©DEV VIRAHSAWMY AND ICJM
DUTY TO REMEMBER AND INNOVATE
If it is praiseworthy to remember the past, we must not be obsessed by it. If it is our duty to remember the inhumanity humanity is capable of (slavery, semi-slavery, attempts to set up apartheid in our country, modern slavery, atrocities and crimes), we must be fully aware of new realities and challenges which demand a new mindset and a new plan of action.
We were once a land-based republic. This is no longer the case. We have become a maritime republic owning and controlling 2.3 million square kilometres of sea and so must manage all these new resources in a new and creative way. From a land-plodding species, we must evolve into a seafaring nation. What does this mean? Master fully this new birthright; be fully at ease in an environment which has moved from the background to the foreground; learn to use the new resources to ensure our survival; study and use properly marine biology and marine engineering. In a nutshell, develop a new culture so as to be in our freshly endowed and newly acquired environment like a fish in water. This is tantamount to a major culture shift which will transform education, training, customs and mindset. Worshipping the past and not grasping the new reality is a way to ruin and perdition.
Global warming and climate change will bulldoze away old habits and reflexes in terms of production and use of energy. A new approach to land and country planning is to be contemplated with special emphasis on locally centered economies ensuring that each region, municipality or district is endowed with agricultural, industrial, political, educational, cultural, service and health facilities which are all sustainable and life-sustaining. For transportation and inland travel there must be an increased reliance on muscle and solar power. Creativity and innovation will have increasing importance.
Food security is to be considered as a top priority. The whole world will soon face scarcity. We will not survive if continue to rely on imported food at 80% of our needs. It should however be clear that food security is not to be construed in terms of producing staples we habitually consume (rice and wheat flour) but more in terms of new staples which are cassava, corn, potato and breadfruit based. It should also include a new food culture which will help us face medical conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Nutritionists and chefs will become cultural icons and education will highlight the benefits of good nutrition as opposed to junk food.
Several decades after independence, we are still not a nation although we have much in common. We are all immigrants living on Creole islands (Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega etc.). We have a common language (Morisien), a national music and dance (Sega), a unique food culture made of ingredients from all over the world, our different religions have much in common and yet we prefer to focus on difference in rituals, dress and mores. And worst of all, we place a high premium on pretence in order not to face reality. Consequently racism, communalism, homophobia, male chauvinism and hypocrisy are rife preventing us from charting a new course in line with the needs of the time.
DO THEY KNOW?
Recently I heard the Prime Minister and the President lecturing to young people in a bland and uninspiring language and tone reminiscent of days gone by. The times have changed and they don’t know. Paterfamilias and materfamilias content and delivery run like water on a taro leaf (fey sonz). Young people today have a different culture and outlook and if we want them to listen to us we must first of all drop the arrogant and patriarchal style of “I know better”. Then we must address their aspirations and preoccupations. What are they?
Since the fall of the Berlin wall, the dominant ideology is that we have reached the end of history and henceforth the capitalist system will last for ever. According to the same ideology capitalism will penetrate every nook and corner without opposition; class does not exist; only individuals exist. Consequently, individualism and selfishness are the motive forces of growth. Most media outlets distill and disseminate these beliefs unopposed and most young people think this is the very essence of freedom and should not be in any way associated with conditioning and brainwashing. Consequently, most of them believe Marxism is a dirty word.
At school these are taught as absolute truths that cannot be questioned.
Those who do not go to school and are either employed or, for a very great number, are looking for work in vain for they are not properly trained or jobs are not available, look for immediate gratification in whatever possible ways. ‘Be rich’ is the song that tops the hit parade; ‘having’ is what matters; ‘being’ is rotting away in a dungeon.
Global warming and climate change do not seem to bother most of the young people; some may even believe it’s a hype. Once I told an assembly of six formers in a prestigious school that everything which they consumed had been borrowed from their yet unborn grandchildren. Some of them became aggressive and chose insults instead of arguments. I then realised that my words had shaken, rocked and disturbed their comfort zone and they didn’t like that.
Quite a few people tell them that the answer to the dramatic ecological disaster at our threshold is to be found in science and technology. This is true to some extent. What we should tell them is that a major culture shift is indispensable; that cupidity and greed should be replaced by solidarity and sharing. But solidarity and sharing are retrograde ideas for them. One university student told me once that he saw no reason why he should share his knowledge with others. He believed that amassing knowledge and keeping everything to himself was more profitable to his personal bright future.
Don’t tell our young people that we need to build a new culture and lifestyle. It will anger most of them. Don’t tell them that a new food culture will not only give us security but will also help us to enjoy a better health. Most of them will pour venom on you. Most of them are addicted to fattening fast food made in USA. There is now a new brand of young politicians who think that campaigning through Facebook is the lifeblood of democracy. They have never heard of mass education and grassroots activities. They don’t believe in debates on burning issues. They think that the electorate will eventually vote for them for they are young and beautiful.
We must tell our youths who we really are: a nation of immigrants living on a Creole island. We must tell them what they do not want to hear: global warming, climate change and a substantial rise in sea level mean that tomorrow will not be like today. It will be much, much worse. Not only here but throughout the planet. A lot of young people think that because they are educated, they will be able to emigrate to greener pastures. We must tell them that they are mistaken. We will have to build our promised land here. Human beings need grand ideas and ideals to drive them to action.
Mauritius is neither Little France nor Little India. It can become a rainbow nation if all men and women, young and old learn to share, work and live together.
Postscript: I wander whether many young people will read this opinion piece. How will the few who read this react? Will they say it is the drivel of a ‘vie siko’?
