On A Market Day

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Lines of grey clouds streak the sky above, casting a shadow on the waves of the sea. Patches of grey clouds hover around till a gentle wind moves them on in their sluggish course. As soon as rays of sunlight clear up the sky into a brighter blue, the waves below take on a silvery hue. They are not impeded by coral reefs; they roll on freely and splash on the shore.

A stretch of thirty metres of dark grey sand slopes down from the wall of the coastal seaside town to the sea; much of the sand is covered over with green weeds. Fishermen in small boats are a rare sight since sharks have elected the site as their favourite spot, and tragic encounters with humans have curbed daring attempts to venture into a region where they end up being consumed by more powerful creatures.

Market Day in Centre de Flacq. Pic – Jens Assmann Photography

The market bordering the shore is lively with the bustling of people and vendors who display an array of vegetables, fruits, handicraft, clothes, drinks and pastry under colourful umbrellas. At the other end, a fish shop displays a variety of fishes on a table. The sight of shark flesh takes you aback.

There is something upsetting and disturbing about men overpowering animals bigger than them and killing them to add to the list of food for consumption. It is an intuitive feeling that sharks, whales, elephants, oxen and cows, and giraffes should not be slaughtered; it is not only unreasonable and unnatural to dominate any species at will, but downright wrong to have the upper hand on everything under the sun.

The free licence to kill any creature has to be reviewed however complicated it might seem. As far as farming industry is concerned, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPCC) report should first wake up beef eaters around the world. The report should raise awareness about deforestation making place for pasture lands, and the large amount of water needed to produce one kilo of beef. Millions of tons are shipped off to all parts of the world on a daily basis to fast food outlets, restaurants, supermarkets and people’s homes, leaving a sorry mess for the environment to sort out.

The same applies to mass production of chicken, mutton and pork. Anyone ringing the alarm bell of the IPCC report for a wake-up call cannot ignore the issue of meat consumption. There is no denying that beef, chicken, mutton and pork eaters and others should drastically cut down on their consumption of meat. This is an issue that finds no noisy publicity by governments and media for fear of causing embarrassment to the farming industry and all the stakeholders in the food chain. Consumers’ awareness of the issue and the right choice in food looks like a more viable solution.

Market activity creates a pleasant atmosphere because, first, it connects folks to past simple habits of selling and buying. Open air markets on concrete floor are fairly clean and offer an even more refreshing and lively sight. They strike a note of authenticity which we do not find in sprawling modern supermarkets where anonymity along the aisles and at the counter is the rule.

A young vegetable and fruit vendor does not look like locals. As he comes up to me with a smile, I greet him with ‘hello’. His eyes lit up.

“Sri Lanka,” I say, more a statement than a question.
“No, no, Indian,” he answers. “Are you Indian?” he asks.
“Mauritian of Indian origin.”

A few boats with migrants from Sri Lanka landed on the shores of Reunion two years ago. It was a risky trip across rough seas, and there were questions raised on whether they received some help in Mauritius before continuing the trip to Reunion since they looked rather in good shape upon disembarking on the shores of the island. The migrants seeking asylum were shown on television in temples and churches which provided aid and shelter at the beginning.

“You must speak Hindi,” I observe. He does not. Henceforth, I notice him speaking Tamil in a hushed voice with the other vendor from Sri Lanka.

His hesitation to be straightforward about his identity makes you wonder why the Indian identity looks like a good compromise. He must have been briefed on the local situation, on underlying xenophobia towards newcomers, the assimilation policy as regards language and culture.

Local Tamilians help them to start a trade and adapt to the ways of doing business and to local customs. They have the migrant sense of keeping a low profile and not make themselves too visible.

“Is life okay here?” I ask. Some migrant workers in Mauritius dream of going to brighter horizons in the West. Well, no. He blends well here and does not wish to migrate to Europe where, he is fully aware, there are hard times to go through before settling down to a regular job and a decent life. Mauritius can be an option in a few years’ time.

The Indian identity is a bit intriguing,; you may agree. Indian restaurants in England are often owned by Bangladeshis. If you step into a restaurant offering ‘cuisine indienne’ in Paris, you might find out it is owned and run by Pakistanis. You never see ‘Restaurant Pakistanais.’ Karachi terror attacks killing a number of French citizens among other things are likely to surface in the memory of the average French customers. The restaurant might close down.

It is a well-thought strategy for gaining acceptance in host countries. Giving one’s real identity from South East Asian region might not go down well with people in some western countries. So, identifying as Indian sounds a more convenient and practical strategy for survival abroad. It acts like a protective cover to shield oneself from suspicion and hostility. For historical and cultural reasons, India is the real federating element among the diverse countries that were carved out of its territory.

Another vendor from North Africa markets his food in big bold signs as ‘Cuisine marocaine.’ I once remarked to a Tunisian friend that the vendor does not look Moroccan. Right, he admitted, the fellow is Algerian. He knows that for his business to thrive he’d better hide his true identity given his fellowmen in France have a reputation for constantly criticizing the former colonising power, and politicians in Algeria dig out the past to divert public attention from present failures. French customers in the west coast of the island might not feel any desire to buy ‘Algerian cuisine.’

You never meet Indian migrants in Europe and even struggling migrants selling flowers at the entrance of metros in Paris claiming another identity than their own. It does say something about the self-confidence of people of Indian origin abroad in who they are and what their country represents. At the end of the day, the ‘Indian’ (I met at the market) sheds light on the reputation India enjoys in the minds of people on the international stage.

In a world of sharks and small fishes, one has to adapt the smartest strategy to survive.

* Published in print edition on 3 September 2021

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