Some Reflections Around the Festive Season

Of Emptiness in the Midst of Plenty

It is no secret that the end of year festive season in Mauritius is probably the longest in the world, lasting about a month and starting around the 15th December to end around the 15th January.

And this despite the fact that several of my acquaintances and friends, from all social strata, have for a good while now come to the conclusion that presque tous les jours banané astère! This refers to the new realities that have followed in the wake of the tide of relative prosperity over the past few decades that has lifted many boats – families — to a more comfortable level of living, although it is also a fact that a good few boats have been transformed into luxury yatchs.

For those who had always belonged to the better off classes the change is perhaps less evident. However, for the majority whose toiling and poorer social conditions could still not allow them much material comfort, what has happened particularly after the second wave of industrialization in the 1980s has been nothing short of dramatic.

This is the case with inhabitants of outlying urban and periurban areas, villages and the cités. The latter should no longer be called as such – cités – for they have been transformed from their original state into vibrant townships. I will prefer to use this term for them, for being familiar with a number of them and their residents, whose houses I have had the occasion to visit both as a doctor and as honoured guest.

Just like there is hardly any difference now between villages and cities, so is the case as far as the townships is concerned. In fact, many cities are worse off as regards their roads, both main and side, my city of Curepipe being perhaps the most disgraceful in this respect. With the development of our extensive road network and the related infrastructure, rural areas are infinitely better off.

I do not know who is responsible for road construction and maintenance in the cities, but if Vice-Prime Minister Anil Bachoo has any say in the matter, I would implore him on behalf of Curepipians – and other urbanites who are in similar situations – to please do something for our roads. Thank you in advance, Hon. Sir!

So as I was saying, the townships have nothing to envy others about, for practically all of them have equally good roads, along with amenities such as social and community halls and recreational grounds and facilities, availability of potable water, collection of household and other domestic waste on a regular basis.

Moreover, some townships have twice a week collections, whereas I know that on a number of occasions people in cities have had to call at the municipal councils to attend to dustbins that have been overflowing for days on end. Besides, most households have gadgets such as washing machines, ovens and other items of kitchen equipment, as well as the latest in music systems and audiovisuals material.

It is from people in townships in particular that I have repeatedly heard that almost everyday it’s like New Year now. Formerly, one had to wait until Christmas and New Year to get gifts and to eat what is supposedly ‘good’ food – meaning non-vegetarian items such as chicken and meat, as also certain fruits such as melon and pineapple – and soda drinks such as lemonade and cola-drinks.

But, said one of my lady acquaintances who lives in a township, whose childhood experiences in such matters resonated with mine too, nowadays I have a real embarras de choix about what to cook. The fridge is full of all kinds of stuff, from fish to chicken to meat to sausages to cheese to…

Children insist on having non-veg everyday, especially when it comes to their school lunches. It must be burgers, bacon, salamis, sausages, and when they get back the chips must be ready, if they have not already brought it with the fast-food item they have picked up on the way home most days. This kind of narrative is repeated across communities and households around the country.

What else shall we talk about? Computers and desktops – dépassé! Talk about iPads and smartphones. Games? Bewildering range. Routine affair nowadays. Besides, there are any number of occasions throughout the year, starting with birthdays, when kids are offered more of such presents, including toys, whose variety seems limitless. It’s from parents, relatives and friends, and one can add to that list those who come from outside – because practically all Mauritians now have overseas extensions, and there are round-the-year visits. And if such visits take place around birthday time or the festive end of year season, the goodies for the kids will match the occasion and the times! There is also the fact that more people travel to more destinations than ever before. All of this put together means that all of us become overloaded with gifts and goodies which, let us admit, quite often we do not know what to do with.

Thus, comparatively fewer people are materially deprived, and there are so many national schemes of assistance that have been set up to come to their help. Barring the unfortunate who happen to be to be suffering from disease, everybody finds some way or the other to enjoy and partake of the atmosphere of the festive season with its infectious conviviality.

The new vulnerable and deprived are those whose nests have been emptied of the loved ones who used to surround them in the better times, and who are now either no more or who have left for other climes. The luckier and more resilient ones find solace in souvenirs and memorabilia they dearly hold on too, and if luckier still have a few close relatives and friends who will call, visit or get them over to share in the merriment.

Others sit in pensive expectation of that impatiently-awaited Skype apparition and that distant voice as they try to while away the heavy, leaded, still hours in gilded cages that once used to be warm, lively homes. And for yet others, it’s the old age home where they have been parked and whence they will depart, unsung, unbeknown perhaps even to their once loved ones whose lives they so patiently, lovingly and laboriously and laboriously helped to build.

We call this civilization, modernity.

Nevertheless, Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings to all!


* Published in print edition on 20 December 2013

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