1968 to 2020, a delightful trip down memory lane
On that particular evening of the 11th August 2020, 80-year old Mr. Joseph was sitting on his swing chair, watching the news. He clenched his fist as he saw shocking images of the MV Wakashio oil spill that occurred offshore of Pointe D’Esny a few days back. The old man who was once a fisherman, frowned his face and let out a long sigh of despair as he thought about the possible environmental damage.
“Hey Son, did you get a new haircut?” asked Mr. Joseph to his 21-year old grandson, Christopher, as he got distracted on seeing the latter packing a few things hurriedly. “Yes grandpa! There has been a collection of hair today at the university and thousands of volunteers will be going at the Mahebourg waterfront tomorrow to build artisanal booms… We need to combat the spill! ”
Mr. Joseph felt elated on hearing same and boasted with pride: “Well-done my son! I admire the solidarity of every Mauritian citizen willing to protect our coral reefs and turquoise water. ” Christopher felt motivated on hearing same and added further: “Don’t worry grandpa, we are also getting the support of experts from other countries – we will overcome this crisis for sure!”
Since Mr. Joseph’s wife passed away a few years ago, he found it difficult to move in with his son and daughter-in-law (Christopher’s parents) because he was too attached to his ancestral house. Given this difficult situation and as a way to show his support as the only grandchild of Mr. Joseph, Christopher decided to shift at his grandfather’s place.
Later on that evening, after both Mr. Joseph and Christopher had dinner, the latter heard his grandfather humming the Mauritian national anthem jovially. Christopher smiled, trying to decipher the reason behind Mr. Joseph’s happiness. “I cannot express how proud I am feeling right now to see how Mauritians, especially youths like you, have mobilized to save our island… This reminds me of myself years back when I was among thousands who had gone at the Champs de Mars to celebrate Mauritius’ Independence Day, on the 12th March 1968.
You cannot imagine how excited and patriotic we all felt to see our quadricolour flag flying for the first time! ” narrated Mr. Joseph ecstatically.
Christopher nodded enthusiastically as Mr. Joseph was busy reminiscing about this memorable event. “In the 52 years since independence, we have had eleven free and open elections and have seen harmonious transfers of power” said Mr. Joseph gladly.
“That’s true grandpa, this is why it does not come as a surprise when Mauritius is continuously cited as an example of political stability and unity, having managed to ensure that its various ethnic groups, which include Muslims, Creoles, Hindus, Franco-Mauritians and Sino-Mauritians continue to coexist peacefully ”said Christopher agreeably.
The old man lowered his head and after having paused momentarily, he added: “the only time I can recall our island being in social instability was in 1999 when the popular local singer Kaya died in police custody. This unfortunate event was followed by four days of rioting among different ethnic groups in our island and it was a challenge for the government to calm down spirits. ”
Christopher had briefly heard of this mass rioting in Mauritius but now that his grandfather was talking about same, he wanted to know more. “What were the consequences of the riots, grandpa? asked the young man eagerly.
“Well my son, shops were looted, houses and vehicles were set on fire, 250 prisoners had escaped prison and many people were injured … I remember clearly about the intervention of the President Cassam Uteem on Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation television which seemed to help in overcoming the social unrest… ”said Mr. Joseph is a rather serious tone.
Various thoughts raced through Christopher’s mind as he continued to listen intently about the 1999 Mauritian riots and the young man finally deduced: “this event must have indeed been a terrible experience for most Mauritians at that time but I am also sure that it has served as a reminder to all of us that our country’s strength lies in our unity. ”
“You’re definitely right, son… In fact, as a legacy to this painful phase in our country’s history, a monument to the riot and Kaya’s death of two crossed guitars stands at the entrance to the Roche-Bois neighborhood of Port Louis… You should visit same with your friends someday ”replied Mr. Joseph while patting his grandson’s back.
For one moment, Christopher felt grateful to have been born and grown up in a period where Mauritius had already progressed significantly since independence. “I am sure that our island must have gone through many more difficult times, right grandpa?” asked Christopher, who seemed to be in a reflective mood.
