The Other Side of Mauritius


By Sydney S. Chellen

Just like a coin, there are two sides to the island of Mauritius. The tourist brochures like to portray her bright side, such as her crystal-clear turquoise waters, her beautiful beaches with perfect white sand, her countless palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and smiling waiters serving cold drinks to their visitors lazing on the beach in their deck chairs soaking in the sun. Sadly, for an island usually described as paradise she has a dark side too, which is pushed under the carpet.

As she is my homeland perhaps, I should keep quiet, but to do so I will be doing her a disservice. As a Mauritian living abroad, after being away for over a quarter of a century, when I first paid her a visit, wherever I went and met old friends, relatives and even distant acquaintances including strangers, they all had two principal questions for me: How do you find Mauritius? Have you noticed any changes?

I was able to answer the second question without any problem. However, I was reluctant to answer the first question conscious of the reaction I might get if I told the truth and nothing but the truth, as I saw it.

Suddenly, I remembered, when I was only fifteen years old, I watched my first Indian movie at a cinema called Roxy, in a town named Beau-Bassin, Mauritius. The film was in Hindi and being a Tamil by birth, I understood nothing of what the actors were saying. Still, I enjoyed the singing and dancing, which are common features in Bollywood movies, and I was able to more or less make out the story line. While I won’t spoil it by revealing the title of the film, it gave me an idea. How about I adapt the story and write a novel setting it in Mauritius? Hmmm… Without much ado, I put pen to paper. Now that it is completed, I would like to share it with you. It won’t surprise me if some readers find some of its contents unpalatable or even insulting, but rest assured no offence is intended. After all, it is just my view… just as it was the view of one man who apparently led Mark Twain to say: “God created Mauritius first, and then made a copy which He called Heaven.”

Well, this is of course the rosy side. Begging the question is… did Mark Twain really say those words about Mauritius? No doubt, as proud Mauritians, we want to feel valued, to feel that we are as good as, if not better than, the rest of the world. Often when asked where we are from, we would say Mauritius proudly and refer to Mark Twain. It gives us a sense of pride—we are as good as Paradise. Unfortunately, deep in our hearts we know this is far from the truth. That said, the island the French called Ile-de-France renamed Mauritius by the British, has, admittedly, come a long way since independence and has made great progress but alas it is still far from paradise. In time though, it might probably get there.

Meanwhile, it is quite noticeable that we now have long motorways; huge shopping centres which are fairly comparable to those in Europe; and most people have been able to do away with their thatched houses and replace them with bricks and mortar; swapped their carts and bovine animals for motor bikes or cars— (which are all signs of prosperity) — but these are mere material things! The real change that is still sparse is one of attitudes, which guides our behaviour! For examples, wouldn’t it be nice:

(a) if motorists showed regard and consideration to other road users and for God’s sake be economical with the use of the horns;

(b) if pedestrians could use zebra crossings when crossing the roads, instead of behaving like they own the roads ignoring the fact that it is the motorists who pay for road building, repairs and maintenance;

(c) if checkout operators and sales assistants offered their services with a smile, understanding that customers who feel welcomed are more likely to return!

(d) if repairmen e.g., plumbers, electricians, and builders turned up to do their jobs when they say they will, or at least have the courtesy to inform their customers they won’t be able to make it and graciously offer an apology instead of ignoring or rejecting their calls.

These are basic human decorum, a basic show of respect for others. Whilst the list above submits just a few cases, they, nevertheless, illustrate my points and give an indication where changes are desperately required.

Since every novel has to have a title, I decided to call this one: Far From Paradise. In writing it, I have deliberately highlighted some of the dark sides of Mauritius, not out of malice but out of love for a country that gave me a start. I hope that my observations will bring about the necessary changes. In this novel, all characters are products of my imagination. Those who haven’t got their head buried in the sand will recognise that some elements of this work rings true, because they are based on true-life situations observed during several of my visits to Mauritius.

One important clarification: Wherever I have used the term Dodoland in the text, it does not mean that the country is heading towards the same fate as the extinct bird. It is merely a stamp, a tag referring to the fact that Mauritius is the land where the dodos once lived. Despite any negatives connotations, Mauritius has overtaken Seychelles—the first African country in the annual ranking of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)—and is currently graded as the most developed African country. Nice as it is to see Mauritius fronting the race; it would be much nicer to see her winning the final! Sadly, this is unlikely to happen until there is a huge shift in attitude from the locals!

* * *

Sydney S. Chellen was born in 1945, in the village of Beau Bois, Mauritius. He was a Senior University Lecturer, in Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, UK. During his teaching career he has written several educational books. His book: ‘The Essential Guide to the Internet for Health Professionals’ became a best seller in the UK and sold in North America. Since his retirement he has taken up writing novels. His latest novel: ‘Far From Paradise’ is published by GPS Books UK, and its

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