By Nita Chicooree
More than four decades ago, a big chunk of the Mauritian population wholeheartedly and unreluctantly voted for Independence. Self-government was the natural and most logical political course to follow for all those who felt that the country was standing on the threshold of its destiny, and it was their responsibility and duty to jump on the bandwagon of decolonization that had already liberated parts of Africa and Asia from the European colonizers.
Independence liberates people psychologically and provides the fundamental basis for galvanizing their collective will and determination to take their country forward with dignity and dedication to social and economic advancement. Our parents believed in self-rule, in the leaders and the possibilities of a brighter future for the younger generation.
Over the past four decades, the country has made tremendous progress in several key sectors thus improving the living conditions of average citizens. The younger generation has most benefitted from the ensuing economic prosperity that has opened windows to diverse economic activities and paved the way to new opportunities. Generally speaking, young Mauritians believe in their country’s potential; they have faith in its institutions and look forward to the future of the country with optimism.
Mauritius is relatively a new country inhabited by descendants of old civilizations. Despite the adoption of modern western political institutions and, to a great extent, a westernized formal education transmitted mostly in the English language, and a whole generation of academics and professionals trained in western institutions abroad, we have been careful not to blindly follow all the aspects of foreign concepts which we are not too comfortable with.
Our mind, not our inner selves, sometimes admitted ways of thinking which have taken root in other countries. When some of our most loquacious voices get too excited and fanatic about our supposedly ‘backwardness’ in not integrating modern ideas, especially the ones they learnt in the amphitheatres of French universities, other voices are raised to dispel misguided notions and enlighten the public.
Decolonization of minds is a very long process, and most of us have not fully taken stock of the damages done by the displacement of people, their submission to foreign political rule, economic exploitation and constant cultural and religious assaults. Self-confidence in setting up the right infrastructure for economic and social development, and self-assertion on the regional and international platform came gradually. Resistance to imposed identity shows up every time a few local personalities come back from regional conferences held in the sister island where the favourite pastime of intellectuals is to discourse on ‘Creole Islands’ and ‘Creolity’, the dictionary definition of which was written down by former colonizers.
Broadly, there are deep common points in the outlook on key aspects which govern the lives of people across the world, whether they are from Africa, Europe, the Middle East or Asia. However, it seems that nineteenth and twentieth century European intellectualism gave birth to all sorts of abstract theories in the form of ‘isms’ which the rest of us are expected to blindly subscribe to as the sole viable systems of analysis. Many of us beg to differ and think on our own terms.
People from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have set up social ties over decades, mingling at the workplace, socializing in public and private places; and a great number of mixed marriages have kept taking place in the process. What we may call ‘Mauritianhood’ encompasses the ground reality of being born in the same country, a sense of belonging to it, of having and living a shared history, loving the homeland and wanting its progress, experiencing its failures, successes, joys and woes, being exposed to different religious observations, social customs and cultural habits, local foods, dress codes and the existence of several languages though Creole is commonly used by most people. It is a pragmatic identity and feeling based on common sense and wisdom. In this respect, Mauritians have done well.
Is it a matter of orientation of the thinking process? As Sri Aurobindo stated, Indians (not only Indians, by the way) think inside out. Modern western thinking is the opposite. Theories are invented and brandished by a few individuals to the populace who are expected to integrate them intellectually, first. Orientals build up ideals from experience, living from bottom upwards. They start from materialism, as in the Veda, questioning the very essence of being and ending up in idealism. Modern western thinking starts from idealism and pitifully ends up in materialism.
Some people are never satisfied with the quality of coexistence in the island and keep preaching ‘Mauritianism’ from all rooftops. God knows what that word embodies. For all we know, it smacks of French intellectualism. From their point of view ‘le mauricianisme’ is constantly ‘menacé’ in every nook and cranny of the island by backward people who have not yet understood the significance of the lofty ideal.
This sort of discourse has frequently been aired in the media especially in the written press. Its by-product, ‘vivre ensemble’ is just as frequently hammered down to the good people and hysterically taken up by angry fans and bloggers on the internet. ‘Living together’ dates back to Plato and his idealism was taken up in Christianism and propagated to one and all in modern times. Experience has shown how corrupt this notion has turned out to be in the course of history.
The alienating effect of colonization is yet to be assessed. Education, which is much too inspired by a foreign model, estranges people from their own reality and cultural blessings. Decolonizing minds is a never-ending process which may ultimately have an impact on our consumption habits and general lifestyle. Currently, there is much more concern over the perception of losing national sovereignty through privatization of public assets and utilities. As Lord Desai stated in an interview published in MT, it seems that ‘Mauritius will never be allowed to relax.’
* Published in print edition on 9 March 2012