Mauritius As I See It

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By H.D. Rughoo

Some of my friends feel slighted that I do not jubilate every time they recount the ‘progress’ the Indo-Mauritian community has supposedly achieved during the last decade. Too much travelling has jaded my sensibilities, they would argue, (the counter-attack, of course on a personal level, must follow if you have a difference of opinion with an Indo-Mauritian) and having inflated themselves to the full would puff away with an air of utter solemnity that I have become blind to the march of time. And that will be that, no use trying to discuss the thing dispassionately. They have crawled back in their narrow shell, having had their say. Whenever I am alone with myself, thinking of these droll chaps I explode with laughter but more often than not my laughter is followed by consternation, consternation at such wholesale blindness.

Progress, indeed! I certainly see more cars, more concrete buildings, radio sets, lawyers, doctors. But is some degree of temporary economic betterment to be the criterion for the thing we call progress?

Progress, indeed! Not a cultural organisation, not a single daily newspaper to air their views or disseminate Indian culture in this country, no clubs, no social centres, no youth organisations worthy of the name. There are temples but they remain empty most of the time and the priests have taken to spinning yarns about our religion. Jealously, ignorance, increase the unsocial habits of this breed and will lead to the extinction of our ethnic group. We haven’t yet produced even one of those non-attached beings who alone can create a society better than the one we’re living in. And we need thousands of such dedicated souls. And yet, we are proud of our progress!

Sloth Paralyses

Sloth is a kind of tragic refusal to do what ought to be done, a numbness which paralyses otherwise healthy tissues. Sloth exists on all planes, and can be physical, emotional, intellectual. The fact that our forefathers tilled the soil and our brothers still do, would not necessarily class us as hard workers. We prefer to till the soil because it is the least exacting of all work – a numbness of the will, mind, body… the conscious refuses to handle the reins and allows the sub-conscious to drive the body like an automat. After work, the body is shifted to the steps of the village shops, drugged further with doses of some diabolical concoctions and so on ad infinitum. How many artisans have we produced in the 122 years of our stay in this country? Yet, we had numerous Tamil masons, carpenters, cabinet-makers, amongst us when the early settlers first came to Mauritius. Not that the pen-pushers are any better. Their education has been haphazard and will remain so all their life. Once they start working, they will jump with wild gusto on the new hobby of breeding innumerable bambinos and will simply refuse to have anything to do with books. Their English will become dated, stilted, pidgin-ish, they will quote from Hardy, Conrad, and will write in 19th century style.

How many of this generation have read and studied Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Robert P. Warren, Kingsley Amis, Arthur Miller, John Osborne (Look back in anger), Dylan Thomas. They might have read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and heard fairy tales about GBS. They young will rant against the old guard but will not lift one finger to do anything constructive or advance their own claims for leadership. They will merely bide their time and jump into the old guard’s shoes when the time comes. So, few non-attached souls in this community. And then, there is the climate, the head-splitting heat, the syrupy, emasculating. Indian records:

Dunya ka maza le lo

Dunya tumarah hai.

In Spain, the educators will tell you that the prevailing vice among the Spaniards is the habit of saying “manana” (to-morrow) to everything. Their apathy is such that the mind refuses to grapple with the issues of the moment until it is too late. Hence, dictators, political charlatans, religious cranks, find the going easy. The Spanish progressive elements are in despair. A visit to Mauritius would greatly encourage them.

Divali Lights

Progress there has been in that we use electric lighting for Divali instead of earthern lamps. No doubt this is a sign of the march of time. What do my people at New Grove use today? I remember the joys of Divali celebrations in my childhood. We kids used to come into our own, we were set to decorate the house, make refreshing arches of banana trees, palm leaves, flowers. Later, we had to collect banana ‘pongas’ and fix them on the banana tree at regular intervals. They made excellent lamps. Ah! When the time for lighting came! Will the electric bulbs ever be able to re-create the scene of Rama returning from his exile? And now the kids do not share in the joys of creating the atmosphere of the festival.

Whether I would be in Japan, Vladivostok, or Africa, I always made it a point to celebrate this one Hindu festival, if only to feel my oneness with Rama through countless generations of Hindus. In Japan, a country so highly industrialized that electric wires hum even on mountain tops, the contrast would be striking. I would collect a dozen earthern lamps (no banana pongas there) and, at night would switch off all my bulbs and set the oil lamps going. Students of the whole neighbourhood would flock around and I would feed them with ‘doodpithi’ (easiest Indian sweet to make) and regale them with the story of Rama and Sita. On those nights I would feel greater pride in my roots and promise to myself to be a better Hindu, one deserving to feel the blood of Rama, Shivaji, Vivekananda, coursing through his veins.

On the Barricade

The Working Party report is out and some of the suggestions infringe on the privileges of some sections of the junior government employees. It is natural that all out sympathies should flow to the less privileged. The Mauritius Times has unreservedly espoused the cause of the junior employees, has canalised suggestions, printed thousands of handbills to arouse public sympathy, hired sandwichmen to go out with huge posters. A commendable effort. But what about the employees themselves? Some of them are up and fighting and it is a good sight to see them give of their time and energy. But it is sad to see that the majority has adopted a fatalistic attitude towards the report. All they can say is “They should do something about this”. ‘They’ are they deputies ‘God helps those who help themselves’ was not drummed into these indolent fellows when they were kids. And yet, right is on their side.

* Published in print edition on 26 October 2021

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