged by the fungus.

Another sore point in Curepipe is the state of many of its roads, both near and away from the centre.

Most of them are uneven, pot holes having been simply filled in from time to time, without any leveling. The result is roads with surfaces that can be both convex and concave within short distances, which is no good for car rides and car suspensions.

When one speaks of roads, transport and traffic cannot be far behind, and it is no secret that chaos reigns for most of the day in the shopping areas, and is compounded when road, water or sewerage works are going on, which means a good part of the year.

Taxi stands, legal or illegal God only knows!, have sprung up in several locations, and parking space is now so constrained that finding a slot is almost like looking for a needle in a haystack! Fortunately, though, despite the congestion, basic courtesy miraculously prevails, and no incident of road rage has had to be deplored so far.

On the other hand, making any complaint to the municipality, about a broken slab or a faulty street light, is like going on a wild adventure, and it is a sad comment that unless one has a ‘contact’ the time to effecting a remedy, if at all it is done, is likely to be very protracted.

Of course there have been some positive initiatives and developments over the years, like placing those potted plants along the pavements in the shopping areas. There is also the children’s playground at the Town Hall and the Botanical Garden, and lately the embellishing of the fountain and pool in front of the Town Hall, making it functional with lighting to boot. Some new buildings have come up, and their shining newness exacerbates the dullness of the older ones standing next to them, and here’s hoping that something will be done to eliminate the glaring difference!

There remains the security aspects of moving about in Curepipe, especially at night. I cannot help recalling the after dinner walks that families used to take along the Royal Road in the 1950s, doing window shopping of the new shops that had come up. The most attractive part was the brightly-lit shop windows with all the goods exposed to view, and there was absolutely no hesitation to hang about and chit-chat. What a pity that such outings are now a no-no, what with all the shop windows completely and heavily shuttered down. Elsewhere, one of the pleasures of night life is doing window-shopping, and it’s a regret that this innocuous and enjoyable feasting of the eyes – and free as well! — is no longer possible.

Having lived most of my seven decades in Curepipe, I would be loathe to ‘emigrate’ to some other part of the island, so anchored is my nombril here, and I know many fellow Curepipeans who feel the same. For our sake, I hope that there will be redemption some day not too far in the future, when nocturnal outings will again be possible even if they were to be only in the warmer months, with concerts and other activities to enliven the town. Back to the time when the Police Band and the Veeramundar Bands used to play in the Town Hall grounds, to the great and unforgettable delight of everyone, especially the children – those are some of the most wonderful moments I associate with my town. There are some others too, of course, like sitting with my schoolfriend on Sunday evenings on the stone bench whence rose the statue of Toulet, and furtively smoking our one stick each of Matinee!

Nostalgia can be delightful, but also painful when one thinks of the degeneration that has taken place in the intervening years. I will pray for better days to come for the future denizens of Curepipe – who knows, those of my generation and age might yet live to enjoy some of them!


* Published in print edition on 8 May  2015

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