August 14th saw the 60th anniversary of MT. Unfortunately I was unable to write at length; some unfinished business with the eye surgeon, alas!
However no matter, it was a joy to read from all those contributors, each bringing his own special spice to the overall masala that made up the very special flavour of that special edition — certainly one to keep! Makes one very humble to think that one would have to live another 60 years to witness an event like that once more.
With the Internet/Facebook/Twitter/etc, will future generations be interested to carry on the tradition of contributing news and views, and reading MT when most, if not all of my generation would have long shed themselves of this mortal coil? Being an optimist, I am willing to bet that they will — maybe not exactly in the same form or format that we have known it. As the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change,” and change we must, nay we are obliged, to accept with magnanimity. With government’s wish for A-Graduate-per-Household, I daresay the quality as well as the quantity of input can only increase in the future.
My own acquaintance with MT began with the very first copies in the local baitka.
In those days, very few villagers could read English/French although most could cope more or less well with Hindi. In our little corner of the world, the exception was a Mr Jeebun aka Bhai Lakhindor (BL). Whilst the part-time paperboy delivered Janata or Zamana to the other residents, he used to hand a copy of MT to Bhai Lakhindor who happened to be our kindergarten teacher.
“Baap re, what a highfalutin title!” I can hear Bhai Lakhindor exclaim. In fact, during the day, he worked for the Department of Road Works (Bane-Rosse1) and only taught us the alphabets and, when we were a bit older, the rudiments of English/French in the evenings. All for the princely sum of 25 cents a month! He probably spent all of this money, plus a substantial amount from his own pocket, on our gato/limonade at the end of the year.
After nightfall, Bhai Lakhindor’s younger brother Poonam used to take over as Hindi teacher and, on Sunday mornings, he taught us how to celebrate a hawan. For his time and effort, Guruji did not charge a penny. Those were the days when there really existed people who seem to be made of a very special kind of clay. In today’s frantic rush after the material, one rarely sees the likes of them.
When I grew a bit older, with the collaboration of my school friend Giandeo, we began to buy a copy of our own. As you can imagine, money was very tight in those days. We used to toss a coin in order to determine who would be the first to read the paper. Memory fades after fifty odd years, but I recall some of the giants of the time — such as Jay Narain Roy, Deepchand Beeharry, Doojendranath Napal, not forgetting Beekrumsing Ramlallah who was the Editor as well as our MP in the North, etc.
So it went on until I reached 19. With no prospect of finding a job locally, I left for pastures new2. Given the fairness in the host country that we don’t find even in the Mauritius of today coupled with the Eldorado of opportunities on offer, I stayed away until retirement. Unfortunately, no such thing as the Internet existed then, not even a telephone to speak to a disconsolate mother back home. A fortnightly letter courtesy of the BOAC was the maximum we could look forward to. Thus my connection with MT was kept in abeyance for a long many years.
Upon my return, it was good to see that it was still going strong. Though I began to subscribe to it anew thanks to ‘Laboutic Roland’, I was somewhat hesitant to write, for fear of being rejected for not being up to standard, or for being too controversial. Until the day my friend Keshraj urged me in his inimitable way to go ahead, saying “they can’t shoot you for being bad!”
So I made a tentative start. To my utter surprise, my efforts got published, even those which would be deemed anti-Government including that of a Labour Party (LP) coloration. It was so refreshing to see that MT had retained its independence of yore, though it is not so difficult to discern a certain natural LP bent. However, no subservience like that exhibited by some of the other local papers, which barely try to hide their bias. Anyway thus continues my relationship with MT, albeit a bit sporadically these last couple of years due to ill-health.
During the past 60 years, MT has witnessed a myriad of momentous events. These are all very well known to the public, and so I will not bore the reader with them. However, it would be very amiss of me if I were not mention one superlative happening which, as member of the diaspora, I could only observe second-hand from afar. And that is our accession to Independence.
As Nehru would have it, we met up with our tryst with destiny that 12-Mar-1968. We not only got rid of “Go save the Queen” and the Union Jack, but also acquired our own national Anthem and our very own quadri-coloured Standard. At last we could go forward to forge our own national identity and, freed from the clutches of our colonial masters, put our country on the path to progress. And what a wonderful journey it has been for the country, and for MT. At the top of the list has to be all those unimaginable socio-economic changes that have crystallised into the betterment of the lives of our people.
But there is one near impossible enigma that remains forever unresolved in my mind. Despite all the explanation conjured up by rational thought, I am incapable of finding one that makes any sense at all. And that is, how come almost half the population could bring itself to vote against our Independence, against our emancipation from the shackles of colonisation!
1. ‘Bane-Rosse’ was the popular description of what the workers of the Department of Road Works mostly did. That is repair the potholes on the tarmac roads. There being no macadam supplied to them as it would be today, they used to have to break stones gathered from the ubiquitous heaps that could be found all over the island into small pieces which they would mix with boiling coal tar to fill up the potholes with.
2. Money being ever so tight then, I asked my elder Phoopa (maternal uncle) why waste so much on just seeing me off at Plaisance, when we had already said goodbye at home. He pointed to my cousins and said: “To encourage them, Beta. Seeing you achieve what you have, hopefully some would be fired up to follow in your footsteps, knowing this was also within their grasp, provided they work hard!” That made perfect sense, so I did not argue the point any further.
* Published in print edition on 29 August 2014