We stand tall today because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors
I write this obituary because we have a duty of memory to great men who leave behind a national legacy, especially those whose humility set them above any yearning for public recognition.
One such was Amika Dwarka, born on the 7th of November 1920, in Notre Dame, at a time when most Mauritians were both extremely poor and subjected to the discriminatory practices of the colonial establishment. By the age of 6 he was orphaned. His maternal uncles, Pandit Jankee and Jugdutt took it upon themselves to raise him.
Amika’s cousin recalls that one day, on a visit to Montagne Longue, Pandit Jugdutt saw Amika and his siblings literally covered in mud. He immediately called for the car and took them to his home in La Caverne. From these unfair beginnings Amika would, through the rigorous training of his Mamous, along with reading, self-discipline and the loving collective spirit of his maternal family -which nourished him intellectually and spiritually -, evolve into the calm, wise, ever-smiling and ready to help personality that he is best remembered as.
In August 1955, he married Leela Seegobin. To their three children, Molly, Yatin and Usha and to his five grand-children, he would pass on the love of learning and the spiritual legacy bequeathed to him by his uncles.
A bright scholar, after completing his teacher training he would benefit from a scholarship at Moray House in Scotland. He worked in several schools, from Vale to Rose-Belle, taking up office as Headteacher at Chateau Benares Govt School in the 1960s and retiring as Chief Inspector of Primary Schools. The Bissoondoyal brothers from whom he learnt Sanskrit inspired him. He was motivated by friends like Beekrumsing Ramlallah, Dayanand Burenchobay, Darshan Bonomally, Motilal Burton, Soorooj Gowrishunkur, and Professor Ramprakash, and worked alongside many personalities such as Lady Sarojini and Harish Boodhoo. The latter would see in Amika Dwarka a mentor, one who would have a transformative effect on his own life and journey. Many indeed publicly acknowledged him as their spiritual guru.
Basing his life on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Amika Dwarka’s choice of the path of karma yoga (the giving of oneself to others through action performed as a form of worship) would permeate all spheres of his life seamlessly. His love for the children he taught translated into his regular visits to their parents’ homes to bridge the gap between home and school. He devised simple, resourceful visual pedagogical tools to encourage their learning of English. No reality was too dark to not be met with an enlightened solution. When he found a child wandering in the school garden searching for the odd chilly to make his bowl of plain boiled rice palatable, he set up a Parent-Teacher Fund to ensure that the poorest children had something to eat at school. When students dropped out of school to work the fields for the 25 cents that would buy them a textbook, he set up the Book Loan Scheme in partnership with the parents and the management of sugar factories.
It was the same search for excellence and defiance of historical adversity that prompted him to be a founder member of the Hindu Girls College in 1945 at the young age of 25. The motto of the College which was proposed by Amika and which remains, is from the Rig Veda, “Let noble thoughts come to us from every side”. His commitment was to the cause that women of all walks of life should access secondary education without having to endure the humiliations of the dominant educational institutions of the time. On one of his journeys across the island to raise funds for the College, three lady labourers overheard his conversation in Verdun. They were so excited about the project and wanted to contribute to the College but had not yet received their pay. Finally, they dug into their tente and came up collectively with all of 7 cents which they insisted Amika should take. He was touched by their faith in the power of education and an enlightened future for their daughters.
Amika Dwarka was equally passionate about furthering education for all children in Rodrigues where he spent much of his time and energy. For the consistency shown in his action in education based on scholarship and strong principles and values, he was awarded an MBE in the 1980s.
Once retired, Amika Dwarka would be even more active in social work. He had been a founder member, alongside several of his contemporaries, of the Swastika in Forest Side. He set about to concretize a 52 year old project, the Gita Mandal in Lapeyrouse Street, Curepipe Road. Far from being a socialite, he believed instead that unless a meeting was a sangam (a coming together of minds and souls) serving the purpose of making life better for others, it was no meeting at all.
Amika Dwarka passed away on the 9th of November 2015 at the age of 95. He leaves us all, through his personality, a national legacy of an unusual nature and stature in our country. That of a model of a man who chose to make his mark on the lives of the people around him away from the self-gratification and self-glorification of politics, privileging silence and anonymity instead. On the day of his funeral, my father, Keerti Mooneeram, who knew him from childhood told me this: “if I had to give a name to selflessness, it would be Amika Dwarka.”
* Published in print edition on 31 December 2015