I am a book lover, having grown up in the enchanting atmosphere of the Nalanda Bookshop and smelled the ink of fresh pages of the Mauritius Times every Friday from the very first issue in August 1954. Week after week, year after year in the pre-E Printing era, we used to watch with wonder Amin or Pierre meticulously placing the letters one by one of lead printing in letter press, their hands all blackened by the ink.
And on Friday mornings here was the marvel of a newspaper. We grew up with that wonder.
I am quite amazed to see that though we decry the fact that Mauritians in general do not have a reading culture, yet month after month books are being published. Their authors born on the Mauritian soil display a fantastic ability to pen down their thoughts, ideas and emotions. More surprising is the fact that Hindi writing shows a tremendous dynamism, a rare virility, extraordinary sense and sensibility and creative fervour. It is a language with a wide enough etymological spectrum and ability of expression so as to make an impact on the comity of world languages.
I have with me at the moment no less than seven books in Hindi ranging from primers to plays, metaphysics to social history.
Shruti – Smriti ki Amulya Vani ewam Swastiyag is written by Pandita Premila Seeruthun. She is a revered lady priest born in Bon Acceuil. Having passed the Uttama Examination of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha and Vidya Vachaspati offered by Arya Sabha, with accredition from the Mauritius Institute of Education, she joined the teaching profession in 1974 and was trained as a Pandita in 1997.
What is commendable is that Arya Sabha is one institution which has, since its inception by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, focused its attention on the education of girls and women, and giving them equal opportunity in society. It is this teaching which has helped the girmitias and their descendants to overcome several internal and external hurdles and climb the ladder of social mobility throughout the diaspora – Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa and the Caribbean countries. Arya Samaj has given pride of place to women by ordaining them as priestesses when other societies were more closed and debarring women equal opportunities.
Pandita Seeruttun shows a remarkable mastery of the Vedas. In fact, this is her third book on the analysis of the Vedic mantras which she has been promoting for years. She tackles the abstract metaphysical teachings in very lucid and simple Hindi which makes interesting reading and encourages the reader to absorb Vedic philosophy with ease.
Two other books launched by the Arya Sabha – Katipay Samaj Sevi by Shri Satyadeo Peerthum are in fact two volumes which have short biographical writings of 30 social workers of the Sabha.
A graduate in Hindi and mainstream educationist, Satyadeo is also a narrative historian, excelling in the art of producing week after week on the TV’s Bhojpuri Channel, a succinct récit of our sites and historical events in chaste Bhojpuri. He gives a lie to those who would like to kill and bury alive Bhojpuri as a vibrant medium of expression and communication. In these two volumes he has done a great justice to those unsung heroes and heroines who have served society and go on serving it while remaining in the backwaters of the mainstream. In these short essays, Satyadeo Peerthum has given pride of place to 30 stalwarts of the Sabha who would perhaps have been lost to history and memory and thrown in the dustbin of time.
The next three books are a set of graded Learn Hindi primers by Shri Prabhakar Jeewooth, former Inspector of Primary Education, and currently Head of the Education Committee and Assistant Secretary of the Arya Sabha. Mr Jeewooth is an experienced educator. He has used his accumulated knowledge in pedagogy and has applied it judiciously to the teaching of good Hindi to children. Even adults who have missed on Hindi in their young age can acquire these books from the Sabha to improve their Hindi. It is never too late! The books are well illustrated, colourful and are well produced, and match pedagogy with value-based education which is the need of the moment when society is rocking with instability. The Arya Sabha runs 172 voluntary Hindi evening schools and has over 400 branches solidly anchored all over the island.
It is sad that very often Hindu socio-cultural organisations are simply clichéed and pejoratively dumped together as a poor lot in mainstream media as political cronies. This is not really the case. Movements such as Arya Sabha are stable and have proved their mettle.
Last but not least in this series is a book in Hindi titled Mamta, tatha anya Natak. This is indeed a tribute to a veteran playwright, the late Shri Gawkurrun Seetohul who passed away last year. The Vacoas Rang Bhoomi Kala Mandir which he set up has earned a name in drama festivals just as the famous Vacoas House of Debaters in the 1960s. Gawkurrun Setohul’s loving wife Sarita Seetohul and their three sons Dharma, Rajiv and Rajeshwar have put their efforts together so that he is justly remembered by bringing together in book form ten plays scripted by him.
Gawkurrun Seetohul started in 1975 with the Hindi play “Beti ki Dan”. Slowly as he matured in script writing, as a producer, director and actor he won the best play and also the best director prize in 1989 for his Hindi play Maa. His three sons staged the English play “Blood is Thicker Than Water” written by none other than their father himself. But the latter passed away early last year. Despite the sudden death of the veteran actor, his wife and three sons have kept the flame and passion of directing, acting and producing plays in different languages – English, Hindi, Bhojpuri or Creole – burning. As Sarita Seetohul says, the world of drama and rehearsals pervades the house throughout the year.
With six books launched in Hindi in the last two weeks, one can safely say that Hindi is a language which has evolved on Mauritian soil as a powerful medium of literary expression. Is it not time for the University of Mauritius to consider opening a Department of Oriental Studies in line with SOAS of London University under the Faculty of Humanities to include Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Arabic, Mandarin, Tamil, etc., and to encourage more research and widen the horizons? Reunion Island nearby has a Department of Hindi since long. Germany prides itself as having the best Sanskrit Faculty in the world. About 150 universities in the world teach Hindi and have Hindi chairs. What then holds the University of Mauritius back?
- Published in print edition on 17 July 2015