We were in primary school up to 1956, then your parents decided to transfer you to the new colonel Maingard School. And as I stayed alone behind it became the saddest time of my young days. Still we would remain very good friends…
To the south of the compound of my house lay a thick barrage of green trees, mostly mango and litchi. Beyond that was your mansion, behind which were Anil’s more modest house, and another one-room tin-sheet house where my paternal grandmother and uncle lived – the very uncle who would lie face down on his bed and ask niece and nephew to waddle on his back. I cannot forget another thatched house my elder uncle occupied with his family, half of which was where tantine Baba and sister Saustee lived with their parents. These girls, I was told later, would have been my saviour when I turned moody and naughty.
Do you remember those mornings when you would come to my house, prompting and holding my hand, pulling me along to bring my tricycle to your place, where there was a very nice, straight, flat concrete “runaway” stretching north — south to the side of your house? Anil would also join us with his own tricycle. Yours was different from ours, for its wheels had spokes also; ours had none. The three of us children would race up and down the alley having the fun of our childhood, with me always coming last!
But Anand, your house was special, for it was in colonial style with black wooden clapboard roof. What made it so attractive was that its stony basement was 2 to 3 feet high, hence giving your house a stately look that was the awe of us children for, naturally, it had a small flight of stony stairs on the northern and eastern sides. What wonder it was for me to discover its multi-coloured ground glass closed verandah, and such a nice bamboo hedge separating it from Dupere Street.
The surprise and wonder for us children who visited your place was that polygonal see- through side glasses pond in front of your house on the small lawn to the left. The gold fishes could be seen swimming happily about. I was enthralled — for it was my first encounter with a pond and pet fishes. And not far to the north of that pond was a wonder of wonder – a ‘longane’ tree that was different from others: it was pruned and trimmed, with a thick cylindrical foliage pointing skyward. Yes, your house was a world apart to all the people of the vicinity — and to me. Of course, there was even a toilet with flush; and my kid’s mind had wondered how did that water come down so automatically with such splashing sound after pulling the chain.
You had so many sisters – and you being the only boy of the family at that time were surely the prince of the house. Sometimes my sisters, Anil’s sisters and myself would be invited by yours to roam inside; and the greatest fun would be when we all children would gang up together to jump on the spring bed in one of the rooms – what fun and laughter, and what exhilarating experience. And I remember those colourful sheets that your elder sister Damoo – whom we would affectionately call didi Damoo – would be embroidering every time we visited you.
How could I forget that long impressive dining table by your kitchen, where on so many occasions your kind mother, that woman with the unmistakable large reddish tikka on the forehead of her moon face, would make us sit and serve us freshly baked farata? I could identify your dad as easily as I had your mum — for the smiling, soft-spoken gentleman had an upper golden tooth. He was the very man my dad was always grateful to; for in 1942 when my parents got married your dad gifted them with a “pochette” of potatoes!! That was the year of the Great War and potatoes were a rare commodity.
No wonder such a nice house and family were served by a big, clean, shining car, cared by a tall bearded man with a fez cap. You had the facility to be chauffeur driven from the Government primary school at Gustave Colin Street BB. On so many occasions, in later years, you would invite me into that luxury of luxuries, for a wonderful and unforgettable lift home.
That car would have its garage. Was it not there that Mr Bhawon, the Hindi teacher, would put up a short show and drama? I remember him very well singing one of those sad, heart rendering Mohammed Rafi’s songs – as he imitated someone going with a noose round the neck for the gallows? Then much later there would be even a bus in your compound, your family having diversified their business into public transport. I was very young, so at dusk some elders, getting news of a free ride, would hurry home and get mum’s permission to take us brother and sisters for a bus trip. It was fun time rushing about barefooted and in a chemisette to catch the trip of a lifetime.
All was courtesy of your dad and his nephew Poonit; they were kind and wise to realize that the kids in the vicinity needed a break now and then, so arranging a ‘tournée’ around lower Beau Bassin in the bus would make their day and dream; the very bus we went in to Ganga Ashnan at Pointe-aux-Sables while dadi Soorooj was our benevolent guardian.
How could we miss tonton Poonit’s house? It was wooden all round, so also the flooring – but its roof was different from our thatch at home, for it was made with dry “vetiver”. He also had a flight of stairs leading inside; it was on those very stone steps that tonton Poonit would sit, take my younger sister in his lap and feed her as dusk fell; this picture of kindness has always stayed in my mind’s eyes.
If in my kid’s mind I were to define Dupere Street, then I would unhesitatingly point to some of the trees bordering that road. While your pruned ‘longane’ tree was south of the street there was a northern ‘longane’ tree, 300 meters away, which bordered the hibiscus hedge of Miss Gizele’s house-cum-preprimary school ; so for us kids it became a reference point par excellence. Midstreet in between these two ‘longane’ trees, by Dutt’s family compound, was one of those rare fruit trees, a “Rousaille” tree that one never forgets. Full of thorn-like branches… sometimes bearing beautiful, small reddish bitter fruits. It was a quite a disappointment to me, though the girls seemed to jump with anticipation at its sight. And almost opposite to Dutt’s place, would be the land my dad would later purchase. On its roadside boundary, on a broken unkempt boulder hedge was a prune tree; we children would wait patiently to get a taste of its small wild fruits every year; we had to squeeze them gently to soften the flesh before having a go at them.
However, how could I forget that “Pilon d’Inde” plant by the house of Miss Gizele? What a flutter it caused to those families in Dupere Street in the early 50s when your sister Premi and my sister Indranee, while leaving Miss Gizele’s school, would mistake the fruits of that “pilon d’Inde” for peanuts; they would have a wonderful feast. Soon they would be taken sick violently and start vomiting. I understood that relatives and family friends would flock to their rescue, giving them plenty of milk to drink. Whether they were taken to hospital or not, I do not remember.
We were in primary school up to 1956, then your parents decided to transfer you to the new colonel Maingard School. And as I stayed alone behind it became the saddest time of my young days. Still we would remain very good friends; decades later I would visit your parents now and then; soon both professional and family life would claim their share of our attention. We got married and had children. I left lower Beau Bassin to move south to Quatre Bornes and you headed north to Coromandel. We lost touch almost completely.
As you battled against a long illness I came to see you on a few occasions. Then one day you did not make it. It was poetic justice that I was the very last person to bid you farewell before the curtain went down.
There remained another tree – the “pipal” tree, by the side of your garage and the “Swami Malaiye”, near our ‘runaway’, which still stands loyal to the last. All parents, house, garage have gone, – but it has remained a sad, lonely witness to our childhood days, a sad reminder to the great, wonderful time that was bestowed on us all who had visited your mansion. Adieu Anand. Rest in peace.
* Published in print edition on 5 October 2018