On Thursday last week the students of the Royal College Curepipe (RCC) launched their this year’s magazine.
Mauritius Times had been invited to the occasion, and I was honoured to be assigned to represent them. The students made it a special occasion as it commemorates 200 years of Laureateship that also fortuitously doubles up with 50 years of our Independence. They turned it into a great occasion, inviting Ag. Prime Minister Ivan Collendavelloo and Minister Etienne Sinatambou to their function. There must have been some good reason why Minister of Education Mrs Leela Devi Dookun could not be there, but she did have a message for readers in the magazine itself – as did indeed the Prime Minister Pravind Jugauth as well.
The Ministers made speeches recalling their time at the RCC; interestingly, Ag. PM Collendavelloo recalled that he was a student during the sixties, and how the debate for and against Independence was raging at RCC during those years. He did not disclose on which side of the debate he was himself active. One can imagine how fierce the debating was between the two camps. That rang a bell with me too, as for people in my generation the decade of the sixties was that of “Malbar Pas Oulé” movement, before it became that of the Independence.
It was also precisely in 1960, in the colonial era, that the government, already operating with a cabinet-form of government under the constitutional changes introduced in the late fifties, decided to turn the airport administration at Plaisance, until then operating practically on sugar estate lines, into a proper government department, and that the British Officer called in to advise on and effect the change, R.I. Varney, chose me, at the Public Service Commission interview, to be the first non-white officer to be brought into the hierarchy, until then dominated by Franco-Mauritians. No effort was spared to declare me incompetent, and I had a tough first few years. The mantra at Plaisance during the first half of the sixties was “Malbar pas oulé”, perhaps much more fiercely so than at other government sites. But later, it was the physics and mathematics that I had acquired at the RCC that helped me resolve a safety problem at Plaisance that all international experts, including British, French, Indian and Chinese ones, had declared to be insoluble. But that is another story.
On their arrival guests were received by the students and their principal motivator, Ruben Munisamy, Head of the French department, who was the soul of the occasion. He also addressed the gathering – in perfect French as can be imagined, which was a great pleasure and a relief, as one is normally drowned in an ocean of Creole and creolized English. Mrs Manda Boolell, who, as Miss Manda Pillay, used to be part of the daily life of my generation as the principal news anchor at MBC TV and therefore a very welcome reminder of old times, also read out a passage – in really very good French. One does not often hear French where the mute E, the consonant R, and the vowel A when it comes before R, are properly pronounced. These minor details, when correctly attended to, makes such a huge difference! Try reading the following sentences: “Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville”, or “La courbe de tes yeux fait le tour de mon coeur”, or yet again the lay sentence: “On part de la gare St Lazare pour les ports de la mer du Nord!”
The vote of thanks was offered by student Akshat Gupta, chief editor of the magazine, in a really masterly speech. His choice of topics, sentences and words as well as his poise was a matter that many mature politicians would envy.
Unusually for Curepipe, it was a bright sunny day. Sadly, it was quite dark in the hall; the lighting needs attending to. The stage was lit only with one light – from the back. The faces of the speakers were hardly visible; their backs must have been clearly lit but they were not visible to us. I am forced to compare this with what used to take place in the Hall during my days. There were plenty of windows which let in a lot of light; besides the Hall was then in the front part of the building – that has now been blocked up, leaving only a narrow passage through to the central quadrangle. When shows were on, the stage was brightly lit from the top in front – as happens in all theatres, large and small. When Victor Glover stood there and declaimed Mark Anthony’s speech “O thou bleeding piece of Earth…”, standing besides what represented a corpse, it was a feast for the eyes, the ears and the mind. Not less beautiful was when Lucien Pouzet, with his face and arms blackened with soot, (I hope they don’t Kreolize his name) sang the Susana song “I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee…” This and many other songs were taught us by music teacher Mr Pratter. Another teacher, Mr Cowles, taught us Art around the same time; he it was who designed the college badge with the old college motto “Terrae quis fructus apertae” on it; that badge is still in use today, proudly displayed on the college magazine. Sadly, he drowned while bathing at Gris-Gris.
The principal take-away for me was the opportunity to greet Bhoomitra Boolell, the dean of the “Old Royals”, who at the end of the function was being gently led away by daughter-in-law Manda. He recently celebrated his hundredth birthday. He is physically slightly bent, but his mind is as alert as ever. The moment he saw me he said: “Palma?”. “Yes”, I said, “Palma.”
My name will for ever be associated with the village of Palma, where my grandfather and father lived and died, where I spent my childhood and adolescence and where most of my relatives still live.
A word about the magazine itself: aptly named “Our Legacy”, it is a work of art and relevant history to be treasured. But for my dimming eyesight, the art has perhaps trumped the message.
* Published in print edition on 5 October 2018