Of demise and mourning

A far cry from the incessant frenzy of overwork to meet material needs, real or imagined, is the daily scene of ordinary folks who suddenly and most spontaneously halt all work obligations in order to respect customs and social rites that they deem is a priority over monthly wages.

We are stopping all work for a week or more, said the carpenter’s wife. The demise of a close relative is given as a most natural reason for withdrawal from all commitments. In contrast, this is a most uncommon occurrence in developed and advanced societies where the role of the individual working citizen – as a cog in the huge machinery of capitalist economy – outweighs all other considerations. So we are not all engrossed in a rat race to earn and acquire more come what may.

Other cases testify to a deep commitment to the belief that improper observance of rites will leave the deceased restless – until due respect is given to a proper performance of customs, for example as regards whose house the body should be carried to first. That the soul of the deceased should be given due attention for it to rest in peace appears as a subject of utmost importance.

Bereavement varies according to individuals. Some of our compatriots who wish to take a few more days to get over the loss of dear ones find some kind of understanding with employers. Surprisingly, some young people go to the length of quitting their job as long as they wish and look for another one when they feel ready. Enough savings to survive in the meantime sounds fine to them. What matters is how they get over the sudden loss of a dear one and the time it takes to adjust as life goes on.

So much the better then if labour regulations have not laid out definite, rigid rules regulating local leave of employees. If they have, there should be a review of regulations so as to avoid undesirable State intervention in the lives of citizens in matters regarding birth, weddings and deaths. Let some wisdom prevail through unwritten rules which allow some freedom for people to uphold values in a world that is fast sacrificing everything for the sake of productivity.

In France , for example, three days off are allowed to employees of the civil service to attend and mourn the demise of only members of the same family — brothers, sisters and parents. On what values or lack of values such regulations are based raises questions. It speaks volumes about the degree of legitimacy citizens unwillingly give to rulers to pass legislation on sensitive matters which are of prime concern to people. Leave without pay can be an alternative to satisfy requests for longer period of mourning.

To what extent does the law forbid or allow prisoners to attend funerals of close relatives is, undoubtedly, a controversial topic. The Roma community in a particular region in France flew into a rage some years back when a young member of the community who was in prison was not allowed to attend his father’s funeral. Romas are known to be deeply attached to family values. Reportedly, Amedy Coulibaly, the man who attacked a Jewish grocery in Paris following the terrorist assassination of Charlie Hebdo journalists, was said to have harboured deep resentment and hatred after prison authorities refused to let him out to attend his father’s funeral. After this he let himself be radicalized in prison. This being said, the right of prisoners to attend the funerals of relatives remains a debatable issue. May we suggest that it is wiser and humane to let prisoners out for a day to say farewell to those who gave birth to them and the siblings they grew up with.

* * *

The death of someone you know is devastating news, especially when a young person dies in horrible conditions. It brings unspeakable pain to parents and close relatives first. It is heart-breaking news to close friends and their parents who have known the deceased since their early adolescent days. Motorcycle and car accidents have caused the premature death of many a young man in Mauritius over the past months; we can imagine the painful ordeal close relatives endure in nuclear families of one or two children.

Just as I was penning down these thoughts an hour ago, there was news about the brutal shark attack that killed young Alexandre Naussac in St André, Reunion. When the young victim was a very close friend of your own son since college years and he regularly, almost every week-end, used to come over to your house, sometimes sharing meals and spending the night, and was almost a daily visitor during the holidays, the news came as a terrible shock. A zanfan lacaz, as we say in Mauritius.

Alexandre’s tall sportsman body bled to death in the rough waters. The ground under your feet is giving way and you are falling into pieces as if it were your own child who had been taken away in the prime of life. Reminiscences of adolescent days keep flashing back.

Such as the boys in surfing outfits with their surfboards tucked tightly to their body walking on the beach of St Gilles and heading towards the waves. Be careful, boys, the usual parting words you utter after driving them to the spot. The answer was always: Don’t worry. Ne vous inquiétez pas. On fait attention, nous.

Or images of Alexandre already on the beach, smiling and waiting for his friends to join him. A bunch of young adolescents, carefree, anticipating the joy and thrill of the waves, a sportsman’s broad optimistic smile on their faces. The world is their oyster. A long life lies ahead of them, promising to be beautiful. At 1, he was very tall. Le Grand Alexandre, I would call him sometimes. At 17, he was already 1 m 80. But his nickname was Krapo. There was a hint of melancholy in his smiling eyes.

– Tu as encore grandi !

– Oui, j’ai pris quelques centimètres.

Sometimes, he had a room to himself. Sometimes, the boys shared the same bed.

– Ça ira ?

– Oui, oui, ça va.

Sometimes loads of them – boys and girls – slept overnight, scattered around in the rooms, in the parlour and wrapped up in blankets in the garden.

Over there in Paris, the phone is not answering. You know fully well that the news had reached them and friends of the same lycée group are connecting on mobile phones and will be meeting, to share their grief and to comfort one another. What message are you going to send? Sorry, son, Alexandre is gone. Or rather: Je suis navrée, Alexandre n’a pas survécu à ses blessures.

Friends who were with him at the dangerous spot wish him: Ride in peace.

Indeed, as an experienced sportsman he enjoyed special thrills on dangerous waves and he lost his life riding a dangerous one. He may now go freely riding on his board over high waves in St Francis Bay, South Africa, Sydney, Hawaii or Sri Lanka.

The Mauritian public is much more sensitive in such circumstances than the judgemental, harsh comments you hear in Reunion with people aggressively blaming the recklessness of the deceased. The warning sign was vandalized. He was not reckless. He just tried it.

His close friends are not going to get over the loss any time soon. In a similar circumstance, one of them could not carry on with his studies a few years ago after a shark attack tore apart another young college friend also called Alexandre. So we are always apprehensive when news of shark attacks are released hoping the victim is not one of the close friends, especially Alexandre. This time, the news in the press reads: Alexandre, commonly known as Krapo, very popular sportsman on the west coast. ….. Heart-breaking and painful to see his tall body wrapped in a plastic bag.

In a few days, on the beach of St Gilles, in the early morning, a solitary melancholic tall handsome young man with a body board tucked under his arm, will be pacing up and down, waiting for his friends to join him.

In a few days, I will put flowers and leave a poem on his tomb, addressed to a boy:

Alexandre, petit crapaud de grosses vagues

Je suis effondrée …

In Reunion and in Paris, his friends are devastated.

His father, a French policeman in Reunion, will certainly be granted three days off to mourn the loss of his son.

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