India as Viewed by Mauritian Writers

Vatsala Radhakeesoon
India is the ancestral land of many Mauritians. Though the largest group of Indians came as indentured labourers to Mauritius in 1834 during the British colonization period, a strong bond and a sense of brotherhood have remained between India and Mauritius up till now. On the occasion of the 71st (70th) Independence Day of India, I have the greatest pleasure to bring forth the views of some Mauritian writers about India. They are namely Pushmaotee Subrun, Amarnath Hosany and
George Lewis Easton.

So here goes an enriching conversation with those inspirational personalities.
Vatsala Radhakeesoon: What first comes to your mind when you hear the word or country “India”?

Pushmaotee Subrun: India, being my favourite destination, makes me feel something mystical with its myriads of cultures, mesmerising hill stations like Manali, Kashmir and Ooty among others, making me wonder at the amazing creation of the Lord… Incredible India, where the eyes are soothed, admiring the hills, dales and valleys of scenic beauty and above all, the Grand Himalayas with not only the topmost peak in the world but also being home to ten of the fourteen highest peaks in the world.
India, the land of the birth of the Lord in different manifestations, not forgetting rishi munis, saints and great poets of epics and legends, lures me to visit it repeatedly and feel the Lord’s presence in the holy places such as Vaishno Devi, Golden Temple, Dwarika, Rameswaram with its carved pillared hallway, Trichy, Mayapur, Jaganath Puri, Daksineswar, Velankani, Sarnath and Varanasi to name a few.
And to add to the attractions, this land of fascinating art and architecture since ages, places such as the Ellora and Ajanta Caves, the Taj Mahal, (one of the wonders of the world), and the temples in the south, displaying love, patience, perseverance, and dedication, to be able to come up with magnificent creations of temples such as Meenakshi Temple, Thanjavur, Rameswaram Temple and many others, are all simply too grand to be described. They are like magnets inviting me to feast my eyes on their splendid creation.

Amarnath Hosany: It is the image of a great country with a vast historical and cultural background, celebrating marvelous festivities such as Holi and Diwali which convey human values like brotherhood and sharing. Being a hindu, I have experienced these values since my childhood and I am very fortunate indeed. I was therefore blessed and honoured to have been able to visit this great country for a few days in 2005. I was invited by the “Media and Communication Research Foundation’ for the launching of a multimedia CD adapted from my book ‘La Terre a disparu’.

George Lewis Easton: As an academic I am fascinated by “India”, either the country or the word, what it connotes in terms of space and time, its ancient and vibrant civilisation, cultural encounters and symbiosis. On a more personal level my great-grandmother on my father’s side was Anglo-Indian, born Emelda James c. 1880 in Calcutta where she met and married Charles Easton, a trader from Mauritius. She followed him to Mauritius c. 1910 and died here in 1970. She never reconnected with her homeland. I have been wondering whatever happened to her parents and others she left behind on the quay through Ceylon to follow the call of love to the forlorn island of Mauritius. The only relative she was in touch with was a cousin who used to call here on a ship until the Second World War. Hence my emotional interest in India.

 Vatsala: What fascinates you and what upsets you about the Indian culture and traditions?

 Pushmaotee : What fascinates me about Indian culture is the Indian philosophy, its literature, the great epics  The Rāmāyaṇa, the Mahābhārata, the Bhagawad Gita, which all preach spirituality.
Its religions depicting unity in diversity among the Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and tribal population, its dedication to architecture, its exquisite cuisine, its languages, music and dance, the celebration of the festivals, with great pomp ad gaiety and the great faith of the Indians are all fascinating.
When it comes to the treatment of women and Dalits I would have appreciated more fellowship. But hopefully, with the new empowerment of women and with the spread of education and growth of economics, and the change of attitude, there can be brighter futures for those who are looked down in society.

Amarnath: I am fascinated by the richness of Indian culture such as its music, dance, movies and cuisine, amongst others, which is appreciated all over the world. However, I am disappointed by the caste system, which is a blemish to the reputation of such a great nation.