YOUTH AND POLITICS
Several voices have recently spoken on the need to get young people involved actively in the national efforts which aim at improving living conditions and general happiness. Most young people cannot be bothered, busy as they are with their studies or their smart phones. But the call has not fallen altogether on deaf ears. Two groups can be identified: head-in-the-cloudwalas and feet-on-the-groundwalas.
The head-in-the-cloudwalas are a new breed of aspiring politicians with bloated ambition, nitwit brains, little or no experience and enormous egos powered by arrogance. Their main line of action is to sweep all ‘old’ politicians and leaders into the dustbin of history to make place for the young and beautiful, a manifesto based on ageism and nothing more. They have no knowledge of how society functions; they know nothing about the dialectical relationship between the economy and the state; they believe that state and government are one and the same thing; they think capitalism is permanent and immutable, has always existed and will always exist; they see themselves as unshakable stalwarts of virtue, principles and truth and they regularly spew out mouthfuls of abuse on their seniors or anyone who does not agree with them.
They are easily recognisable by the following. They’ve been to university and that makes them learned; they don’t think they can learn anything from anybody who has not been to a university; they know only a few bits from their areas of study and they think they know it all; they find grassroots work repugnant and unnecessary; they are born leaders predestined to run the country and so believe existing leaders, these old fogeys, fuddy-duddies (vie siko), these dinosaurs should have the decency to step down and out. They tweet and expect Facebook electoral miracles. They see themselves as national leaders with divine rights who deserve parliamentary seats and ministerial positions if and only if present incumbents kick the hell out of here.
The feet-on-the-groundwalas have a good knowledge of their environment, are aware of their limits and are keen to learn from their elders without relinquishing their dreams. They try to bridge the gap between generations, denominations, professions, localities, genders and orientations and are already good local and regional leaders with grassroots experience who by sheer hard work, perseverance and dedication will become, in a not too distant future, good national leaders. These are the leaders we can rely on for the future. They are not big-headed; they are open-minded; they will be able to cope with fast-changing reality.
There is no doubt that their influence will grow because they represent a blend of theory and practice. They will play active parts in the democratisation of the economy; in ensuring food security; in building and strengthening gender democracy; in developing the new culture much needed to face global warming and climate change; in promoting an innovating spirit to help us adapt to the needs of a maritime reality; in transcending ethnic loyalty to foster a national identity.
Our national poet, Malcolm de Chazal, used to condemn our inclination to feed prejudices. We have allowed racism, communalism and sexism to harass and hurt our brothers and sisters. Now some unscrupulous mentally-deranged brigand want to persecute people just because they carry many years on their shoulders. And they have the cheeks to talk of meritocracy and Mauritianism.
A HARD RAIN’S A-GONNA FALL
Oh, where have you been, my blue eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways…
And it’s hard, and it’s hard, it’s hard, and it’s hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall (Bob Dylan)
What we are experiencing today in terms of stress, uncertainty, insecurity and frustration is nothing compared to what we will experience in a not too distant future when we will have to face the full blown effects of global warming and climate change. We all love our comfort zones but it is in moments of great distress that new energies are liberated and, as we are forced to get out of the rut of routine and old habits, we invent new means to survive and help others survive. A few years ago I discovered something that revealed the humanity that is found deep in our hearts. When my father was a late teenager, he fathered a child with an Afro-Creole girl. His parents quickly arranged a marriage with a Telugu girl to save the ‘honour’ of the family. My father’s illegitimate first child was not recognised. A couple of years later I was born and as my parents were not civilly married, I too was illegitimate but as the true-blue Telugu boy had to be recognised, they were quickly civilly married. That was, in those days, ‘quite normal’. All this, we must remember, happened during World War II when there was food shortage and severe rationing. My very conservative Babam (paternal grandmother) used to sneak food from the pantry to feed the unacknowledged castaway child. We tend to think of the gall in us and yet there is hidden somewhere much milk of human kindness. Father Gerard Sullivan, victim of a hit and run accident, will, I am sure, not contradict me for was he not ‘saved’ by sex workers and transvestites. That generous aspect of human nature is beautifully, graphically and convincingly described in John Steinbeck’s novel, ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’.
But more often than not, when a situation turns out to be messy and complex, we hear condescending do-gooders use slogans and cliches such as ‘we must educate people who are ignorant’ or ‘people must change their mindsets’ as if changes are brought about with the touch of a magic wand. These bigotry champions, so eager to pay lip service, never bother to find out why and how people are kept in the dark and why they think and behave the way they do.
EDUCATION AND MINDSET CHANGE
In a simple, easy go lucky world, a few oral instructions may yield satisfactory results but would they work in a world which is getting maze-like. In such a world, oral instructions must be supported by writing and reading. The question then arises. In such a context what strategy and pedagogy do we use to educate the masses? The present dispensation in our country has only succeeded in producing 30% of functional literates, 50% of semi-literates and 20% of non-literates. To raise the standard of general education we must aim at universal functional literacy first. A steep uphill fight! Can this be achieved by using one or more foreign languages as medium to develop literacy skills? Will the do-gooders accept that mother tongue literacy is the foundation on which modern education should be built?
Our mindset is to a very large extent determined by economic, political, social and cultural realities and yet the ‘mindset-changewalas’ want a change in mindset that keeps reality intact. I leave it to my readers to gauge their intelligence and integrity.
Yet major dramatic changes are behind the door because the powerful who were responsible for many crimes against humanity such as slavery, colonisation and genocide are now ruthlessly destroying life in order to make more money. The consequences will be disastrous to all of us.
Yes, Bob Dylan was prophetic when he wrote that song.
“And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?”
“I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the deepths of the deepest dark forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters”
“Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where the souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number”
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”