He looks just like the average healthy robust actor flexing his muscles on Miami beach in an American TV serial. In khaki bermuda shorts and a sleeveless white tee-shirt baring his sun-tanned arms, our compatriot walks into the supermarket in Grand Bay with his elderly father (maybe) and a few relatives straggling behind. A few metres away, he notices a few young American tourists. His face lightens as he hollers.
Hi guys! Where are you from?
The Mauritian young man, who has spent some years in the US, has a perfect American accent. He does not bother to go up to the foreign visitors and speak in a normal low voice as any Mauritian will do. Quite naturally, he puts on the broad self-confident American smile as he sputters on.
Doing anything tonight?
He suggests a nightclub not far away. His father does not seem to understand English.
Come, guys, it will be fun. We’ll show the chicks what we’ve got between our legs!
The American young men blush and look quite embarrassed. Not our fellow who certainly is not aware that the American vulgarity exported across the globe, which the late Norman Mailer deplores, has not infected all Americans, that a big number of them have tradition, values and a sense of propriety in conduct and language, specially in public places.
For all we know, the fellow has his brains between his legs!
Scars of colonisation
This is just one among umpteen incidents that set you thinking about emigration, uprootedness, mimicry without discernment, weak ego of former colonized people and the deep scars of colonisation. Have you ever met any European or American citizen who tries to look and sound Japanese, Arab, Chinese or African in language, behaviour and dress?
And yet, aping western ways is widely considered as something normal, rational and reasonable by millions of immigrants from Asia and Africa living in the West. It passes for ‘adaptation’. Conversely, westerners who settle in non-white societies abroad are not expected to ‘adapt’ to local ways or mimic the way local people speak, walk, eat or dress.
In some cases, the effect produced by mimicry is crudely grotesque. See it in the way women wear high-heeled shoes and walk awkwardly in western clothes in the streets of western capitals whereas they look much more elegant in their own traditional clothes. Men walk briskly and hurry to their workplaces wearing a dead serious expression on their faces as if the world was coming to an end and they were expected to take major decisions on the future of the planet.
Unilateral mimicry is unique in the history of migration and it speaks volumes on the power of western influence and cultural predominance which has been enhanced through the media across the world over the last decades. Aggressive western cultural domination meets strong resistance mainly in Muslim countries and, in some cases, resistance takes extreme forms. It has been assumed that economically powerful countries are role models for almost everything that regulates political, economic, social, educational or cultural policies.
It explains why political leaders in small countries are unable to think for themselves and look up to western experts for counselling on every matter, consequently wasting huge amounts of public funds.
The intellectual landscape of élites is highly polluted by borrowed ideas which pass for enlightment, and influential people among opinion makers are often caricatures of their western mentors. Others are given media coverage for defending imported ideologies which have run their course in their homelands in Europe and are no longer accepted as ‘enlightened’ ideas, judging from the discourse of modern day intellectuals in Europe among professors of philosophy, psychoanalysts, sociologists and so on.
Die-hard atheists amid high profile leftist personalities review their stance on key matters which affect people’s lives after decades of intellectual arrogance which spread ideas in which only a handful of ‘thinkers’ believed but paraded as ‘absolute truth’ and were imposed on the general public. Thus common sense and popular wisdom were sacrificed on the altar of those enlightened ideas.
Those ideologies have done much harm and created fragmented individuals in the West. Just remember how a highly regarded intellectual as Régis Debray in France changed his views on a number of issues a few years ago after being a hardliner for decades.
The point is what is harmful and has created fragmented individuals abroad is totally undesirable in your own homeland and other developing countries.
But the issue in countries such like Mauritius is that some people want the rest of us to adopt ways and ideas which are controversial in the countries where they originate from. Picking up clothes thrown away by others and being always twenty-five years behind.
You see it in almost everything even in architecture, design and form of buildings and houses, concept and management of space, size and orientation of different rooms in a house. A very simple matter such as the psychic effect of shape is totally absent in modern architecture. The reason why you feel uncomfortable as you step into a Gothic style cathedral for a visit, for example, is that the shape at the entrance is the product of an alien culture and it finds no resonance in your own psyche.
It is all about the way people see themselves in a society and in relation to other societies and countries, they think or do not think about what is genuine and what is superficial, what is worth promoting and what is worthless.
Fragmentation and untruth
Your own concerns for decades have been about Wholeness and Truth, Completeness and Authenticity, avoiding fragmentation and untruth. And yet much confusion has muddled your intellectual landscape from the time you started receiving formal education. Language has been a crucial factor in your progress and regression.
At an early age, you were made to understand that the Devanagari letters were going to occupy a much lower position in your education – for reasons of colonial heritage and utilitarian concept of languages, to enable you to connect to your compatriots in a multi-racial society and to the wider world.
Your first concept of society was that of your own religious and ethnic community, and it is only at college that you learned that society includes everyone.
The languages which helped us to connect to others within the country were Bhojpuri, other oriental languages, Cantonese and Kreol but gradually Kreol bloomed and expanded while the other languages went in decline. Language is the backbone of a culture and its decline entails loss of culture. So much time is devoted to the acquisition of foreign languages to enable us to connect to others that we end up with loss of rich culture and the inablility to connect to one’s own cultural heritage, which is vast and deep and not a superficial makeshift alternative that deprives one of authenticity and refinement.
Then, there is all the talk about evolution, inevitable change and adaptation which we all agree about. But at the age of 17, you started panicking at the phenomenon of cultural loss and the idea of being Incomplete and Untrue. We let others speak for themselves, you can speak for yourself and those with whom you share a common heritage. As an adult, seeing that many others are thinking differently or not thinking at all and are surrendering thoughts to newly appointed gurus, you prefer not to offend people with stronger words to qualify what has been happening around for some time.
Until your son bluntly uses these words. Driving from Plaisance to Mahebourg waterfront where a few joggers are enjoying the early morning fresh air and you stop for a glimpse of the sunrise behind the two small islands off the coast, these are the few points that you raise to explain the place of languages and culture to your son’s questions: why does the hostess on the plane from China address anyone who does not look Chinese in French? The uniform is always European? Customs officers speak Kreol to you, we speak Kreol to the Hindu man in the street who points the right direction to the village at the foot of the mountain.
Why French TV channels dish out French news all day long, Indian news are non-existent. Why the young men and women reading news in English, French and Kreol wear black and grey western clothes.
Not only explain the overwhelming presence of French and Kreol, but also the French names of 99% of villages and towns. Who holds real hegemony as far as economy and language policies are concerned in an independent country with people of mostly Indian origin. What happens to the heritage of a five thousand year civilization among descendants in small islands is the main question.
Ça fait dégénéré tout ça, cette bâtardise culturelle qui n’a pas de sens.
You are right, but not many people will agree or are aware of it, that’s what you answer. They do not even worry that bonzour is considered sophisticated, that the elegant Namasté has fallen into disgrace. Are we a bunch of degenerates?
* Published in print edition on 2 August 2013