George: I admire India’s long and complex history, diversity, syncretism, pluralism, resilience and manifold achievements before and after 1947. Also its sheer capacity to absorb influences and welcome modernity is its assets. Yet I am sometimes upset by some forms of extremism and intolerance and the instinct to react negatively to the challenge of democracy, pluralism and secularism.  Not ascribable as such to its people as to a few politicians and rabble rousers.

Vatsala: What are your views about Indian Economy and Politics?

Pushmaotee: In India, extreme wealth and poverty coexist. The country has three sectors to track   its economy and GDP, namely agriculture, industry, and services. At the same time, it has to deal with traditional sectors, typical of a lesser developed economy. Poverty and in addition, poor management of public finance, affect overall development. Despite the efforts taken by the government to bring equity by providing food, shelter, and basic necessities, including literacy for one and all, many people are still below poverty level.
 On the other hand, modernisation is taking place with technology and manufacturing sectors as forward-thinking as any in the world, making the country have an average annual growth of around 7 % over the previous five years, despite its setbacks. The struggle is there to provide social, economic, and political institutions to ensure justice, empowering the poor and illiterates, eliminating the social evils, to bring about communal harmony among people.  
The fact is that India is a Sovereign. It is Socialist, Secular, Democratic and a Republic. As an ever-maturing democracy, it is going forward to create a better society and nation. There could not have been a better system than Democracy to bring this progress. As the founding father Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Democracy is good because all other systems are worse.”

Political decisions have a direct impact on a country’s economy. India has emerged as a strong economic force that is commanding respect from developed nations and this is definitely due to the adoption of right policies. India’s economy is so sound that it is in a position to provide financial assistance to developing countries, Mauritius being a very good example. As a writer, my focus is inevitably on the particular attention given to the promotion of culture. As a result, India has the most prolific film industry in the world which offers job opportunities for so many actors, singers, dancers, script writers, cameramen, and so on.

George: India has a rich track record of secularism and democracy. Granted that its geopolitical predicament is such as it poses formidable internal and border challenge, I wish it could exercise restraint and not indulge in perverse social and religious stands bathing in the glories of yesteryear, and instead take stock of the progress achieved so far and harness its human and other resources for a better tomorrow. This great country deserves better indeed. As shown in a current BBC documentary by Mark Tully on the impact of Partition, real prospects not only for India but the whole region call for wise policies inspired by inclusion, toleration and mutual respect. As an islander I wish India all the best as a beacon for the African Continent and mankind at large.

Vatsala: What are your views about the mother of Indo-European languages, that is, Sanskrit?  Do you think all of us must learn this language to have a better understanding of languages?

Pushmaotee: Sanskrit is the sacred language of the ancient Vedic religions in India. It has been found that many English words have Sanskrit origins. It is rich in Literature, rich in values and rich in ideas. It integrates three of the world’s major religions.
Besides, Sanskrit has been the language of great writers, dealing with spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects of human nature, and the best possible ways to live in harmony with others. 

Hence it would certainly be worthwhile to learn Sanskrit, to have a better understanding of languages.

I have heard that Sanskrit is the language of the Gods.  So, it will be a blessing for all of us to learn this marvellous language which will help us to be closer, to appreciate each other and hopefully, the world will become a better place to live.

George: As a scholar I look upon Sanskrit as a treasure trove, just like Latin, Greek, etc. However I would not impose it on everyone for the simple reason that at this point in time one has to be realistic. As is the case with ancient languages, the motivation to learn and spread has to reckon with the current dynamic conditions prevailing in the fields of economics, politics, communication, trade and the arts. My answer to the second part of the question is that it is not necessary. People with a scholarly bent could find it desirable; otherwise living languages will come in handy. I concede it could enhance the existing legacy bequeathed to the country and the Diaspora.

