Lessons from the life of my late mother
( Part V)
Self-sufficiency was the mantra which saved her and her six children
NORMALLY work stopped at sunset. Only on rare occasions did we go out to fetch water from the public tap, some 100 metres away from our hut. During the dry seasons, we helped mother to water the vegetables even after nightfall. It was fun carrying water in buckets ((“gamelle” in Creole dialect)). Land was very scarce. Our hut was built on a small patch. So, not much land was left for cultivation. But, it’s only now that with the wisdom of hindsight that I realize that my mother was a real “young farmer” of the 1970s. She didn’t have any schooling or training. She learnt farming the hard way through trial and error and especially through the experience of my father. Life was her best university. More so, poverty and necessity drove her to learn quickly in order to survive and in order to feed her six small children. So, each and every inch of land was utilized for good purpose. As far as vegetables were concerned, the family was almost self-sufficient. On and off, she went to the Vacoas market — some five kilometres away — to buy some extra vegetables which she couldn’t grow. Tomatoes, potatoes, “margoze” etc were among the rare few she had to buy. She planted “chou-chou”, chillies, “brèdes” of all sorts, “saffran”, “arouilles”, cabbages, carrots, etc, etc. Of all the vegetables, it was the “chou-chou” plants which provided “brèdes” all the year round. “Chou-chou” fruits were plentiful during the winter season. Mother dried the extra chillies, “saffran”, garlic, etc, etc and stored them to be utilized at any time of the year. Manioc and “arouilles” were all real delicacies when they were cooked. She never put pesticides or any other chemical products in the vegetable plantation. Also, she planted lots of banana trees behind the hut. Green bananas were utilized in the kitchen. The ripe ones were real treats. However, some of them were sold to fetch some more money. Behind the hut, mother had planted sugar-canes on another small area of land. Even there, she utilized each and every inch of the land. In between the sugar-cane plants called “lali” in the local jargon, she planted “saffran” and “arouilles” during the intercrop season. After the harvest, she planted potatoes, maize, tomatoes, beans, callebasse, cucumber, etc, etc all along the “lali” also called “sale” and “propre”. The “sale” “lali” meant the area where dry leaves from the sugar-cane plants were stored. They decayed after sometime. They served as valuable compost to improve the quality of the soil. The “propre” was the clean area in between the sugar-cane plants. So, the “sale” areas were utilized for “arouilles” and “saffran” cultivation. They take many, many months to ripen. They were usually harvested after six months. The leaves of the “arouilles” also served as “brèdes songe”. But the wonder of all the vegetable plants were undoubtedly the “chou-chou”. They grow naturally and easily. They multiply by themselves. No need to have new plantations. The old “chou-chou” germinates by itself. So, there were always plenty of plants. And then, the offshoots, the fruits and even the roots are all utilized in the kitchen. Only a few roots grow into big ones. They are called “cambar”. They are the tastiest of all the vegetables. True, they were very, very rare. They were harvested in the last quarter of the year. Mother always cooked “pouree” when she cooked a good curry of “cambar”. So, as stated, “chou-chou” plants were like the sacred cow of the family. Nothing was wasted. The cow’s milk served as valuable food. Its urine and waste served as manure to enrich the quality of the soil. And in European countries, it’s meat, skin and bones are all made use of. In the same way, waste materials of the house and the yard were all dumped at the roots of the banana trees. They, too, served as useful compost — after sometime. Those were days when the village road was clean because all the villagers cleaned the portion in front of their yards. All of them, utilized the waste materials to transform them into manure. In other words, mother taught us to be self-sufficient in life. To utilize each and every inch of the land. Not to waste time, energy, money and useful materials. It was a real beauty to see the hut in the midst of the greenery. It’s totally different today. Too much land is wasted. People have a tendency to buy small things which they themselves can easily produce on their land. Had we all learnt a lesson or two from our grandparents of the 1940s, things would have been totally different for our country. We would not have imported so many foodstuffs which we ourselves, could have produced here. For my mother, self-sufficiency was the real mantra which saved her and all the six children. All said, we learnt to work hard, stand up on our own feet and live in the midst of greenery. So important for the frame of mind.
(To be continued)
Jan Vani’s Travails
Jan Vani, the only standard Hindi Weekly in the country will soon complete its fourth year of existence. It was founded on October 20th 2001. Everybody knows in which conditions the paper was conceived. But from time to time, it is good to refresh readers’ memories. Otherwise why should we talk of “Down Memory Lane”! Our sojourn on planet Earth is marked by events and factors which, in some cases are the result of our own desires, wishes, thoughts and planning. There are others which are beyond our control and we have no other choice but to accept the inevitable.
Time marches on and it has to be filled. We cannot live in a vacuum. And each individual or group of people, nation or country has a tryst with destiny to use the famous quote of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Jan Vani too is born out of the same secret pact with destiny.
