Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Somduth Bhuckory
Two weeks ago we wrote on “Councillors at Work” and “Dockers on Strike”. This week we are tempted to write on “Councillors on Strike” and “Dockers at Work”. But we refuse to yield to the temptation by writing on Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret.
Even then we cannot help saying that Princess Margaret is visiting Mauritius at a very eventful period in the history of the island. The Ministerial System proposed by the Secretary of State has been rejected by the Labour Party as one man. As we say: Welcome! to the Princess, to the Labour Party we say: Bravo!
Princess Margaret is coming tomorrow morning on a three-day tour. When she leaves us on Monday night we hope she will be going with a bunch of happy memories.
We welcome the Princess in our midst. By coming to Mauritius Princess Margaret has forged another link in the chain of royal visits; she has kept alive a tradition which started as far back as 1870. We find other royal milestones on the road we have travelled so far in 1901 and in 1927 when the parents of the Princess paid us a visit as the Duke and Duchess of York.
The visit of Princess Margaret, as we all know, is not an isolated one. Princess Margaret left London on the 21st by air for her five-week tour of East Africa and Mauritius. From London she went to Mombasa and from Mombasa she is now on her way on board the Britannia to Mauritius. On leaving us she will visit Zanzibar, Tanganyika and Kenya.
It is hard to imagine what the Princess will feel while she will be here. Mauritius is always associated with Africa but, in fact, it has its distinctive features. Franco-Mauritians present it as being French, and Indo-Mauritians lend it a look of “a little India beyond the seas”. In this colony which has been British since 1810, will the Princess be surprised or shocked to find so little traces of the British occupation?
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Something of a festive mood has been in the air for some time. Port Louis and the other towns are doing their best to create the atmosphere appropriate for a royal visit. Some of the villages — the villages along which the Princess will drive — have also worn a gay appearance. The white poles along the streets, the flags and buntings, the arcs-de-triomphe are all there as if saying: Welcome Princess!
But what are the people thinking? How do they feel about the visit of their Sovereign’s sister?
There is no doubt that the majority of the people are getting ready to welcome the Princess because they are conscious of the invisible tie which binds the Commonwealth. The Crown is a symbol to which citizens of any British colony owe allegiance. Those who will wholeheartedly welcome the Princess will surely do so because they feel that the Princess is so near the Crown.
On the surface all that can be seen is enthusiasm and gaiety. But there is an undercurrent of discontent. Let us hasten to add, that whatever discontent is there, the Princess is in no way directly responsible for. It is to the officials and authorities that the blame, if any, should go.
Hon. Bissoondoyal has been carrying a campaign for some time to boycott the royal visit. His aim is to see to it that poverty and wretchedness are not hidden behind a display of pomp and show. Malcolm de Chazal, one of our leading writers who has won recognition even beyond our shores, has published on open letter to His Excellency the Governor ventilating some well-founded grievances.
Discontent was bound to follow considering the way in which the Reception Committee had been set up and the way in which its activities had been kept secret.
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It is true that wherever royalty goes, it goes wearing an aura. We live so far from royalty that royalty becomes to us a thing of wonder. A princess becomes somebody walking straight out of the pages of a book of fairy tales. But it would be wrong to view the royal visit as a sort of itinerant exhibition — Princess Margaret is not a show-piece.
We are afraid that by laying too much emphasis on the rejoicings the true spirit of the visit will be lost. Ladies, in particular, must be prone to think that it is a grand occasion for lavish display. A better opinion should prevail. We cannot afford to spend so much just on entertainment: the underlying significance of the royal visit must be brought to light.
As the Britannia calls at every port where the Princess has to go, it will symbolize a part of Britain. The United Kingdom is not spending so much on the voyage of the Princess to make her simply see the world. Through the Princess the people of Her Majesty the Queen have to experience the interest which the Crown takes in them.
How can the people have such an impression if the Princess is chaperoned to see just a select and favoured few? It seems that the programme of the royal visit has been prepared in such a way as to create the impression that Mauritius is a colony where western culture and civilization reign supreme. Is it in this light that foreign press correspondents, photographers and news-cameramen are expected to view Mauritius?
We find it strange that the Municipality of Port Louis has been so much neglected. Does not any distinguished visitor call at the Town Hall of the capital? Why is it different this time? Is it because Labour is there to welcome Royalty?
As we welcome Princess Margaret, we have also alas! to wish her BON VOYAGE in the same breath.
Friday 28th September 1956
* Published in print edition on 21 December 2018
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