By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Maybe my young lady friend, an architect by profession, is right. The younger generation, especially those who have lived abroad and come back to spend a few years over here, and young adults hailing from mixed marriages, will be more demanding in bringing change in the cultural landscape of Mauritius. The head of the firm she is employed in says that he has been trying for the past thirty years to convince decision-takers to promote Art in all its forms. Their sector is architecture but their vision encompasses all aspects of what is associated with Beauty, Refinement and the Sublime which, in the eyes of lovers of Art, leads to Truth. Those who are elected every five years to steer the country in the right direction have apparently no clue about the importance of Art in the life of citizens. Culture in official discourses is erroneously assimilated to religious activities.
Thirty years! Gosh, a whole generation has been sacrificed for the sole pursuit of material benefits. So the young lady is positive that things will change. Patience is the rule. After spending most of her adult years abroad, her mother despairingly observes that what she finds in Mauritius is une société de brutes et des butors.
Brutal language, brutal behaviour and la susceptibilité à fleur de peau. Instead of using reason, the trend is rather ici nou dan Moris, and that’s the end to any discussion. What has happened then during the past 30 years? Material welfare has been the main focus to lift people out of poverty and create the right economic conditions for a decent life for thousands of people across the country. The social body is not only one part of the anatomy which needs feeding three times a day after a day’s work. The younger generation has lived fairly comfortable years and eaten to their fill; their elders are no longer deprived of material comfort. To a big chunk of them, going to bed hungry is a distant memory. So what have they missed all these years?
Year in year out, one cannot keep airing the same grievances: lack of this, lack of that. And blame the authorities for their lack of vision. All the discourses, writings and appeals fall on deaf ears, anyway. What is the use of hammering on the need for promoting culture when policy makers have no genuine appreciation of its importance? Not only culture but also physical activities for better health.
Role models for youngsters
The official statement from the Ministry of Education as regards social and emotional programmes for youngsters in schools sounds fine but it’s quite amusing. Why? Come to think of it, it is all too easy for the authorities, pen-pushers, media opinion makers and a myriad of ‘counsellors’ to lecture the younger members of the public on civilized behaviour. Indeed, folks over here excel at being self-righteous and telling others what they should do. Today’s children misbehave and come to blows? Here they go with remembrances of their own youth, good behaviour, decent language and blah blah blah blah. Pas de repères, pas de valeurs… et une série de lamentaions.
Really? Come on! What role models do youngsters have in the local context? Is the generation of their parents or grandparents for that matter the right example to follow? A most deplorable mindset has been shaped by the burgeoning prosperity in the early 1990s which sent crowds of people scrambling to seize whatever opportunities by any means: lying, cheating, betraying, stealing and fighting with their peers at work and family at home to have the better share of everything. Corruption has been the defining characteristic of a whole generation of adults. And the rot still stinks.
Les brutes et les butors the young lady’s mother refers to are the adults in this country. Indeed, they have had their share of the national cake, but not the benefits of civilization which uplift and broaden the mind, develop sensitivity, refine the senses, develop aesthetics, arouse feelings of compassion and empathy and favour spiritual development. What do you expect when most energy is devoted to the sole pursuit of material gains? The reputation of being highly religious which everybody takes as a compliment passes for the panacea, a solution for all ills that beset society. Religious discourses highly mediatised on national television during prime time news much too often only serve to showcase traditions. Pray, pray, pray do not wash away corruption of the mind and heart. No one is fooled by all the hypocrisy the adult world deeply wallows in.
Any social and emotional programmes for parents and adults? Conflict management, assuming responsibility for serious faults, introspection, self-criticism, self-control seem to be deeply lacking in those who are supposed to have gained years of life experience and maturity. High ranking officials who are rushed to private clinics on stretchers when they are accused of wrongdoings do not send a flattering image to the public. High level of adrenaline, abusive language, threats of finishing off adversaries, aggressive authoritarian attitude towards others, not to mention the usual lying, cheating and stealing habits are rampant among the adult members of society.
