Abhimanyu Unnuth features in my list of influential Mauritians since 1968. The list was published in Le Mauricien (11 April 2018). Sadly, he passed away a few days ago, and I want to pay homage to this great personality. Born on 9 August 1937, Abhimanyu Unnuth was an acclaimed writer, poet and novelist. Writing mostly in Hindi, he developed his own style based on his personal experiences. He will be remembered for his novel Lal Pasina, (Blood-Red Sweat) published in 1977, a trilogy depicting the rise of political consciousness of indentured labourers in colonial Mauritius. In his writings he brought out themes such as injustice, exploitation, and the plight of the indentured labourers. His poems and essays, written in Hindi, attempt to recover the religious identity of the Bihari indentured servants. Abhimanyu was an intellectual, his deep understanding of Indian mythology and of Hinduism, are apparent in his works. He wrote with a passion and speaking the voice of the exploited on the plantations. The writings of Unnuth are a vivid reminder of our past and the challenges ahead.
Lal Pasina is a classic written in Hindi. In 2001, it was translated in French with the title Sueur de sang. The book traces the steps of the indentured Indian labourers who were brought in to work on the sugar plantations after slavery was abolished. The labourer was subjected to all kinds of injustices to a point to becoming a different personality. Colonisation broke the Indian into a slave turning labourer. Almost no distinction between the slave and the labourer. The indenture system was brutal and Unnuth unveiled the injustices and the social exclusion on the labourer. Sweat turning into blood, the author relates the dehumanisation of an individual conned by a system which promised much, but eventually destroyed the individual. Unnuth toiled as a labourer at the age of 12, alongside his parents. He had dreams and aspirations like other teenagers, it was out of the question to pursue his studies. The family laboured to make ends meet. He developed a taste for Hindi and writing became a passion. Like the artist, he found the pen to tell the story of labourer. The pain of the indentured labourers became his pain, his struggle. Every drop of sweat turned red, a vivid reminder of a new form of slavery. In Unnuth’s thought, freedom and justice were powerful concepts that led him to develop his own political consciousness. The labourer was confined to the plantation, but had a mind, the ability to liberate his mind. Like Frantz Fanon, the slave was chained, but his mind was not, and liberation was to break away from mental slavery.
Abhimanyu Unnuth never hid his emotions in his writings. His passion, anguish, torments and hardships were evident. He writes,
History turning a blind eye bore him not witness
History standing mute told not his full story
He who first had watered this land with his sweat
And turned stone into green fields of gold
The first immigrant He, son of this land
He was mine, he was yours, he was our very own.
Lal Pasina is a book of liberation and of political consciousness. Abhimanyu Unnuth left this world, but his thoughts and ideas live on. I admired him, and as a writer, I pay tribute to him. In the world of Mauritian literature, he stands out. My respect to his family and may he rest in peace.