By Dr Rajagopal Soondron
A few of us senior citizens would sometimes squirm in our shoes, feeling small, when thinking of the odd things we had done or refused to do in our younger days. Fortunately, our biased mind readily downplays those unpleasant, highly embarrassing incidents while always bringing into the limelight those few positive ones we have retained.
“What prompted me, a seven-year-old boy, to indulge in pitying others, to share bread and money with someone else? Is it possible that as a child I had been influenced by my maternal grandmother and aunties who I had so often heard, in the midst of the night in their cool thatched house, commiserating and dwelling on the ill-fate of some unfortunate poverty-stricken children? Maybe. Sometimes it is difficult to fathom the psychology of a child…”
At high school we came face to face with William Wordsworth’s expression “The child is the father of Man”. We adolescents chuckled and giggled, surely a sign of our ignorance; we were no psychologist to tease out that idiom. But later, childhood psychology helping, we grown-ups were baffled by the complexity of an individual’s character, behaviour and personality; and we realize that we now have some inkling of what our teachers wanted to convey.
Of all the pals we have had many would be forgotten, even their names, while a few will remain bosom friends; but one or two will still stand out — because of certain incidents or happenings which would remain ever alive in our mind.
Six decades ago our primary school at Gustave Colin street, Beau Bassin, (now known as Vele Govinden Govt school) was a well-known institution with a separate girl and boy sections, separated by a high stony wall with a small wooden door in the middle for staff use only. Maybe Victorian feelings were still running high in the British colonial educational system; when was that Berlin wall pulled down for good – I can’t recollect, but I very well remember how we boys had some classes in the girl section.
There I met one of my classmates. Why did I take a liking to him is beyond me? But I clearly remember him as being taller; a fair young face with bright dark eyes and hair, well ‘brilliantined’ and groomed; always with a thin, straight, quiet, timid smile on his lips, and little other emotion being revealed. He had a soft, reserved, sad but high-pitched voice, giving me the impression that he was a loner.
School boys of those days would wear shorts, long trousers being unheard of. My friend was well dressed, sometimes in khaki shirt and shorts uniform. I was not that lucky to have had such attire at that time; may be that was why I looked up to him with some admiration; though his far-away gaze and timidity could have been the magnetic attraction. As both our surnames start with the letter S, it would have meant that we were grouped together on the same bench in class.
But come recreation time – that friend’s demeanour became suddenly more focused, stirring something in my mind. Well, it was not what he did but rather his non-participation in our boyish recreation mischief that caught my attention. Looking back I only remember my friend in the school compound at recreation time, while failing to make the connection as to our class relationship of which I could recall nothing. He might have been transferred from another school.
Everyday, during lunch time, all of us would rush for our bread and lunch; but he would just stand there in the middle of that school compound, with his right hand in his shorts pocket staring ahead and slowly rotating his head to gaze around. It was strange that I had rarely ever seen him eating lunch; he would just stand with his sad, compassionate, faint smile. This may have tickled my dormant curiosity, though. Most probably that scenario was repeated every day that we were classmates, I eating my bread while he having nothing to show for it.
It was the scene of that lonely classmate that struck a chord within me, pushing me to pity him. So finally, I caught myself sharing my ‘maison’ bread and ‘Blue Band’ butter with him; he would slowly and timidly draw his hand out of his pocket and partake of the lunch – mechanically chewing it without much show of enthusiasm or sign of gratefulness. He should have become a very good friend of mine, because I not only shared bread, but soon was also prompted to part with two precious cents out of the five that my parents gave me on most of the school days: surely a sign that I was moved by my friend’s plight.
In those days with five cents a student would rush and run — as soon as the 10.30 o’clock recreation bell would ring – to the old lady in the school compound who would be frying all sorts of sweetmeats and “merveille”. Somehow or other I would gladly spend 3 cents and keep the other two for my friend S.
Years later I would learn that his father was a primary school teacher; this kept me wondering whether this would not have entitled my friend to be richer than me — son of a vegetable seller; so why did he not have lunch or pocket money at midday break – like all of us? That would remain a mystery to me.
After secondary studies he would join the police force. Though meeting him on rare occasions I have never requested him to clear that childhood mystery.
As for me, decades later, as I went through the rocky period of undergraduate life, when a lot of thinking and self-analysis had to be done, when the mind had to grapple with new and unstable thought processes and apprehensions associated with a totally new trend of professional life – I did make use of this childhood friendship to anchor myself to inner stability and self-confidence.
At night as I lay on my bed, full of self-doubt, and as deep black thoughts dug deeper onto unbeaten path, I would fall prey to my negative qualities. Then I would tell myself that I would stand to gain if I could pitch them against whatever internal positive assets I could show – thereby striking some semblance of internal peace. And then I would remember my friend – he was high on my list of positives; and I would reminisce of my habit of sharing whatever I had with him.
There comes a time in each young man’s life, especially in the lonely dark room of a medical hostel in the early hours of the day, temporarily cut off from the morbid atmosphere of a hospital, when he has to count his chickens. So, whatever could have been the reason – I did chalk this decade-old childhood attitude under the feel-good column…
What prompted me, a seven-year-old boy, to indulge in pitying others, to share bread and money with someone else? Is it possible that as a child I had been influenced by my maternal grandmother and aunties who I had so often heard, in the midst of the night in their cool thatched house, commiserating and dwelling on the ill-fate of some unfortunate poverty-stricken children? Maybe. Sometimes it is difficult to fathom the psychology of a child and all those unseen forces that mould his psyche.
Could I be dreaming of all that? No. Recently I drew up the courage to face my friend with those school memories – and he readily acquiesced that he did benefit from our school friendship, for which he is grateful. And nowadays whenever he catches sight of me in the market place or on the road, he draws a smile from me — and pays me back more than expected: he would blurt out enthusiastically “S… you make my day whenever I see you… I feel so young, vivified and joyful.”
I suppose deep in our psyche is buried the memory of that wonderful school recreation time of 60 years ago.
That’s friendship – I suppose so.
* Published in print edition on 25 December 2020
65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.
With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.
The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.