By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Bungalows have mushroomed along the coast in the north of the country and most probably, all along the other coastal regions as well. What is actually happening is that many of those whose ancestors had benefited from the generous property handouts from the French East India Company in a remote past and the successive colonial governments and who had had bungalows built for them by local workforce for peanuts are using every inch of land in their yard to build more bungalows.
And to keep the place exclusively for themselves and their clans, they have blocked all access to the public.
A few years ago, they tried to respond positively to a new government law whereby every 200 metres, there should be a path which leads to the beach and it should be made accessible to the public. It was too demanding for them to abide by the law totally. In Pte Aux Canonniers, one family decided that the public should not feel free to walk freely to the beach. So, they put a gate to control the movement of the public, and they opened and closed it according to their moods. They ended up closing it up for good. The authorities had trees planted on the public beach at the other end of Pte aux Canonniers to provide shade to the public. A few bungalow owners nearby are reported to regularly throw boiling water on the trees to stop their growth. They just do not want ‘other people’ there.
Members of the public who used to take that path to go to the beach live nearby in the residential area that has kept expanding for the last decade. Their ancestors did not belong to the clique which shared the best spots of the island among the wealthiest members of the economic elite of the country. They have bought lands and built houses with their hard-earned savings in Mauritius and abroad. But their right to enjoy peaceful walks along the beach and watch the sunset far off the horizon on Coin de Mire has been foreclosed. This is for respecting the privilege of a clique whose birthright is to enjoy the best that the island offers.
Real estate business is booming across the country, and better use is being made of every parcel of land to build more bungalows and to lease them out to foreigners for a monthly rent of Rs 80 000 to more than Rs 110 000. All this is happening in the midst of create-the-all-to-ourselves feeling by keeping undesirable elements away. Accompanied by encroachment on public property by building walls hardly one foot away from roads.
Common folks who have worked hard and settled in the area at high costs are deprived of the “privilege” of enjoying the seaside at a few minutes’ walk from their homes. Not a single access all along the coast in Pte aux Canonniers is available for public use. People have to walk all the way across the residential area and take the main road that leads to Mon Choisy. This situation is deeply unfair, discriminatory and illegal. Complaints have been lodged at the police station and petitions sent to the district council. No one budges an inch. Who cares? Not even the government. Have those concerned brought this situation to its notice? If not, why not?
This is 21st century Mauritius. And the government swears it is going to stand up to the British to get the Chagos back!
In the same area, our local thieves were at it again. They could be anyone, the gardener or his friends, the fishermen who bring their catch at your doorstep, or the fishermen who indolently sit back in their boats with an eye on the movement of the newly arrived holidaymakers under the veranda of a bungalow. This was the kind of misfortune hitting a couple and their three children whose laptops, mobile phones and camera were stolen by fellows who threw away a diving outfit in the garden. The father fell seriously ill before coming to Mauritius and was slowly recovering in the calm and soothing atmosphere of a bungalow by the seaside. His parents happen to have been regular visitors to the country since the seventies.
The sense of hierarchy and the division of labour in workplaces is quite a bore. One policeman listens to the case of burglary the couple is reporting; he then calls his ‘superior’ and asks the couple to tell their story again. The latter is too ‘grand’ to sit down and take notes. As a chief, he paces up and down and dictates the report in English to a police officer who seems to have a hard time spelling English words correctly. At one moment, the ‘superior’ asks the Frenchman a most stupid question: “Pourquoi avez-vous un tension-mètre?” Then, three policemen, grinning, asked him to take their blood pressure; they did not notice that the man was sick and tired. This is the standard of casualness we are having.
Some time later in the afternoon, two policemen who are patrolling the peaceful residential area where not much happens in the daytime stop at a ‘snack’, buy drinks and sneak away to the backyard where they spend around twenty minutes, chatting away. Work ethics, no doubt.
On another occasion, one police officer feels entitled to voice his opinion on the question of Mauritian nationality for children born abroad. They have no right to the divine passport, he claims, “où va l’île Maurice?”, he asks. They cannot even have an identity card, he warns. “Do your job, you fool,” you are tempted to answer.
Next thing, five policemen clustered by the roadside stop you while you are driving. The routine checking of driving licence, a brief inspection of the car; then, one of them asks: Ki travay ou fer?
One wonders about the criteria employed for recruiting policemen.
A group of women and a very handsome man singing Bhojpuri wedding songs under the veranda. What a bliss! Listening to the songs for hours, chewing cloves and cardamoms. The whole festive atmosphere is swathed in the sound of Bhojpuri songs, and it is just exalting. The dancers mime the scenes depicted in the songs. The language enlivens every cell of your body. The best moment is when most of the womenfolk, the bride-to-be and all the girls joyfully join in the dancing and hilarity. Such moments make us deeply regret that the language is not used in everyday intercourse, and we wish that people could meet more often and interact in social gatherings where Bhojpuri songs can be enjoyed.
Jhumka gira re… the words and the sound resonate in your mind and heart for days.
* Published in print edition on 12 August 2011