As humans leave the stage of frenzied activity where they rush around, fret, fume and fidget around all day long, and are becalmed before sunset, other animals, wondering what on earth is going on, venture out of the premises allotted to them and take a few steps on grounds usually occupied by pedestrians, bikes and cars. Roosters and hens gladly leave the bushes and penned courtyards to stroll right on the road. A newly-found freedom. Dogs take an afternoon nap in the middle of the road. A monkey which has lost its way for more than a year now and lives in the bushes nearby, frightening the hens now and then, comes out at night and helps itself to bananas in the neighbourhood. So when you hear it walking on the roof and heading to the bananas a bit earlier before total darkness, you feel like leaving your distant cousin to have its feast. Of all the winged visitors, myenas, condés and sparrows, the cardinals are less timid in hopping a few steps further right into the kitchen to peck on the food we put down for them. Pereybere beach vacated by bipeds speaking Creole, French, English, Italian, German and so on, got an unusual visitor, a curious goat wading into the turquoise-blue water of the lagoon, enjoying all the scenery alone. A rare sight. Why, Trou aux Biches used to be a haven of tranquility with green grass, shrubs and scattered coconut trees where goats roamed freely decades ago.
«Lucky enough for inhabitants of some coastal regions which have re-created a village atmosphere of knowing your neighbours, getting fresh vegetables from fields in a most residential area, and better still, where vegetable vendors call at your gate to sell off their produces in normal times. Currently, one gets bringels,lalos, beans, chillies, etc., right on the field and has a chat with planters as it has always been in the villages for decades. In Triolet, Vale, Fond du Sac, fresh milk is always available; cows cannot wait for the end of confinement to be milked…»
A strange silence befalls the roads, the trees and the cluster of houses around. Different shades of green leaves hanging on the mango trees, neem trees, ashoka and gulaychee trees along the road, a stillness that stretches to the blue sky and the stranded clouds further away, all swathed in a pervasive stillness. White paille-en-queue birds glide in droves above, veering in a joyful ballet. A species that is commonly seen hovering in the air near the islands off the coast.
Vacant space and the hushed atmosphere embolden animals to explore new frontiers and enjoy more freedom while humans are begged to stay indoors. Confinement of humans raises the life expectancy of animals waiting their fate in slaughterhouses.
Ups and downs in the general mood of the public can be observed in conversations in front of the laboutiks while customers patiently queue up. Stress followed by acceptance of compulsory regulations, worry again and wait-and-see attitude. High prices, shortage of food items, job insecurity, unemployment and the deep fear of catching the virus are what pop up in the few words exchanged while queuing up.
Someone comes forward and asks if there is any flour left. Oui, a young man answers, alle serse to brouette. Everyone is amused by the remark. To keep the mirth up, the other young man decides to sing a song for everyone. Mo sant ene sante pou zot. And there he goes with a song from Sangam, Mein kya karoun Ram mujhe budha mil gaya. A welcome initiative which causes general hilarity.
Smilingly, the policeman, comfortably seated on a chair, makes out a call for order to those assembled near an electric pole: Please, keep some distance, colonne la pa pou tombé li. Another round of laughter. One-metre distance is not always observed inside where customers forget to take items, come back and walk at hardly 30 cms away from others, passing by busy shop employees and all. At the cashier’s, the old habit of impatience for one’s turn prompts customers to forget the one-metre distance.
Lucky enough for inhabitants of some coastal regions which have re-created a village atmosphere of knowing your neighbours, getting fresh vegetables from fields in a most residential area, and better still, where vegetable vendors call at your gate to sell off their produces in normal times. Currently, one gets bringels,lalos, beans, chillies, etc., right on the field and has a chat with planters as it has always been in the villages for decades. In Triolet, Vale, Fond du Sac, fresh milk is always available; cows cannot wait for the end of confinement to be milked anyway.
Nevertheless, most folks have clearly understood that the best way to break the virus chain is to stay indoors. Everyone agrees that Mauritius has never gone through such a pandemic. A lot of deep reflection is going on.
First, it is bound to be centred on the catalogue of endless needs which, on normal days, keep one and all on the move to leave their house everyday, head to their workplace, earn a salary, keep aside some savings for the future needs of their children, build a house or buy property, and ensure a decent living standard for years to come. Barring public sector employees, the questions that worry others are: Will my employer close his business? Will he downsize the personnel? How to refund loans and pay rents? Independent self-employed citizens are reduced to relying on state aid. Not their cup of tea. Already, queues in front of supermarkets are slimming down. Is that an indication of purchasing power taking the downward trend?
Inevitably, much deeper thought is given to the economic policies and choices, future development, the fragile tourism industry, too much reliance on imported products, local money flowing out to other countries, superfluous needs, shopping addiction of some folks, the quality of what we buy and consume, the tendency to mimic others in buying trendy items and publicized international brands of food, drinks and clothes. Can there be a profound questioning on production, imports and consumerism? A deep awareness on the earth’s resources and consumption of local products? Can Mauritian hope for a dynamic and active contribution from universities in the field of technology to meet various needs?
In Beijing, confinement has reduced pollution by millions of tons of CO2 usually unleashed into the atmosphere. The sky in Shanghai is permanently clouded with a thick layer of pollution which is said to reduce life expectancy by ten years. Pollution-related respiratory diseases are common occurrence in Delhi and Mumbai. Imagine the scale of reduction in pollution at international level. With climate change topping the list of challenges facing humanity worldwide and a pandemic threatening the very survival of populations on a global scale, there must be more than one way of re-thinking the implications of a man-centred universe, the basics of economic growth and the terrible consequences of world demographic explosion.
Covid-19 jolts governments and populations into re-thinking issues that matter in everyday life. Is it going to be business as usual after goats go back to their penned territories and birds stop hovering where it pleases them once the green light is given to the resumption of human activities outside their homes? Hopefully, we can bet on the cathartic effect of covid-19 as it sweeps across the world.