Our Problem Boys

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By H.D. Rughoo

How many of our boys are there in London? No one seems to know for sure. There must be quite a lot of them though for I used to come across them everywhere, in Trafalgar Square, at Piccadilly, Russell Sq., YMCA, India House, at the Scala during Indian shows, British Museum, Hyde Park and Hammersmith Palais. They seemed to be as ubiquitous as the Jamaicans but not as numerous and certainly enjoying a better reputation with Londoners. Some of them work to provide for their families. Others are working part time and studying at night.

Passage to England in the 1950s… in search of a better life. Pic – WordPress

But it is not on this group that I wish to write today. There is another batch, scattered all over London: the student class.

There are a few who would be a credit to their community anywhere they’d go. These will surely return to shine later in life and be a tower of strength for the up-and-coming youths. We know them and wish them well. But there are others, our problem boys.

There is S… He will never show his face again here. He has been studying Law for the last decade and never could jump the last hurdle. There are X and Y, boys of well-known families who live somewhere off Russell Sq. They also have been tacking sails to ease around the Law Finals for the past eight years. I could cite dozens of such cases. The tragedy is that parents cannot check boys attend at Grey’s and Lincoln’s Inns, no principals to control students. Most of these students drag their feet and become a pathetic lot. But the most tragic case is that of Z… a medical student for the past fourteen years.

I first met Z… in one of those Soho cafes, low lights, sky-rocketing music. He was beating time violently to the violent music. I could see that he was more than half drunk. He looked at me with his glassy, drunk eyes and finally came out rather aggressively with: “You must be a Mauritian, I can smell the breed a mile off.”

“What’s the particular smell, fangourin,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “Nothing so sweet,” he rejoined. He sounded bitter. He looked bitter. A few more drinks, loosened his tongue and I could do nothing to stop the flood of incoherent words, the tears, the sniffing. I thanked our luck for the low lights. In the early hours of the morning, I had to dump him in his bed-sitter, promising to phone his landlady and assume the blame on myself.

Z’s childhood days were not very easy. He had to get up early, help in the fields. After his preliminary schooling, he was thrown at the mercy of one of those “colleges” mushrooming by the scores throughout the island. The price of sugar went up, money started coming in and there was even a concrete house and a brand-new limousine for the family. Life assumed more savoury proportions. But the ambiance in which he was brought up, how to change that? That was an impossibility. Then the blow fell. The neighbour’s son left for UK to study medicine. Z’s father felt dejected. Said he: “Why not my son, after all, by God’s grace, I too can spend a few thousands on my son’s education.” Z… anxious to escape the world of his father, sugared the old man along this motion and so it was that he left to study medicine with only three passes in GCE: French, Mathematics & Hindi. He lost three years in London to complete his university entrance requirement studies which he should have finished in Mauritius. He was literally taken by the scruff of his neck, jerked out of his own, narrow world and dumped on the toughest, most sophisticated city in the world to fend for himself. His European student friends were years younger than himself, well-polished, self-confident. Z… found the going hard; he started slipping down. His father, like many uneducated fathers, had crushed the spirit of combativeness, self-confidence, in his son, Z… never thought of putting his back to the wall and fight. He had always thought that money and a stay in London could secure him a medical degree.

* * *

Our last reunion was a nightmarish phantasmagoria composed of beer, raucous music, sentimental reminiscences and tears. “I had something here,” he kept repeating, banging his forehead on the edge of the bar, “I feel that i had something upstairs, but it’s all gone dry now. I am sure I’d have made a good manager on my father’s estate. How to face my friends without a degree. Better death, death”.
Then he would jerk himself out of his monologue and exclaim:
“But we have lots of people like me here, wasting their real talents after a degree, wasting their father’s money, their own life. Look, Harry, you’re returning to that lost island, couldn’t you do something to stop this ridiculous moutons de Panurge race. There are so many fields of activities open to our youth, we need a few more attorneys, notaries, educators, agronomists, mechanics, (how many Indian-owned repair shops in proportion to the number of vehicles we own). And what about trade? For how much longer will we allow others to exploit us? Why this pathetic craze for doctors and lawyers? Don’t you feel the tragedy of the whole farce, Harry? Couldn’t we force our people’s eyes to new horizons? And, if they have to send their sons, at least equip them with sufficient educational qualifications so that they don’t have to mark time and get lost in the vastness of life here.”
He spoke all this and more and the volume of his words, the weight of his arguments, the depth of his own tragedy left me empty.

But a solution there must be. It is appalling to see so much waste of our money, the energies of our youth, in futile endeavours. And how our community needs the money, the energies of our young blood!

But what single solution to offer? I personally feel that all responsible people in this island should make contributions towards the solving of this problem. After all, the future of this community should be of interest to us all. It is no use simplifying the issue and pontificating on it. The question is far too important and strikes at the very roots of our community here.

Mauritius Times – Saturday 4th January, 1958
5th Year – No 178

* Published in print edition on 23 November 2021

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