Mr. Joseph’s eyes widened and his memory flashed to the times when Mauritius was hit by cyclones. “Back in the day, we were taught how to be happy despite living in austerity… Our houses were not mad
e of concrete like today’s houses and yes, there were quite a few cyclones which caused much damage to the island .. ”said Mr. Joseph in a stern tone.
The old man took a long breath, sipped some water from his glass and continued “I can still vividly remember the chaos caused by cyclones like Gervaise in 1975, Claudette in 1979 and Hollanda in 1994… These cyclones left thousands of Mauritians in the dark and homeless for days and many families became short of basic amenities such as clean water and food ”narrated Mr. Joseph with a grim expression on his face.
The description of the cyclones and their dramatic domino effects instantly pushed Christopher to dwell on a very unpleasant experience that he lived as a secondary school student a few years back. It was on the 30th March 2013 when Mauritius was hit by torrential rainfall causing a deadly flash flood for the first time in Port Louis. Christopher was on his way back home from tuitions on that Saturday afternoon when scenes around him petrified him. The floods caused a lot of damage to buildings, vehicles, shops and worse, eleven people lost their lives during the flash floods. The 1st April 2013 was declared a day of mourning for the whole nation. This tragic event incited the population to become more aware of the dramatic impacts of climate change on small islands like Mauritius.
During the same year, while the population was still recovering from the terrible flash floods and its aftermath, another distressing incident had struck our island. Christopher could still remember hearing the news of a serious bus accident at the height of Soreze at Pailles making rounds across the island on Friday morning, 3rd May 2013. Ten people were killed and forty-five people were injured during the accident. The young adult seemed oddly distracted while recalling these two painful events and his absent-mindedness soon became noticeable by his grandfather.
“Where are you lost, son?” asked Mr. Joseph as he waved his wrinkled hands at his grandson. Christopher did not want to talk about it to Mr. Joseph because the latter was also in Port-Louis on the day of the flash flood and he was much traumatized by the event. Instead, Christopher decided to distract his own mind by asking his grandfather about eminent personalities who visited our island since independence.
“Now that is a lovely question!” exulted Mr. Joseph as he started counting on his fingers before saying: “Since independence its in 1968 and after a year of glory in 1992 when Mauritius became a republic, we have had many famous people who graced the Mauritian soil… Some of them were her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip, world soccer star player Pele, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and Pope John Paul II. ”
“At that time, we would go in large numbers just to get a glimpse of these great personalities!” exclaimed Mr. Joseph with awe.
“I think I can connect with what you are saying grandpa… I remember being hugely inspired and elated during the visit of Pope Francis in Mauritius in 2019” replied Christopher with joy before continuing: “It was definitely a memorable day for thousands of Mauritians irrespective of their race and religion, who had gathered to celebrate the diversity and tolerance of Mauritius together with Pope Francis. ”
“This is the beauty of our multicultural island my son… We have been taught to celebrate our island’s success and blessings as one people and as one nation despite our ethnic differences”, don’t you agree son? asked Mr. Joseph smilingly.
“You’re correct grandpa” replied an assertive Christopher. “Do you still remember how thrilled every Mauritian felt when the boxer Bruno Julie won the first-ever Olympic medal for our island in 2008 ?!” said Christopher excitedly and he continued by emphasizing on the euphoric atmosphere that reigned over the island when Mauritius won the 2019 Indian Ocean Island Games for the first time since 1979.
Both the grandfather and grandson were still conversing with each other about Mauritius’ success story in the field of sports when the telephone rang. It was Christopher’s best friend who had called to inform him that he was finally back home following two-weeks of quarantine. The latter was among the many Mauritians who were repatriated from different countries during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. While Christopher felt relieved and content about the fact that he could now meet his best friend without any fear, Mr. Joseph looked visibly worried.
“My heart still aches for the ten persons who lost their lives in Mauritius to the coronavirus… I wonder when will this pandemic end… The confinement has been hard for many people and I really hope that jobs do not become at risk” said Mr. Joseph in a sad tone.
Christopher clearly knew that his grandfather has been quite frantic about the C …
Writer: Angkush Poonye