The Soul of the Nation

Writing and opining about le mauricianisme makes good copy, and we seem to go into periodic ecstasies about its true meaning, and fall back on experts from Reunion island to give us their take on it.

This usually happens around the time of celebration of our Independence, and it is towards others that we turn to define us!

We don’t appear to trust ourselves when it comes to le mauricianisme. The French jargon serves us metissage. Americans talk about their melting pot – but are concerned about the fact that Hispanics will in a foreseeable future be the largest ethnic community there, though they are Christian and largely White. In Europe the debate is raging about multiculturalism, where it is deemed to have failed, especially in the UK.

Others talk about secularism – the Indians especially, who have imported it, as they have many other foreign concepts too. It’s very almost comical to watch them debating it, going into a tizzy. Why don’t they turn to their own civilisational source to find an anchorage is a question that keeps baffling me. I am certain that I will not live to see this happening.

As far as we are concerned, I have had occasion to recall that sometime in the early 1960s I remember that the entité mauricienne was being ventilated. At that time I was in upper secondary school, at the Royal College Curepipe. If I am not mistaken, Regis Fanchette who had taught me in Form I had also given his point of view, but I have not the least idea what it was. What I remember him for is his superb teaching of poems from Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, which was our companion right until Form VI. No one who was in Form IVA in 1960 and who was taught by Georges Espitalier Noel can ever forget his style, his booming voice, his friendliness and his towering presence as he immortalized for us John Keats’s Ode to Autumn and other such delightful compositions.

The hype about entité mauricienne died a natural death. I don’t think it was ever a topic of conversation at the RCC. And yet we had stalwarts – in addition to the two I have referred to above — like Dr Karl Noel and Raymond Chasle, amongst others who taught French, Regis Lamy and Mr Low the historians, Mr Gill who did geography, the Rector himself who took us for General Paper on specific topics, and so on. Of course our science teachers were too busy in their labs to worry about these nebulous ideas; besides their concerns were more material, relating to demonstrating concrete results in scientific experimentation.

In class we were friends belonging to all communities and religions. Of course we were driven by the spirit of competition to outdo each other whether in studies or extracurricular activities, and we certainly had some jealousies and rivalries as well. But that did not prevent us from sharing an underlying pride in our college, and in forging friendships which cut across all barriers, despite the well-known fact that our White compatriots would always cluster on the benches to the right of the entrance hall as it opened on to the quadrangle. Many of these friendships have endured, among those who are still around.

What is it that kept such a diverse bunch of youngsters, year after year, forging together ahead notwithstanding their inequalities in social and economic status and their cultural differences? What made them proud to be ‘Royalists’? – as others too, at different institutions, the confessional ones included, to be equally proud of theirs? What was the underlying thread, the unspoken tie that linked them?

At that time when I was a student I never gave this a thought, nor did any of the other students as far as I am aware. We just got on with our studies and our extracurricular activities, which were many: the Rector, Mr Bullen, had encouraged the setting up of numerous societies which were very well frequented. Invariably we were members of more than one society. This is the way we enriched ourselves mutually – for example at the Classical Music Society which was run by Mrs Brooks where we listened every week to Western classical pieces played on the now obsolete plastic discs.

By the same token, it has always been the case that there is something common to all of us that have kept us going as a nation, and as I later pondered the issue, I came to realise that it is something undefinable. It is there, a feeling which is present and which expresses itself in friendships that transcend all barriers, individual and collective solidarity that does not wait for mishaps or calamities to manifest itself (although during those times it is more visible and as spontaneous as the subtler form), good neighbourliness most of the time, sharing of some food habits which I think have had the strongest influence in ‘mauritianising’ us – despite the misguided war by an overzealous political protagonist at one time against dalpuris and gateaux-piments!

All these (and there must some other factors too), in my humble opinion, have come together to make up a Mauritian soul, the soul of the nation. I rather liked this term when I first came across it. It was the Mother of Pondicherry, Mirra Richard and the spiritual successor of her Guru, Sri Aurobindo, who talked about it. This is what she said: ‘Just as each individual has a psychic being which is his true self and which governs his destiny more or less overtly, so too each nation has a psychic being which is its true being and moulds its destiny from behind the veil. It is the soul of the country, the national genius, the spirit of the people, the centre of national aspiration, the fountainhead of all that is beautiful, noble, great and generous in the life of the country.’

We may be going through a bad patch with all these social crimes and other dysfunctions of late. But the universe is cyclic, not linear. What goes up comes down. So we will overcome this low and rise again. But it is all of us together, inspired perhaps by the model Mother has created at Auroville in Pondicherry. That model ‘is not meant to be a melting pot for a great homogeneous soup, but is rather meant for the exploration of the differences and of understanding the truth behind them. It is to find the uniqueness of each individual country, the soul of each nation of the world, and to find out what that particular nation has to contribute to the whole. It is, in fact, a celebration of the differences, of all the immense wealth and richness of the tremendous diversity that makes up our common humanity and our shared humanness.’

For me, we antedate Auroville – but as we seem to be losing our way, it can serve as a reminder of what we have been (even if that was still a work in progress) and what we can be again as we celebrate our independence afresh. A nation with a soul.


* Published in print edition on 15 March 2014

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