It is a secret for no one that after having laboriously worked upon the setting up of the World Hindi Secretariat — a project which had lied dormant for 23 years since its proposal in 1975 — piloted and seen to the legislation of a carefully crafted Parliamentary Bill, I was ousted from the project in September 2001 by the previous government.
I found myself suddenly in a void after four years of committed work on the World Hindi Secretariat which I had undertaken with a missionary zeal. Earlier in 2001, Harish Boodhoo had called in, at the Sunday Vani office, a small committee of Hindi lovers to seriously contemplate the setting up of a Hindi newspaper as there was none on the scene worth the name. That was around April 2001. After a frenzied deliberation, the views, opinions and thoughts emitted were so dark and desperate that the project was shelved. The picture painted by some was so grim, negative and depressing that we did not talk about it again. It was a discouraging spirit. When I was ejected out of the World Hindi Secretariat, the Sunday Vani group held a consultative meeting and again brought the proposal of bringing out a Hindi newspaper. I was assigned the challenging job of creating, planning and setting it up. There was a team which this time appeared more enthusiastic. The feasibility was worked out. Given the great love of Hindi in Mauritius and the fact that Hindi is well-anchored and there is a wide network of schools, run on a voluntary level, with about 1100 active primary school teachers teaching Hindi and some hundreds of graduates and thousands of students studying it, the expectations were great. The enthusiasm manifested was encouraging and promising.
Armed with this solid support we set out to launch the Jan Vani on October 20, 2001. The venue chosen was the hall of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation. A huge and distinguished audience attended the launching ceremony. It included the Indian High Commissioner Shri Vijay Kumar and his wife Dr Vrinda, the Deputy Indian High Commissioner Sri Atul Khare and his wife Vandana, the Director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, Shri Madan Mohan Sharma, the Heads of Socio-Cultural Organisations, Pandits and Panditas from the various denominations and hundreds of Hindi lovers and sympathisers.
But later, we would learn that the government of the day was not happy with the presence of the Indian diplomats at the function!
history And Fate Of Hindi Newspapers
The history and fate of Hindi newspapers in this country is a long travail dating almost a century. The Hindi press in Mauritius can boast to be a glorious 96 years old. At a conference organised by the OSSREA Mauritius Chapter earlier this year on “Media and Democracy in an Age of Transition”, in collaboration with the University of Mauritius, I was asked to participate and present a paper on “What is the significance of the Emergence of an Ethnic Press?” Some extracts are worthwhile highlighting at this juncture.
“Since the launching of the Hindusthani in 1909, there have been a multitude of newspapers _ fortnightlies, weeklies and dailies which have given a forum not only to the Hindi/Bhojpuri speaking people but to the majority community on the whole. But their appearance has been intertwined with, no doubt, the struggle of the labouring class, their socio-cultural, educational, economic and political emancipation. However, the meagre economic resources of the Indian masses of descendants of indentured immigrants could not sustain these newspapers. Some 38 newspapers in Hindi, English and French (some bi-lingual and others tri-lingual) have appeared for a short period but folded for lack of financial support controlled by the plantocrats and lack of management skills."
The last in the long list of Hindi newspapers to have appeared was Swadesh in the 1980s which ran for seven years. Hindi newspapers like Zamana from 1948 to 1977 and Janata from 1948 to 1982, carried articles in English and French as well.They were political, social and cultural.
Zamana And Janata
It is interesting to note that the Zamana and Janata were competing papers. In the sense that they were the organs of two warring political personalities. While Janata was the Hindi antenna of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Zamana was created by the Bissoondoyal brothers. One would note that both, more or less had the same lifespans. While Janata a bi-weekly had as editor the eminent Jay Narain Roy with the first number appearing on 4 May 1948, Zamana came into being on 18 June 1948 and was a fortnightly with B. Bucktowarsingh as its editor. Somdath Bhuckory writes in his book “Hindi in Mauritius” that Janata is generally regarded as an offshoot of the daily Advance.
When The Hindusthani started, precisely on 15 March 1909 it was run first of all as a weekly and appeared at first in English and Gujrati and later in English and Hindi. From 1910 to 1914 it appeared as a daily. It had three successive Hindi editors, Narsing Das, Pandit Ramawadh and Pandit Atmaram. Again it was financial troubles which led to its closing down in 1914.