Better pause and have a straight look at oneself: this can be a more constructive approach to any intention of setting others on the right path. Supposedly educated people settle scores with others by revenge, retaliation, an eye for an eye and even worse, belittling adversaries, hunting down opponents, dismantling rivals’ social network, exposing them to public humiliation in some cases, spying on them, hit at their career if possible, and all the malevolent means which reflect a fertile imagination to cause harm. No rocks are left unturned in the ways and means to cause harm to others.
So what repères et valeurs adults are imbibed with? The inflated ego of part of the elite, delusional sense of superiority based on average standard diplomas obtained more than 30 years ago, social status, bank accounts, absurd competition in the domain of ideas within the so-called intellectual circle, I-know-better attitude, jealousy of anyone who comes up with smart ideas expressed in speeches or writings, especially if the author does not hail from their clan, the animosity and hostility engendered by different standpoints and worldviews, backstage negotiations to get undue promotion to the detriment of meritocracy and more deserving candidates in the public sector, appointment of dubious rogue characters in high profile representation of the country, white-collar criminals running free and so on.
Lecturing others on what is right and wrong is all too convenient. Are you being serious? Rush to a clinic on a stretcher when you are faced with accusations of wrongdoing, high blood pressure, poor self-control and harass journalists and perceived opponents in the middle of the night. In the workplaces, hire and fire at will because you are the boss, exploitation of and contempt for the vulnerable and weak in workplaces. Send tapers to intimidate others, burn houses and cars, throw stones on houses Intifida style, throw matchboxes at cars to warn and threaten to inflame and blow up. Wow! So many efforts deployed for conflict management Mauritian style.
What does all this reveal? Insecure people, inferiority complex, immaturity and inability to reason like adults resulting in negative emotional response, aggressive physical and verbal confrontation. Don’t like the picture? Stark reality, though. Street violence at Northern Bus Station, coarse manners and behaviour in private sphere and schools are part of the same social picture. Of course, the written press never mediatises cutter attacks and drugs issue at the gate of Lycée Labourdonnais or some local and foreign private-run schools, but never misses an incident occurring in public schools.
Social and emotional programmes delivered verbally in grand rhetoric may not be sufficient. If anything, a long-term vision and ambition to set up cultural structures across the island is deeply lacking. Villages are a cultural desert, art galleries, concert halls, theatre halls, libraries, sports complexes are glaringly non-existent. It does not bother politicians in Parliament and presidents of district councils the least. It’s none of their priorities. Schoolchildren never set foot in a theatre hall and have the pleasure of watching a play on stage, their teachers never take them to an art exhibition, or visit a museum, parents hardly go and attend concerts or take their children along.
God knows what fate awaits Port-Louis Theatre which is a unique Italian style theatre in the Indian Ocean islands. Mauritian artists are particularly dynamic and creative in music and songs, mostly in Creole. Thanks to private initiatives, high standard art exhibitions such as the current Picasso painting exhibition are accessible to the public. Are teachers or parents taking youngsters to see it?
Classical music helps to calm down excited pupils in classrooms early in the morning. Breathing exercises, yoga and meditation help to foster self-control, physical and mental well-being, methods which western countries are increasingly adopting.
Mauritian youths also need cultural structures for self-development, something their parents have been deprived of. It is mind-boggling to see that there is not a single place where young people can meet, do sports and socialize in the villages in the North. Socializing helps to understand and know the psychology of those they are unlikely to meet in schools. Socializing is limited to family circles where much indulgence is displayed by parents and relatives.
The young lady is right. Things will definitely change but only through insistent demands from those who understand the importance of culture. Congrats to her boss and the team of architects, designers and engineers, who have not given up hope to see the authorities promote culture. We just wish that the devastating effects of lack of culture will not sacrifice future generations so that the crowd of brutes et butors remain an unfortunate chapter when historians look back in 50 years’ time.
* Published in print edition on 22 February 2019