The Mahatma in Mauritius

Consider it our luck or our grace that the Great Soul Mahatma Gandhi had set foot on our soil. Then a simple lawyer practising in South Africa, he landed in Mauritius on a Tuesday morning of 29th October 1901 as his ship the steamer SS Nowshera on its journey from Durban to Bombay (Mumbai) or Colombo accosted the Port-Louis harbour. Gandhiji was the guest of Indian trader Mr Ahmed Goolam Mohammed.

His ship needed replenishments and berthed at Port-Louis for a couple of weeks. At a dinner hosted in his honour by prominent traders and upper class Indians at Taher Bagh, Champ de Mars, Gandhiji made an appeal to the Indian intellectuals and traders that all efforts should be made to pay attention to the education of their children and take more interest in politics. These two teachings have, needless to say, become the leitmotifs of the Indian community in Mauritius. It led to a great socio-political and educational awakening among the Indo-Mauritian community.

Girmitia Majdurs

It is also believed that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had expressed the desire to his wealthy friends that he wanted to see the “girmitia majdurs”. Thus he was taken to several places including Rivière du Rempart, Saint Pierre, Curepipe and Rose Belle. It is believed that he went to Sajjan Gossagne’s place at Rivière du Rempart. Sajjan Gossagne was the father of Shri Anauth Beejadhur, editor of the defunct Advance daily and later Minister of Education. Gandhiji was appalled by the squalor and abject poverty in which the Indians were living. It is said that the place where he was given a huge swagat by several families of Rivière du Rempart at a site on Schoenfeld Road is still a no man’s land as it belongs to a society of the time. More research needs to be done and a historical monument set up on this spot.

Gandhiji’s Impact Worldwide

Today several activities are being organised to celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Several institutions and monuments, streets and squares have been named after the Great Soul. In Mauritius the Mahatma Gandhi Institute and the Gandhian Basic School in Moka stand out as the most remarkable institutions bearing his name. At several places around the island one can find statues of Mahatma Gandhi or streets and village squares bearing his name. All over the world one can find this public homage to the Mahatma. Moreover, several great world leaders have been inspired by Gandhiji. In Africa itself we have the giant Nelson Mandela, in whose land Gandhiji had lived for 21 years. Kenneth Kaunda was another great African leader who followed the principles of Gandhiji, not to forget Martin Luther King of the USA.

Gandhiji’s Ethics

It is good that every 2nd October, several organisations and institutions mark the occasion of the birthday of such a man who gave his entire life to the liberation of his country and changed his lifestyle and way of living completely to experiment with Truth. He lived Truth in its totality. As we celebrate or commemorate this great Atma, how prepared are we ourselves to make that paradigm shift in our lives to live up at least one principle of Gandhiji as from the 2nd October? We may serve food to the poor for one day, we may recite one or two lines from his teachings, but do we enforce that in our daily lives for 365 days?

As soon as the Gandhi Diwas is over, one forgets about him and his teachings, and reverts back to one’s petty thoughts, shady dealings, corrupted ways and hoardings. When shall we practise Satyagraha to eradicate poverty completely whether in our country or from the globe? Thousands are being killed daily. Violence is raising its ugly face nurtured in the murky hearts of human beings, whether it takes the face of domestic violence or political, physical and verbal violence. How are we prepared to make a complete, clean sweep and eradicate this wretched inhuman behaviour from our society?

Still let us try. If even for one day, we bring ourselves to bring out Gandhi’s spirit in our thoughts, and private and public dealings, it will be a great achievement.

Gandhi Bhawan at Laventure

At Laventure, the Gandhi Jayanti used to be organised in an open ground opposite the current site of the society. It is recalled that Shri Rajman Radhakeessoon was the initiator of Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October 1947. He had donated land to a society for its annual celebration. A building was erected on this land. The actual Gandhi Bhawan was built in 1959. Shri Rajman Radhakeessoon in fact established the Gandhi Bhawan Committee which became the owner of the plot of land of the building. The committee comprised around 15 members. They drafted a legal title deed which gave the ownership of the Bhawan to the whole community. The Bhawan cannot be sold or disposed of. Professor Basdeo Bissoondoyal conducted huge public celebrations of Gandhi Jayanti and that even during Gandhi’s lifetime. According to reports from the elders of the village, in 1961 Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru had donated a bronze bust of Mahatma Gandhi. It was the first bronze bust of Gandhiji to be placed outside India. The inhabitants of Laventure have since made this event a regular feature. Today the youth descendants of the original committee members have taken over.

Unveiling of Gandhiji’s Bronze Bust at Laventure

On the occasion of Bihar Diwas on 22nd March this year, organised by the Bhojpuri Speaking Union at Gandhi Bhawan, Laventure, the members now managing the Gandhi Bhawan approached the High Commissioner of India, Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal for a bust of Gandhiji for the Gandhi Bhawan. It is heartening to note that this bust will be unveiled today, in a very short span of time. It is a donation from the Government of India and it is believed to be one of the only three such bronze statues of Gandhiji outside India. The youths who manage the Gandhi Bhawan would be well inspired to follow at least one principle of Gandhiji in their daily activities and service to humanity.

First Indian High Commissioner Dharam Yaesh Dev’s Message

It is worthwhile recalling that the first commemoration of Gandhiji’s birthday at national level took place on October 2nd 1948 at the initiative of the first Indian High Commissioner, Dharam Yesh Dev, in Mauritius. Several celebrations were earmarked at the Champ de Mars, Plaza Theatre and in Goodlands, Rivière du Rempart, Central Flacq, Mahebourg and Rivière des Anguilles. The High Commissioner for the Government of India had also given his approval to the projection of a film “Mahatma Gandhi, the Immortal” in the cinema houses of the island, from 2nd October to 16th October 1948. The Mauritius Broadcasting Service carried a special radio broadcast comprising the national anthem of India, with a message by the High Commissioner of India and a talk by Swami Nisayasananda. All these activities created a great impact on the population. Year by year Gandhi Jayanti has taken on a significant and considerable dimension.

What the High Commissioner said on 2nd October 1948 has been recorded in the press of the time: ‘He (Gandhiji) taught us to rise above our little selves and prejudices and to see good in others. How often we have shouted “Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai”. By shouting this slogan, we thought we had done our duty… Gandhiji gave us a new method of struggle and political welfare and a new kind of diplomacy. He demonstrated the efficacy of truth, goodwill and cooperation…’

Today, on 2nd October 2015, the message will most probably be along the same lines from the High Commissioner of India, 67 years later. It is therefore expected that we make a little effort to push our minds to rise above petty things and live up to Gandhiji’s ideals, teachings and spirit.

 

  • Published in print edition on 2 October 2015

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