Obituary: Mahen Utchanah

By Dawood Auleear

Who would have thought that Mahen Utchanah, who died on 1st January at the age of 70, chose to dedicate the major part of his life after his political retirement to advance the cause of the Indian diaspora? With admirable drive and tenacity, he toured the world to establish contacts with the 22m people of Indian origin and persuaded them to join GOPIO International. And he had great success.

Mahen was made of the stuff of the great doers of the world. He did not wait for the nod of the Indian government to take the initiative. But the Indian government did give him its blessings and, during his presidency, three international conferences were organised in Mauritius, the most successful being the one which assembled 400 international delegates at the SVICC in 2017.

Mahen was full of ideas. His pet project was to set up the All India Institute of Medical Science, AIIMS, with Indian help, a top class medical university to train students from the Indian diaspora to become world class doctors. AIIMS was finally hijacked by the Indians of Malaysia.

Where Mahen’s contribution stands out is his achievements as the Chief Trustee of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund. During his tenure, he gave the impression that he was living for one reason: to put Aapravasi Ghat on the glorious list of historical sites of UNESCO. In fact, he had double success as he managed to include the International Indentured Labour Route on that list.

On my part I owe Mahen a debt of gratitude. When I tried to get my book, Bhojpuri Folk Tales From Mauritius, co-authored with Prof Lee Haring of the University of New York, to be published by Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, Mahen did not hesitate a second to give his backing. It was such a relief for me as I thought that finally my year’s effort going round the island to record Bhojpuri stories, translate them, render them into international phonetics and compile them in a book form, was not in vain in order to keep alive the language. His action in this regard must have received the blessings of Hon. Choonee, the then Minister of Culture.

RIP my good friend. And to paraphrase Shakespeare’s lines “the evil that men do lives after them… the good is oft interred with their bones”, I would like to say, in your case, “the good that men do lives after them…”

* Published in print edition on 12 January 2021

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