Of Independence and Patriotism

I have a confession to make. This year I did not watch the flag raising ceremony on MBC at Champs-de-Mars on the occasion of Independence/Republic Day.

Going by the morosity of this event and the insipidity of the “cultural” show that follows it year-in-year-out, the prospect of watching two live matches (Eire/Italy and England/Wales) from the Six-nation Cup won it hands down.

By the way every schoolchild can understand that Independence had something to do with the British voluntary desire to unshackle us from the chain of colonialism. This policy to liberate their colonies was explicitly enunciated by Conservative PM Macmillan in his “Wind of Change” speech in 1960 in South Africa. However this in no way detracts from the years of hard and valiant struggle that was led by the various Labour Party leaders, the Bissoondoyal brothers and many other individuals for the emancipation of the masses, the culmination of which was Independence.

Of course there are some countries where hundreds and thousands of their people did actually shed their blood fighting for their freedom and independence. Among these are India, Mozambique and even the USA — but never us! Fortunately for us no blood was shed getting our Independence. Thus in spite of a strong opposition from within, ours was basically a peaceful negotiated settlement; and so much the better for it!

What does it all mean

So much for Independence then. But what does Republic Day mean? What does this lofty word with its lofty ideals mean to Mauritius? Because every time we take into consideration the ethnicity of a Presidential candidate or his deputee as we have done so far, we offend the very notion of a Republic state. Thus it happens that apart from changing the nomenclature of the Governor and calling him President as from 1992, I have not discerned any apparent change in the way the country is governed; or our leaders chosen. Why even Government of Mauritius (GM) Ministers and department heads, parastatal MDs and other GM and semi-GM positions are subject to ethnic profiling. Sadly competence comes a very poor second or even third position behind the incumbent’s race, religion and caste. Republic, who are we kidding?!

Unsurprisingly then it’s the same tired old dynastic politics (some even call it Brand!) that we have had to put up with since Independence — thus keeping political power and control within the boundaries of the limited talent that is to be found in a handful of families; inevitably. Had we allowed other talents to emerge and flourish, the odds are that we would have done a lot better. At least we would have done differently. But when a PM exhorts the crème de la crème of our youth — HSC laureates — not to worry about coming back after the country has funded their studies with millions of taxpayers’ money, one wonders at the agenda of our political classes.

Let’s Celebrate

Some large countries like India, France and Russia have many specific reasons to celebrate their national days, but the most important is to show off their military hardware to any potential aggressor. On the other hand, a nuclear-armed superpower like the UK does not see any need to waste public money and energy in celebrating any national day. Come to think of it, they do not even have a national day as such. Unless one counts Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday which happens to be just an ordinary working day without any fly-past or fanfare. But the British are no less proud of their country than any of us.

Thus if we were to follow the UK example, we could save ourselves a lot of money that could be used to provide much needed housing, better health care and social services or even reduce our burgeoning national debt. Instead of spending these millions that we can ill-afford on Independence/Republic Day celebrations here and abroad in our embassies, would not a simple but dignified flag raising ceremony in front of Parliament House suffice?

Please do take my word for it but, in spite of the grotesque illusory lie peddled by our politicians, we are not the centre of the world. In fact we are of so little importance that most of the 7bn people of the world do not even know that we exist or where we are to be found on the globe. So how can they attack us, and for what reason? In any case, in the unlikely event that it were to happen, we would be able to do absolutely nothing about any serious invasion. For it is inconceivable that the fly-past composed of a couple of noisy elderly helicopters would deter any potential aggressor.

Patriotism is the Virtue of the Vicious

If all this makes me sound unpatriotic, it is because we have been conditioned to think in that linear fashion. Almost like George Bush Junior’s ultimatum to the world in the wake of 9/11, “either you are with us or you are not”, thus leaving no space for the middle ground! And I am not ashamed to admit that I am for the pacific middle ground; and abhor any display of fanaticism.

There are at least a dozen dictionary definitions of Patriotism as there are for Religion. But just like religion, I believe patriotism to be a private personal affair, and each one of us has his very own idea of what it represents for us. Yes I am patriotic in every sense of the word as I see it, and I celebrate it in a manner that convenes my credo. I do not believe that one has to be a jingoistic flag-waving lunatic to be patriotic. But we do hang a quadricolore out on our terrace every year.

Still for me it is sufficient that I love my country from which I was on self-imposed exile as an economic migrant for many years, and to which I returned as soon as I possibly could, leaving behind a much sought-after lifestyle. Having got back, out of respect for her I do not defile the environment with litter, I try to do good or at least not do any wrong. I empathize with people less fortunate than me and I am forever ready to be of service to the needy. I pay my taxes on time and generally behave in a civilized manner, and abiding by the laws of the land is almost an obsession.

If that is not sufficient for some, I say “tough luck.” The politician’s definition of patriotism — to which probably most people subscribe — is what may have led Oscar Wilde to make the observation about patriotism being the virtue of the vicious.

The Show

During match stoppages I was zapping to have a peek at bits of the live broadcast from the Champs-de-Mars, and managed to catch some glimpses of it. In fact I was able to see quite a bit of the last part of the cultural show. I don’t know about the rest but I found this to be a dull disappointing display.

For the finale there was a large assorted group of dancers on the stage as well as a number of ravane and tabla players. I still don’t know the reason for the latters’ presence because right throughout the performance they sat sullenly there without drumming a single beat. If they were placed on stage for any kind of special effect, it did not work out.

As for the group of dancers it was mainly made up of sega, African, ballet and Indian classical performers. God knows what the choreographer had intended to achieve. Because in trying to make these assorted dancers perform their art to the same tune, he managed to create a total mess of a dog’s dinner.

As we all know each dance category has its own specific musical beat. Thus it is just impossible for a Bharata Natyam performer to execute her graceful movements to the fast and frantic beats of the sega. Consequently the artistes literally did not know “on which foot to dance.” It was alright for the sega skirt twirlers, but the slow sweeping movement of the ballerinas just did not gel with the fast beat of the ravanes. As for the African dancers, they just seemed to go in an ojhai-type trance. Readers who have ever attended a Baharia puja will know exactly what I mean.

Consequently the end result was a disjointed affair — without imagination — that not only offended the eyes but also grated on the soul. I believe they call it Fusion! But like the colours of the rainbow some things are better left alone in their original state of natural beauty. When we try to fuse them together, we end up with a horrible mess of indeterminate colour. Likewise best to leave each performance alone in its original state and let the audience admire the awesome beauty of each one in its separateness.

It was truly painful to think that millions (the budget for just our embassies was R10m for the day!) of the hard-earned taxpayers’ money was being squandered in this way right in front of their very eyes. Next year maybe we should think of a different strategy and adopt the example of the UK; and spend the money on a more productive activity.

The Rugby?

For those fans who may have missed the games, Ireland beat Italy 58-21 oh-so-easily, scoring nine tries in the regulation 80 minutes. On the other hand the Lions had to struggle very hard to keep their lead and finish with a tight 26-21 against a pugnacious Welsh-15. Scintillating, edge-of-the-seat stuff; and far more entertaining than the Independence/Republic Day celebration!

* Published in print edition on 22 April 2016

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