Of Iron Gods and Inner Yearnings

‘I love the chaos and incoherence of Mauritius though it might be sometimes irritating. I miss Mauritius.’

The above is a sentence from an e-mail sent by a Mauritian lady who flew back to Paris, where she is a resident, after spending a few weeks in Mauritius. It may echo the sentiment of many a Mauritian who has settled down in Europe or the US – a feeling shared by many of those who left their homelands to settle in the West, non-Whites, Africans and Middle-Easterners, particularly Orientals, and more precisely people of Indian origin who are most representative of the Oriental soul.

Mauritius being a bit like India, s/he certainly hopes to take a trip to India in a near future where s/he will enjoy more chaos and incoherence. It is not only about being chaotic and incoherent; it has more to do with other yearnings which the advances in Science and Reason cannot fulfil in the West.

Life in the West is chiefly governed by the rationalistic idea and materialistic preoccupations which offer their residents the ease of intellectual clarity and the fruits of material development and efficiency. Though foreigners take advantage of opportunities, enjoy the fruits of progress, and prosper in Western societies, they are not altogether at ease with many progressive ideas in their Western form. As regards Orientals, their surface mind rather than their deeper intelligence admit some Western ideas as they move around in the host countries seeing the natives bowing down to the strong reigning idols of rationalism, commercialism, and economism, the successful iron gods of the West.

Natives of Western countries are quite proud of and content themselves with the blessings of the iron gods. The formula of intelligently mechanized societies supporting rational knowledge, a utilitarian culture and a rationalized way of life fails to appeal to the inner yearnings of many of our compatriots living in the West. After years of being expats and appropriating to themselves the external trappings of a modernized and mechanized type of society, the idea that the Truth and Perfection of our being is that of a Soul embodied in Nature which constantly seeks to enlarge its consciousness, to progress in the spirit and grow into the full light of Self-knowledge is deeply embedded in their hearts, and it seeks self-expression on their own terms and not on those of an alien culture.

Slowing down to the car park of Granary House in Port Louis is always a pleasant experience. One employee beckons you to advance and halt at the small office where two functionaries look at their colleague write down in a register and hand a ticket with a letter indicating the parking lot you should go to. Another one walks ahead of the car to guide you to the place and extends his help to the last minute to make sure the car is properly parked.

‘You see, I like the old ways of delivering public service. I don’t mind the over-staffed service’, she said a few weeks ago. ‘Better than the coldness emanating from the mechanized functioning of such places in Paris. It all lacks the human touch.’

Unfortunately, this trend is spreading over there and it is quite depressing.

The stone-built Granary House with its heavy huge pillars in the underground car park is a cool shady place that draws attention to its high roof and its architecture formerly designed to serve a specific technical function. Outside, as one walks out of the underground onto the slabbed alley, the century-old tall trees still stand high, their roots breaking their way into the walls on each side. Both the trees and the walls are set to prolong their existence and keep the space that is theirs for decades to come. Light green leaves drooping from the slanting branches have a soothing effect, and the whole scenery creates an atmosphere that recalls olden times. Those were the days of the first governors, builders of the town and hundreds of hands of those who worked under the yoke of forced labour and were not admitted to the Board of Administration.

Since a year the street hawkers in the vicinity of the market have been playing cat and mouse with policemen depending on the will to enforce the law-forbidding vendors to occupy the streets around. There are days when policemen walk up and down Farquhar Street and hawkers pack up their goods and move a few metres away but not too far – so that they can swarm back with their trinkets and various items once the policemen have left. On other days, the hawkers spill out their goods on the street and pavements and go on with their business while the policemen look on.

In Queen Street, several village women sell vegetables, pickles, chopped cabbage, karaila and jackfruit in plastic bags on the pavement, and bits of conversation in Bhojpuri can be heard. A great pleasure is to kneel down, squat and speak Culcutia and of course, buy something from them.

At the junction of Bourbon Street, the music that pours out of a CD and DVD shop brings everyone to a standstill as all eyes turn to watch Sanam Puri sing Mere Mehboob Qayamat Hogi on the screen. Passers-by stop, motocyclists slowing down turn round to have a glimpse of the singer, policemen patrolling leisurely and fruit vendors nearby are transfixed at the sight and sound of a mix of an old song with pop music. Besides having a powerful deep voice, Sanam Puri has the most awesome looks. We get into the shop and watcth the other songs : Kora kagaz tha ye man mera and Yeh raaten yeh mausam nadiya ke kinare yeh chanchal hawa.

People of different ethnic backgrounds look mesmerized and charmed by the performance of the musicians and singers. Hindi songs have a distinct quality in rhythm and melody, the alliterations and assonances that run through the lines are just magic and fill our hearts with pleasure. For a few minutes, the power of music amid the hustle and bustle of the busy streets creates the swooning effect that makes one melt with the crowd.

The conversation goes on thanks to Skype.

‘What I also miss here in France is the free speech we have in Mauritius. The average Mauritians express themselves freely without the fear of being labelled this and that,’ she said.

Indeed, over there, you have to be careful with words and ideas lest they should be misinterpreted and distorted out of context and you run the risk of being wrongly judged and getting pilloried in the old Inquisition style.

Too much political correctness stifles free speech and engenders the assembly-line mindset. Nowhere is the sacrifice of intelligence more visible than in the media where journalists posing as apostles of humanity display a frantic desire not to know, perpetuate denial and content themselves with vague theories and self-imposed restrictions. As to the average citizens, they are too rational to open their minds to other ways of finding truth and defining real progress. Too materialistic to give serious consideration to other elevating ideals.

In short, this sort of mentality makes conversation and exchanges limited in the long run.

* * *

On the occasion of the celebration of three centuries of French presence in the country, a representative of cultural affairs of the French embassy opined with satisfaction that Mauritians ‘think and act like us’. Many of us dismissed this idea with a shrug and brushed it aside as ‘wishful thinking’.

The lady, just like many of her compatriots, have the special French way of ‘not seeing’ others, specially islanders in the Indian Ocean, except through the prism of the French outlook which consists in gauging the degree of Frenchness that we have supposedly attained and which they deeply believe is the most viable objective that we should nurture. Mauritian voices singing the praises of ‘douce France’ in the press certainly encourage them to think in this way.

Mugabe may sound incoherent and politically incorrect but he is much closer to the truth when he exhorted Africans to work with Asia because ‘they think and dream like us.’

  • Published in print edition on 23 October 2015

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