Reminiscences of The Past

Who doesn’t like a good laugh? At times I laugh so much that it brings tears to my eyes, and the back page of Mauritius Times is a good place to find laughter with all the jokes found in there.

But reading about ‘Sacrifice’ in the 7-13 February issue certainly brought not just a tear or two of sadness but an avalanche of it. Whether it’s a real life story or just a story, I have no idea, still it’s food for thought.

I do not have that sad a story to tell, but it’s a real one. But then, I’m not quite sure if it was in the 20s or when exactly, that my Aja, or maternal granddad, hurt his leg on a sugar estate. It was not in a Bugatti either but in a bailgari or charette boeuf. In those days, treatment was not that easily available and the leg had to be amputated above the knee. Life was not easy for his family, my Aji being asthmatic, and they had four young kids. I do not know if compensation or pensions existed then.

Shortly thereafter, he was given a job as a watchman at night. His three very young daughters followed him to keep him company and they all slept in a maraï. Anyway he had no other option. Luckily in the old days, there were no nasty people lurking about. He earned 10 cents for a night’s work and bellies had to be fed. No doubt, they had the cow which provided the milk, they raised a few hens and of course looked after their vegetable patch.

Eventually my mum and her elder sister got married on the same day. My Aja, poor as he was, bought the Mangalsutra for my aunt as the groom could not afford one. When the wedding was over, he told the dulha: ‘Now that you are married where will you keep my daughter? You lied to us by showing us someone else’s dwelling as your own. You can go now but the bride stays here.’ You would have thought someone in his situation would buckle down but not Dajee.

The groom was probably an SDF, as described in today’s jargon, that is of no fixed abode. I do not think such an incident has ever occurred in our country. My mum got married in the afternoon and went to Beau Champs. Pity, I never thought of asking my Mausi how she felt on that fateful day. Two years later, she married someone else, who she considered as her real husband.

Despite his handicap, my Aja would travel by bus all the way from Brisée Verdière, where I was born in his jhompri. Then, once in Port Louis, he caught the Tip-Top bus and came to the terminus not far from our house. I’d wait for him and carry his ‘Tente Vacoas’ which was always full of seasonal fruits. Another Mausi lives nearby and all his other grandchildren were just so happy to see Aja. His leg never bothered us, because that’s how we’ve always known him. He was the only grandparent I and the others have known.

On one visit, he told my mum that he would like to stay with us and please not to send him back as he never wanted to set foot in that place again and he didn’t. I think it had to do with a conflict with his daughter-in-law. My mum was more than happy to have him as she’s been a widow since long and there were only the two of us. Everyday, he woke up at 5 am and mumbled his prayers for one hour. One day, I asked Aja to teach me some of his prayers. No, he said, it won’t be easy for you as it’s in Sanskrit.

Now and again, he would smoke his Matelot or Capstan cigarette, using his old lighter with a flint inside. Sometimes, he’d give me 10 cents to buy a loaf of bread ‘maison’ at 7 cents and 3 cents worth of margarine. Then at 3 pm, I’d prepare tea and we shared the loaf. Nowadays, you see 20 cents coins on all street corners and no one gives them a second look.

When he died in his sleep, aged 71, I was about 9 and had to catch the bus to go to Brisée Verdière to give the news. The family couldn’t believe it, that I was on my own and how I found my way. The children never travelled alone. My Mami rushed to FUEL to inform my uncle. Nowadays, just a phone call and the news spreads like wildfire.

We buried him next door and it’s very easy to visit. When my uncle and the three sisters would meet, my mum invariably said ‘Jab humni ke papa rahal tha’. For her, her dad was her deity. Not once did I hear him complain about his leg.

Maybe, some people reading this might snigger. Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, your life would have been different too. You can’t hide the truth.

I always tell my sons, your kids are lucky, they’ve known an Aaji and a Dada who love them to bits, a Nana, a grandma, a grandpa, a great gran and a great grandpa. Some are not so lucky.

* Published in print edition on 28 February 2014

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