By TD Fuego
How time flies as we get older. When we were kids, each New Year seemed to take a decade to come round. But here we are now, hot on the heels of 2011, another New Year is about to dawn upon us in no time at all.
Come the day, there will be just a few (personal) Xmas/New Year cards in the post-box, mostly from friends and relations of our generation. The younger generation — nephews and nieces — will avail themselves of the new technology and send my wife and me an impersonal SMS broadcast, or at most an e-card with jingles. A few, very few indeed, will actually bother to pick up the telephone to have a word. As for any of them calling in person, we could wait till the cows came home and even later in vain.
How different from the days of our childhood! Then, come the first day of January, we would get up early all excited. After a quick bath, we would put on our new clothes and, having performed morning prayers, receive our parents’ blessings. Having eaten an early breakfast comprising of milky tea and bread, butter and cheese, we would go to meet the older members of the family and neighbours to receive their blessings. As we touched their feet, they would pat us on the back accompanied by words like “jug-jug jiya1.” Then, we would be treated to a small glass of colourful, mouth-tingling lemonade and, in most cases, receive a gift of 5 cents.
By the end of the exercise, which could last a couple of hours, we would end up with around 20 of these yellow coins, making a whole one Rupee. A fortune, indeed! And truth be told, for us kids, the fizzy drink and the pecunia were the greatest pull, if not the only one, to the routine. But for our parents, it was a sacred duty we had to be taught to perform, as they had done since their own childhood.
Later on in the day, others — young and not so young — would come to wish Dada and Dadi2 to wish them happy New Year. I always looked forward to the afternoon visit of Bolome Soorkoo because he always brought a gift toy for me. I can still remember the wooden jumping monkey on wheels that he made for me on my third birthday.
As usual during his visits to my grandparents, after a good chat, he would walk to the back of the house and pick some ripe pineapples from the garden, and prepare them with salt and chillies. This was a ritual he performed with so much relish that it seemed ages before they were ready for eating. I don’t know whether it was his special touch or my nostalgia, but I have the impression that they tasted so much better, and sweeter in those days.
We talk incessantly about food self-sufficiency nowadays, but little thought has been given to why we have come to such a pass when almost everything we consume has to be imported. In an article in the Mauritius Times some time ago, S. Reddi spoke strongly about people in our towns and villages living on top of one another due to lack of space.
So, if we are serious about self-sufficiency, sooner than later, we will have to address the issue of an equitable redistribution of land. All the land bought at relatively low prices by the masses during the early morcellements has been taken up by housing needs of two generations and, in spite of a rash of morcellements in the country, the price of land is so high that the average citizen can only afford to buy plots large enough for only a house, thus leaving very little space for cultivation of any sort. Growing things in flowerpots, though not a total waste, will not lead us anywhere near the self-sufficiency we are ostentatiously seeking to achieve.
Contrast this against how it used to be. The pineapples that Bolome Soorkoo used to pick was gown on a plot comprising 30 perches on which granddad had also planted numerous fruit trees like coconut, mango, jack-fruit, fruit-citere, avocado and many others. Added to these, there was manioc and sweet potatoes — a relic from the shortages of the World War II years. Besides the fruits, most of the vegetables we consumed came from his kitchen garden.
Everyone in the village grew such things to a greater or lesser extent. Consequently, there was some kind of fruit in every garden all year round, dispensing people with the need to buy any foreign fruits. Indeed, people only bought imported apples and oranges when visiting a sick relative or friend in hospital so as not to appear to be mean! Indeed, gifting apples and oranges was so related to disease that it spawned a joke in which a naïve ganwar3 hands over a bagful of these fruits to his fiancée who lived in town, thinking she would be impressed. “Do I look ill to you?” she asks disdainfully.
The Flame Tress
But, coming back to New Year, then as now, it is announced about a month ahead by the blooming flame tress. These trees are mushroom-shaped with a main stem and a flat circular top. Being a deciduous genus, they stand bare for most of the year. But, come October, they start to sprout leaves and buds that look like green bullets.
Come November, the first blooms start to appear, dotting the trees with specks of red, like the sindoor on a Hindu bride’s forehead. By the end of the month, all the bullets explode open and the trees are all abloom with hundreds of bunches. The leaves — being much smaller than the flowers — are totally concealed by the latter; and all one can see is a scarlet canopy extending several square metres, shaped like a gigantic posy. It is as though nature was decorating the land for the festive season, whilst at the same time announcing that the New Year was imminent. Little wonder the flame tree is known in these parts as the Bouquet Bananey4.
As I write this piece, true to their annual rendez-vous, the Bouquets are out in force. For the past few weeks, my little niece has been asking the same impatient question during our weekly chat on the phone, “But grandpa, when is New Year coming?” At the tender age of 3, she may not be old enough to know much about months and dates, but she knows one thing for sure from the sight of the Bouquets that line her village street: New Year’s day is not far away.
Yet, it seems only yesterday that all the ICT geniuses, the experts, were talking about the awesome Y2K bug, and the untold havoc it would wreak on all computer systems. And since most important activities are computerized nowadays, this would inevitably result in total mayhem to our civilized way of life. In the ensuing panic, governments and businesses were fleeced of a fortune by the same experts to “fix it” for them.
In parallel, some religious zealots earnestly believed Armageddon would be unleashed and the world would come crashing to its end as soon as the clock hit 00.00.00. But, here we are all — young, not so young and old alike — blissfully, joyfully looking forward to the 12th anniversary of the Millennium.
A merry Xmas and a happy and healthy New Year to you.
- Long may you live
- Paternal grand-parents
- Village oaf
- New Year bouquet
* Published in print edition on 23 December 2011