The Stuff of Life: Links and Memories

From how life began to its definition and whether there is any meaning to (human) life: these and other aspects of the phenomenon of life have engaged the minds of thinkers of all types as humans evolved. Sages and seers or rishis of yore from the dawn of time, as in India, to philosophers in the Graeco-Roman period, to those of the so-called Enlightenment phase in Europe, and religious figures have pondered the problem and left us their views on the matter.

In more recent times, comparatively speaking, scientists from different branches of the field have also come in with their more rational approach to the issue, and there are interesting analyses available to anyone willing to delve into the subject. As an example, astronomer Paul Davies’ The Mind of God (1992) is one of them, and contributes some very interesting reflections. Before that, perhaps the book that set the scientists along a new path of exploration was nuclear physicist’s Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics (1977), that had the image of the Dancing Shiva – which had inspired him – on the cover.

But this is all to do with life as it is thought about, with these serious thinkers giving us refreshing and profound perspectives, of deeper interest to the scholar or probing student of the phenomenon of life that is still unravelling. What I am concerned with here is the experience of life – or Life. That is, life as it is lived – Life, as I designate it, with a capital L. And this does not require any scholarly or academic background. If the ant could talk, why it could perhaps tell us more about Life than Henri Fabre deduced from his detailed observation of the species!

That’s the stuff of Life, and all of us know that it is made up of our experiences starting – yes! in the womb, and building up throughout our lifespan, till our last breath. That is why, Bhagavan Sri Krishna, who defies categorisation but who in this context I can call a supreme psychologist, says in the Bhagavad Geeta, that your thoughts at the moment of death will determine your condition in the next life.

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Experiences accumulate as our memories, and it is also common knowledge that there are links and associations that trigger them. And that there are people ‘out there’ whose experiences resonate with one’s own. I am currently reading this gripping book titled ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ (2013) subtitled ‘The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits’ by Rahul Pandita, a Kashmiri Pandit himself who now lives in a suburb of New Delhi as an internal refugee. That issue is for another time. What caught my attention was his account of the celebration of Maha Shivaratri, which is the most important festival for Kashmiri Pandits, with preparations that begin a month in advance, and how elders would give money to the children to ‘buy anything we wanted on the next day of the festival’, when there was great feasting and family conviviality, as is the case with all Hindu festivals which are occasions of enjoyment for both the body and the mind.

By the same token, Sarita Boodhoo’s remembrances of late Mokshada Kistoe-West in last week’s issue of this paper evoked memories of my encounter with her as well as my interactions with the Queen Elizabeth College – before Mrs Kistoe-West became its Rector.

I had come across her brother, the quasi-legendary Physics teacher at Royal College Port Louis, long years before I met her. He had been invited to give a talk on Albert Einstein to ‘The Philosophical Society’ at the Royal College Curepipe of which I was a member. A few of my classmates used to take tuition from him, and had told us how he would teach them about sound by playing out on the piano that he had at his place. Frankly, I do not remember a thing of what he said – but he impressed as much with his delivery as with his humility.

It was in the late 1990s that I met Mokshada, when through a common friend, Devi Dyall, I went to see her for English tuition for my son. I cannot forget that first meeting for one reason: her cats. All 25 of them!! On that evening – but apparently, as she told me, there could more than 30 at times! I have to confess that I am not a cat lover, but I could not help being in wonder of her own love for them.

The issue of tuition for my son being over within a few minutes, she took us on a conducted tour, as it were, of the infrastructure of the ‘cat domain’, if I may call it so, that she and her husband David had set up, and of their denizens. I couldn’t imagine that someone could have such love for the feline species as to build for them individual pens with all that was required for their comfort, the serving of their food, the evacuation of waste and so on.

They came from all over: those that the couple had selected, the abandoned ones that they had picked up, those that had simply been left outside the bamboo hedge that they would find in the morning. After all, their reputation had spread around, and people did not hesitate to leave their unwanted cats there. Which Mokshada and David lovingly accepted.

And each cat had a name, and a personality. As we were walking around, she pointed out to one that was whining and said: ‘she is Skinny; we just picked her from outside the bamboo this morning, and she needs to be fed.’ Wow, I thought to myself. ‘And this one, sitting quietly over there – that’s Socky, short for Socrates. Can’t you see, he’s pensive, the philosopher. Hence Socrates. We picked him from the University.’

After the tour, she and her husband invited us in for a chat and a drink, and there were more cats around… Bless her soul.

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As for the QEC, there was always an ongoing rivalry with RCPL and RCC in academic matters, and then as today the laureate craze dominated the scene. But there were also other events, such as quiz competitions where we faced each other. There was also cooperation – when QEC girls took part in plays put up by the Drama Club of RCC which our English teacher Georges Espitalier-Noel used to direct. And we used to hold a joint end of year dinner and dance.

The last one I attended was at the QEC in December 1964, and Mrs Flashman was the Rector there, Mr Bullen being Rector of RCC. I was then the outgoing Head Boy at RCC; Suzanne Pablot was the Head Girl at QEC, and in the middle of the year we had interacted during a play being produced by the Drama Club. I think it was ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

The protocol was that the Head Boy and Head Girl would start off the dance with the Rector QEC and Rector RCC respectively, before halfway through we’d switch – Head Boy and Head Girl, Rector-Rector. Both Mrs Flashman and Mr Bullen, though respected, were also feared because they were very strict and stern. Of course we could not take it out on them in any way, and so when I was walking towards Mrs Flashman when the dance was announced, my RCC friends shouted ‘Craze so li pied ta, craze so li pied!’

It was a relief to let go of Mrs Flashman. Suzanne Pablot came out a laureate, and apparently became a radiologist (practising in London) like her well-known father Dr Pablot who set up the radiotherapy unit at Victoria Hospital. I never met her or Mrs Flashman again.

Such is Life. We meet to part, and move on to pursue our own destinies. But nuggets of memories remain, and recollections of them are what enrich and give meaning to our lives, however happy or painful they may be – the inevitable mixture of Life’s Stuff, all impermanent. Even if we wanted, it could not be otherwise. And therefore we must learn to accept and accommodate, for there simply is no other way!

RN Gopee

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