Dr Rajagopal Soondron
It all happened after sunset, before the closure of the Chinese shop at 7 pm. That night reserved for us children an exceptional surprise; now more than 60 years later, as grown-ups, we can only compare notes to concoct as near a true story about what transpired that weekend.
There were about 10 to 15 of us in a joint family living under the same roof. The ladies were still busy at the back, in the kitchen, while we children, having dropped our school bags with utmost relief in a corner of some room 12 hours earlier, were all tuned to the jovial family atmosphere of that day, which only a 1950s Saturday night could gratify us with. There was an air of bonhomie, of complete relaxation for one and all at our colonial styled house.
But suddenly the semblance of peace prevailing at 8 Pasteur Street, Beau Bassin, was shattered by a commotion under the verandah. Not that our house was a quiet place, but a commotion it was, completely out of tune with our relaxed mood. It turned out that some of the girls would have been the target of one of the juveniles of the joint family – whom nowadays we would have classified as a hyperactive kid.
The story is that he would have teased some of his elders to tears, and vocal retaliation stirred a hornet’s nest under our verandah – with pandemonium about to break loose.
All that shook the head of the family out of his stupor, forcing him to be aroused from the effect of his long tiresome day’s work. And he acted swiftly to bring peace in his mansion – by punishing the young boy whose hyperactivity, most conspicuous, gave him away. Still, to this day, none of us can remember clearly how it all started and what the truth was. But surprisingly things moved very fast and our sixth sense warned us that something unexpected was about to happen.
The Night Trip
We were astonished to see our father gathering the weeping, crying junior in his arms – the very one he just administered some juicy one with a cane; none of us had memory of such displays of affection and attention by dad. Was it love or pity? Unlike the ladies in the family, we never saw Dad so demonstrative in his feelings.
And the best was yet to come, for we were dumbfounded to see him heading towards the road with the child. We trotted along hesitatingly behind the him as he made his way south, leaving us children confused and with undefined expectations. Did he utter that melodious soothing refrain – “Let’s go to the shop”? Most probably not; it was never like him to reveal his hand prematurely.
Difficult to say what was simmering in our children’s brains at that time, for we were witnessing a completely out-of-the-ordinary event in our lives. It was as if dad, totally transformed, was under a stage limelight – and we children were his audience – in a sort of limbo, giving him a half standing ovation on that dark, moonless, starry night. So, we sheepishly trotted along.
Overjoyed, we soon found ourselves at Papa Amoy’s shop at the crossroads between Pasteur Street and colonel Maingard road.
In those days the shopkeepers liked to stay on the right side of the law – and pull down the shutters by 7 pm; no question of breaking the law and risking the revocation of their license. But it was Saturday, the only day of the week the people could look forward to for complete relaxation. We could hear the glee and good humour in the vociferous small crowd in the shop; some calling out to Papa Amoy’s elder son, Markou, to attend to their requests for rice, match boxes, Tomato Pilchard cans or 5 cents of “poisson salé”. Everyone was in a hurry to go back to their close ones.
For us children it was almost a fairy tale unfolding in front of us — there was the joy of shopping at night and watching dad around carrying our crying, tear-stained face, apprehensive junior. Suddenly our astonishment knew no bounds as our mouths started to water as we noticed dad pointing to one of those wonderful baked biscuits packets behind the glass partition. We children gazed at each other with pleasurable expectation. Was it not the very same sweetmeat that a well-wisher at home would gift us on some rare visits?
Oh yes, that was a night of many firsts: dad could not have surpassed himself, and to top it all Sunday was round the corner, when our psyche was most receptive to such surprises — and our memory bank was ready to store those unexpected paternal feats.
However, to be fair to our old man we must say that he himself had had a very tough childhood; starting to work in the cane fields at a tender age he realized that life was not a bed of roses; so, going shopping to humour the kids with some biscuits was never part of his agenda – more so as he had a family of 9 to care for in the 50s.
Up to now we have kept a certain special blurred view of that night — for some of us have a feeling that on that dark night dad went out without his usual long khaki trousers; so, what was he wearing? Shorts or his ‘Lamoresse’ covered by a long shirt? As women were never seen on the road at night in those days so maybe he was less careful of his sartorial outfit. This along with his recent honourable actions could have been possible on that occasion only if he was far from sober. Had he been he would have surely sent us all to our school homework; the junior would have missed a hard lesson in his tender years and this present narrative would have been lost to posterity.
Maybe he was back from work early after a few drinks with his buddies; and after dinner – when still under the soporific, mellowing effect of Bacchus – he was faced by a mischievous little boy. So, fate, the magician scenarist of that night, plotted the scene to tickle our children’s fairy mind to the extreme.
Oh, we remember little of our trip back home. And the funny thing was that none of us has any recollection of any biscuit feast at home. Dad’s unexpected performance had by itself outshone and overruled that gustatory memory that should have been more wonderful by itself.
From that day on, we would still be smiling when throwing our mind back, thinking of that tragicomic night tinged with unalloyed fun. Many of us chatted about it for weeks and wished secretly and sadistically that our junior could have similar corporal misadventures every now and then so as to elicit similar benevolent reactions from the head of the family.
Regretfully we have to admit that it was wishful thinking; it was too optimistic on our part to expect our father to fall for the same scenario a second time. May be on his side he had some secret misgivings about his yester night’s softness – so foreign to his disciplined family agenda.
To this day, we have lived happily with that memorable night of the 50s. But there still lingers the regret that we were never gratified by another such Saturday Night Fever.
* Published in print edition on 8 October 2021
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