In a publication, ‘Dhunputh Lallah, Walking with Kings, Standing for the Voiceless’, Pravesh Lallah retraces the achievements of one of the prominent Indo-Mauritian familes, the Lallahs.
He sets out to establish the family’s track record from the time the first immigrant from India, Gorachand Lallah, set foot over here after crossing the ocean by ship from Chandernagor, Calcutta in 1858. It is not merely intended to bring to light the wide-ranging successes the family scored from its residence in Rue Bougainville, Curepipe, on a number of platforms that were interdicted to members of the Hindu community in those days. It sets out more importantly to establish how a focussed attention on what one undertakes can bring the laurels of victory to those who dare no matter what the level of oppression suffered.
Gorachand Lallah and his family and friend, Bhuguth, start off barely some years after they accede to the status of an Old Immigrant, i.e., one who is not tied by his original labour contract to a local employer, to make important incursions in business. At a time the large estate owners of Mauritius were facing financial difficulties or were in need of funds to develop their business, the two of them took on investment in real estate, buying, selling, and leasing land involving large tracts of cultivated and uncultivated land. So doing, they amass a fortune. They get into other business transactions such as running a sawmill in Curepipe.
Not content to become one of the few Indo-Mauritian families having made a fortune in those days of colonial oppression, they take an interest in the professions. Their sons, Boodhun, Khemlall and Dunputh, establish themselves as the next generation figuring out in the ranks of the respected members of Mauritian society.
Boodhun becomes the first Indo-Mauritian lawyer of the island in 1903; Khemlall becomes a land surveyor; Dunputh, on his part, is not only admitted in 1903 to practise as an Attorney-at-Law; he also becomes in 1926 the first elected member of the Legislative Assembly in 1926. This was the time Rajcoomar Gujadhur also made his marks as an elected member of the Assembly, heralding a period of awakening to politics as advocated earlier by Manilal Doctor and later by Kunwar Maharaj Singh, who came to inquire into labour conditions in Mauritius and stated, amonst others, that “the failure of Indians to get elected to the Legislative Assembly was due to their lack of unity”.
It must be reckoned that those were the days when Indo-Mauritians had to struggle to assert their ordinary rights, when their names would be set aside from electoral registers nearer the elections for reasons best known to the officials in charge and when the dominant elite of the country considered them as an “inferior” class of people. It should therefore have been difficult for the family to send one of its wards into the stronghold of the privileged class, the Royal College of Curepipe, notably Duputh.
But the Lallahs did not stop there. They adopted the style of the ruling elites in other ways; they owned horses and participated, like the Gujadhurs, in horseracing. They had sumptuous receptions for dignitaries visiting the country and they put themselves “a class above”. This should have broken down inhibitions that were latent in the rest of the Indo-Mauritian population, driving them to overcome the various hurdles placed on their way to economic and advancement.
This book needs to be commended for various reasons. It is written in a simple language and hence accessible to a wide array of readers; it contains historical facts about various barriers that were raised by the privileged class in obscure days of our history to prevent others from rising to their levels; it shows how patience, perseverance and a sense of discipline is capable of grooming up the best of brains in socially disadvantaged groups. It shows how hard a few among us had to work and sacrifice themselves to open up better tomorrows for the current generation which, sadly enough, is taken for granted.
* Published in print edition on 27 December 2013