Aapravasi Day Commemoration
Remembrance: On roots towards a better future
— TP Saran
Some of the points flagged and remarks made by Dr Vijaya Teelock during her interview in last week’s copy of this paper compel us to revisit the issue of the commemoration of the arrival of Indian Indentured Labour on the 2nd November. This has been taking place only in recent years, after a sustained campaign for this purpose in which the Mauritius Times played a crucial role, especially as regards the date chosen for remembrance. We need not go over that afresh as far as this article is concerned.
Let’s start with the second part of the first question put to Dr Teelock. It highlights a core concern that merits serious thinking, to wit, “we do not seem alive to the need of going nor willing to go beyond this annual ritual to set out a clear and attainable agenda of growth and development for the descendants of the Indo-Mauritian community. Why is that so?”
Her reply is: “It is important to stop for at least once a year and to reflect on the past. It should also be an opportunity for the elderly to share their past experiences with their grandchildren: activities being organized around the 2nd November can stimulate discussion in a home or a group. It does not matter if sometimes this is negative. Freedom of expression is important. But it is true that too many formal lengthy speeches can ruin a historical occasion…I think many of our politicians already know this!… It is up to us to point them to a different direction for future years… Regional 2nd November – as we have regional PBDs? It would also “valoriser” regional efforts because there is plenty going on in the regions around 2nd November. Give local people a chance to show their creativity as local historians, authors, artists, etc.” (italics ours)
It is certainly not a bad idea to have an annual remembrance. Especially when this has the State’s backing with all the associated publicity, definitely there is an impact at national level, in maintaining the awareness about the event. However, we all know that following such crowd-gathering occasions the enthusiasm dies down. And since the Opposition as well as the incumbents in power are invited to speak, they inevitably vie with each other to vaunt their commitment to the ancestral cause, often dabbling as amateur historians. One such politician even attempted a revisionist thrust, but this was effectively countered by robust argumentation that left no doubt about who knows what.
It is also a fact that the ‘formal lengthy speeches’ tend to be repetitious, a rehash of what has been said and heard umpteen times, and therefore boring. Only the sycophants who are lined up, duly invited and faithfully present, are impressed, given that like meets like in this type of talk-down. But then again, as pointed out by Ms Teelock, ‘many of our politicians already know this!’ – which does not somehow seem to affect their zeal to go the whole hog, beyond reasonable time limits.
However, here is a chance offered to them, especially to the Minister of Arts and Culture. In an interview to Le Mauricien sometime ago he said in as many words that he wanted to make of culture a self-sustaining industry in Mauritius, that artists should have their rightful place in the sun, and earn a decent living through the practice of their art. The making of heritage sites, in this case the Aapravasi Ghat — and also of Antoinette Phooliyar, and perhaps others to be yet discovered or identified – as marketable as Soweto in South Africa, to which Dr Teelock refers later in her interview, is one such direction indicated.
The suggestion seems to be in line with the Minister’s vision, and perhaps his ministry could seriously consider the possibility and give concrete shape to his vision. There is an opportunity here of creating employment in the occupations related to art and history, e.g. trained guides, archeologists, maintenance staff and so on – ‘les métiers de la culture.’ Besides, the lament of Dr Teelock about the indifference to teaching history as a subject could thus also be addressed, as a proper knowledge of history would not only be an asset but an essential requirement to be a good guide, amongst others.
By the same token, the suggestion of having regional commemoration activities too is worth pursuing, and instead of waiting for the 2nd November 2013 to come, the Ministry of Arts and Culture could perhaps start working on a plan to make this happen, with advice from the appropriate resource persons both at national level and regionally, but also from the Diaspora. One could start early on to identify the local historians, authors, artists and others with talent, and invite them to participate in a competition for example, with prizes of a substantial nature that would incentivize them.
Involving the youth in this endeavour would definitely reorient them towards a fresh appreciation of their roots and the perennial values of their ancestors’ culture. They could be hosted in forums to study these in depth, to explore how they sustained the forbears and led them towards the progress and success that they have achieved against all the odds that they faced. The inspiration they will draw from such an exploration of their roots and values will be no small dividend for the country as a whole, as it will help the youth to invest their energies more positively instead of seeking outlets in porn, violence and undesirable behaviour generally, to the dismay of parents and society at large.
Thus, some of the millions spent in the big bash at Port Louis could also be put to better use around the country. Collaterally, this would also help the politicians in their objective of gaining popularity (and hopefully votes) for themselves and their respective parties, as instead of or in addition to being present in Port Louis, they will have a good reason to move about and show that they really mean what they preach at Port Louis on that occasion. Who knows, the experience may even stimulate them to maintain the contact at grassroots level. Overall, therefore, a win-win situation as the saying goes.
Now let’s look forward to some action. Thank you, Prime Minister for your regular presence on the 2nd November at Aapravasi Ghat: please do encourage your Minister of Arts and Culture and give him the means and resources needed to pursue his vision for the country’s art and culture ‘industry.’ His Ministry could contact Mr Ravi Kisen, famous artist from Mumbai who was present at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas meet held here recently, and who volunteered to help – freely. Thank you all politicians. We will give you advance credit – and hope for fulfillment as the year rolls towards 2nd November 2013.