Other Hindi Newspapers
The Mauritius Arya Patrika which was started by Arya Samaj with the help of Manilal Doctor lasted from 1911 to 1913. It reappeared in 1924 and lasted till 1940. Other newspapers like The Oriental Gazette started in 1912 was in constant controversy with The Hindusthani. Somdath Bhuckory writes: “It is said that it (Oriental Gazette) was partly responsible for the disappearance of the latter but that it itself soon followed its rival to the grave”. The Mauritius Indian Times was founded in 1920 and lasted till 1924. It appeared in English and Hindi. The Mauritius Mitra founded in 1924 by Rajcoomar Gujadhur appeared till 1932. It was also an English-Hindi daily. It was a Sanatanist voice in response to the Mauritius Arya Patrika. Other Hindi newspapers included the Arya Vir (1929-1945) started by Pandit Kashinath Kistoe, the Sanatan Dharmark (1933-1942), Jagriti (1939-1945), Arya Vir-Jagriti (1945-1950), Sainik (1946-1947). Mazdur was a fortnightly founded by Pandit H. Ramnarain with Ramsoondur Baboolall as editor. Navjeewan started in October 1960 by S.M Bhagat and Bikramsing Ramlallah lasted till 13 July 1964.
The Aryoday started by Arya Samaj in 1950 is a weekly bi-lingual (Hindi-english) which carries views and articles related to the teachings, activities and doctrine of Arya Samaj.
There have also been a number of literary and cultural magazines and publications in Hindi from time to time.
Akrosh is a monthly publication of the Government Hindi Teachers’ Union (GHTU) which carries articles in Hindi, English and French.
The Mahatma Gandhi Institute brings out two literary publications — Vasant and Rimjhim in Hindi.
The Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation is also making an effort to bring out a monthly in Hindi, English and French.
Why Did The Ramgoolam And Bissoondoyal Newspapers Die?
It is interesting and disconcerting to learn that Janata and Zamana, both founded by such stalwarts of the political world as Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Pandit Basdeo and MLA Sookdeo Bissoondoyal could not survive due to financial constraints. The Bissoondoyal brothers have had such a wide following in the rural areas. Then, why did not the Zamana survive? Why didn’t all the great Bissoondoyalists support the paper and stop its demise? Likewise for Janata. The Labour supporters comprising of thousands of Hindi lovers and big wealthy families could not bring themselves to stop the demise of Janata not to speak of the historical Advance. Why? That is the question. The enemies were more from within the fold than from outside.
When Manilal Doctor started The Hindusthani on Monday 15 March 1909 he had lofty ideals. In an article “The Need for this Paper” the editors write “Indeed there are too many newspapers existing, but there is not one in this colony which does not serve a special interest or a special class of people be they oligarchs or “Action Libérale” or something else. We notice the need of a paper that will consider the interests of the Hindusthani settlers of this colony as of no less importance than those of others.”
When The Hindusthani started its first issue, it declared: “We beg to declare that our paper does not favour any particular race, sect or people”.
Jan Vani — “Voice of the People” is the first standard Hindi daily of this millennium and this century in Mauritius. It has the merit to be completely in Hindi and comprises sixteen pages. Initially, we started with a four-paged colour newspaper of 24 pages but with the financial constraints we dropped the colour and came out as a 16-paged black and white tabloid.
Jan Vani appears regularly every Friday morning giving coverage to a wide gamut of items — international and local news, features, literary activities and views, poetry, cinema, fashion, recipe, youth, sports including football forecasts, travel, students’ corner, quiz, horoscope and culture in general. I have run an editorial in Hindi regularly on salient issues of the day including political trends, economy, finance, budget, socio-cultural issues such as rape, child molestation, social problems, squatters’ problems, women, education, art, the spiralling prices, Sale by Levy issue, corruption and scandals of NPF, the death of ECO, the language issue etc. We have campaigned energetically for the consideration of Hindi and other Asian languages at CPE level. We have supported Mr Satyhudeo Tengur’s moves in Mauritius and at the Privy Council.
We regularly give space to local writers, young and established as well as writers from India and the Indian diaspora. Jan Vani hardly gets any publicity. We depend on the meagre adverts that Sunday Vani gets. And that also is being suppressed. As for myself and Harish we do not claim a single cent either from Sunday Vani or Jan Vani. I have been contributing on a voluntary basis for these past so many years, but taken my work as a mission. Had we received adequate adverts and the Hindi World shown itself to be more supportive and magnanimous than at present, then we could have employed more journalists and reporters and increased the range of news and coverage. If, reading books is a poor habit of this age, the reading world of Hindi is more preoccupying and disquieting.
When The Hindusthani started in the first decade of the last century, one could understand the prevailing grim situation with very few literate not only in English and French but equally in Hindi and the financial situation of the Hindi/Bhojpuri speaking desperate. Today in 2005, Hindi is taught at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. It gets state patronage. It is one of the planks of political platforms. It is the medium of socio-cultural and religious activities. It is profusely used on TV and radios and Hindi films and songs are very popular. Then, what differentiates the fate of Jan Vani from that of “The Hindusthani”, 91 years after the latter’s demise?