Vatsala: What are your good wishes for India on its 70th (71st) Independence Day?

Pushmaotee: This year India will be proud to celebrate its 71st Independence Day as an illuminated country, as the basic electricity needs will be provided to each and every village.

On this memorable 71st Independence Day, let the radiance of the Indian flag fly high all over the country! 
May the country be always blessed with peace and prosperity!
Vande Mataram!

Firstly, May India continue to shine on its path to prosperity.
Secondly, let’s find a way to fight against the caste system. Thirdly, a humble request to Indian film-makers - Please do not lose your culture and your identity.

I wish this great country success on both national and international levels. Pragmatism, broadmindedness, a strong will to address inequalities and social dysfunctioning, promote unity in diversity and achieve diplomatic, trade, scientific success. This will go a long way towards streamlining enduring obstacles arising from prejudices, fanaticism, jingoism and indifference to the fate of the poor.

Biography: Pushmaotee Subrun

Pushmaotee Subrun was born in 1949 at Camp de Masque Pave, Mauritius. Pushmaotee attended Professor Basdeo Bissoondoyal College and later pursued higher studies in Delhi University from 1968 to 1971 where she graduated in English. For the past forty years she has worked in secondary schools, seven years of which she spent in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, teaching English in an army school. She completed her PGCE at the Mauritius Institute of Education in 1993. After her retirement, she was a member of the Council of the University of Mauritius for three years. She has written one novel Ella which was published in May 2013, Short Stories and Fables published in August 2015, one play entitled Who is Your Best Friend, published in June 2015 and launched by Ministry of Arts and Culture in February 2016. She is currently a reader and editor in the Ministry of Arts and Culture.

Biography: Amarnath Hosany

Amarnath Hosany is an employee at Municipal Council of Quatre Bornes, Mauritius. He is the author of 15 story books in the fields of children and teens fiction. He is the winner of the prestigious French literary award Prix du Livre Insulaire Ouessant 2015 for his book Le Facteur (The postman).

He has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2017 (Sweden).

He conducts various creative writing workshops in schools and NGOs of Mauritius and other French speaking countries in the Indian Ocean. He often participates in international book fairs and is also actively involved in promoting the reading culture and Arts in Mauritius.

Biography: George Lewis Easton

Currently an independent Researcher, George Lewis Easton is a former Government Archivist, Educator (French Language & Literature) and Lecturer in French history and Education Studies. He is a graduate of the University of London and holds a BA (Hons) and a Dip. Ed. He has contributed extensively over 4 decades to: Le Mauricien, L’Express, La Gazette des Iles, Italiques, Le Mag, Revi Kiltir Kreol, the Journal of the Mauritius Institute of Education and the Journal of Mauritian Studies. He co-authored, with Issa Asgarally & others, the Etude pluridisciplinaire sur l’exclusion à Maurice: Rapport final (Govt. Printer, 1997). His areas of research span French, English and Mauritian Studies with an abiding focus on educational and cultural history (American & English pop songs). He published in 2013 an illustrated ‘L’Hôtel du Gouvernement, le temps d’une histoire’ (Mon Goût, Pamplemousses Éditions, ISBN 978-99949-909-5-5). An English version ’Government House Through Time’ (ISBN 978-99949-909-4-8) is also available. He is currently finalizing ‘Western Education: Historical Perspectives from Ancient Greece to Our Times’ (21 chapters in around 50, 000 words) for late 2017/early 2018. The concluding chapter charts and discusses colonial and post-colonial education in Mauritius, addressing the combined issues of slavery, indenture and social class.

1 comment :

  1. My latest book 'A History of Western Educational Thought' (Perspectives on Education from Ancient Greece to Modern Mauritius)has meanwhile been published by Caractere Ltee(Riche Terre, Republic of Mauritius) in Sept. 2019.ISBN 978-99903-82-64-8 Price: Mauritius Rs 500 (excluding postage and packing)& available in local bookstores and straight from the author


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