I was too young to assess the local political leanings of the tailor, Mister Mamie, as he played his cards close to his chest
Down Memory Lane
The tailor was more middle-aged than old, not very tall, and growing bald with a roundish face, wearing thick glasses. He was slightly on the plump side, always dressed in a white shirt and cream coloured trousers. To all intent he was Christian, but we rarely saw any religious loyalty on his part. All the Christian festivals would come and go, yet he was always at his site of work. He had a large family; and his wife, a well-built tall woman worked hard at the local hospital to make both ends meet. We have heard Mr Mamie justifying his shorter stature, and recounting with pride how his parents had congratulated him for marrying a taller woman than himself – which was all to the good stature of his future generations. May be he had become blasé as far as religion was concerned. Or, given that he was after all a businessman, he chose to abstain from religious talk. Yet I would soon discover that he had some other leaning.
It was the days of the Cold War, the rise of communism and the Cuban missile crisis. I got the definite impression that he would lean heavily towards the Soviets. He wondered why the USA could place their missiles in Turkey to threaten the USSR, and why the latter could not use Cuba as a platform to threaten the USA. In those days it was common to get the small communist propaganda booklets for free, and Mr Mamie would be an unconditional avid reader of the same. It was from him that I first heard that the Soviets were placing loudspeakers to blare out music in their potato gardens to stimulate the plants to produce bumper crops!
I was too young to assess his local political leanings as he played his cards close to his chest. But I have a feeling that he was never pro-Labour, nor could I say that he was pro-Parti Mauricien. After all his political loyalty should not be an impediment to his ‘gagne pain’. With the passing years, I have the vague feeling that my dad, a staunch Labour Party supporter had failed to win Mr Mamie over to his cause; as such I had noticed a cooling of relationship between the old man and the tailor. Yet I believed I had a glimpse of his bias when he started falling under the influence of the proprietor of his building, Mr B, who I suspected was an IFB follower; we could not make up much sense of that state of affairs because for us children of the 60s politics meant almost nothing.
And Mr B’s influence
Mr B was a very gentle, soft-spoken elder person. I learnt that he was an Arya Samajist – a follower of Swami Dayanand. And to my surprise soon he would be involving Mr Mamie in his religious concepts and may be his political beliefs, discussing with him about the merits of the philosophy of the Swami. The greater surprise was to discover that Mr Mamie would be borrowing Mr B’s big book wrapped in brown paper. This, I would learn for the first time from their talk, was a Satyarth Prakash. Did he read it or studied it at home? I cannot say. But soon I would hear vaguely that he was enthusiastically pro-Satyarth Prakash, discussing the merits of such and such views of the philosophy which, however, was all Greek to me! Sometimes I would see him open the book on his table, caress the page and have a cursory look at the content. I who had always thought that he had no religious inclination! And surely all that did not leave his political faith in Mr B untouched.
How could I have forgotten or remained indifferent to that new expression Mr Mamie introduced me to. To our young brain, any new word would be analyzed and processed, to be compared and appreciated to previous verbal exposures. But when we heard for the first time that Creole expression “Li même-même”, we were slightly put off and stared with some puzzled childish smile on our face. Should he have struck dirt after discovering that the number on his Poupard or Merven Racing ticket bore the same number as the official result on the newspaper, Mr Mamie would tap the newspaper gently and soliloquize, with a certain enthusiastic diminuendo trailing voice “Li même-même”. Did he invent it or hear it from one of his visitors? I would never know. But if we know no French or Creole then that queer expression may remind some of us of Richard Dawkins’ famous concept of a ‘meme’ (which is broadly defined as “culturally transmitted information, or ideas and beliefs that can be spread from one organism, or group of organisms, to another”). And decades later I would be reminded once again of that expression of Mr Mamie when I came across the word ‘fractal’ – which, in the simplest English form, could be defined as ‘similarly similar’ — almost equivalent to that Creole expression of Mr Mamie.
Of the youngsters gathering around him, there were other school-going friends. Because how would I explain that one good day someone suggested that we form a literary club. I have a very vague recollection of who initiated that idea, but I suspect Mr Mamie did. Somehow or other the idea took form, evolved and materialized. Who made the necessary arrangement for a venue I would not know. But soon Ramdit, Kadress and many others would gather at a small baithka not far from home in the no- through Commerson Street. Mr Mamie would be our honorary president always sitting on the front bench, but always keeping a low profile and we youngsters would be discussing, debating and reading our essays. I attended often, but as I was in the final years at secondary school, getting ready to take serious exams, I cannot say that I was a regular participant; and that ma be why my recollection of that club is a bit hazy. But the fact remains that Mr Mamie was probably the instigator of such a venture.
Soon the HSC years would be drawing to a close; exams came and were forgotten, and some of us left home, parents and friends for higher studies. But in my undergraduate years my mind went back sometime to those social ‘reunions’ at the tailor’s shop, more so when the anatomy lecturer came to mention the ‘adducting’ action of that thigh muscle – known as Sartorius – in reference to tailors’ capacity and habit to cross their thighs when sitting down on a stool to do their stitching job. All that reminded us of Mr Mamie and his assistants, with some nostalgia for home.
Years later when we came back, the atmosphere had changed in Independent Mauritius. Some had departed from this world, and our professional commitments had started taking its toll. The tailor’s shop in Pasteur Street was still functioning. But perhaps years of closeness to the sick had rendered us less talkative or good listeners, and a bit blasé too. We suddenly discovered that our teen years were over and we had lost some of our youthful curiosity and bonhomie. Later still as we passed by in Pasteur street we would cast a nostalgic furtive glance in the direction of the tailor’s closed shop, as Toto Salvatore would at his derelict Cinema Paradiso, to remind us of those wonderful away-from-home days of social interactions, escapism and the unforgettable Mr Mamie and his ‘Li même-même’ unique expression.