ASSAD BHUGLAH

Every year, in the context of the Aapravasi Day, the Islamic Cultural Centre in collaboration with the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, has made it a tradition to honour the memory of Dr Idrice Goumany who lost his life while saving the lives of the Indian indentured labourers who were infected with small pox. The word ‘aapravasi’ means immigrant. Dr Idrice Goumany himself was a descendant of an Indian immigrant who came to Port Louis during the French colonial rule to work as lascar (seaman/ship repairer/port guard). Last year, a book entitled “Dr Idrice Goumany: the forgotten hero of Mauritius” written by the undersigned was launched. This year, the same author has written a drama in Kreol on this historic figure so that it can enrich the local literature.

Synopsis of the Drama

The story unfolds in 1880s when Mauritius, a colony of Great Britain, does not yet have electricity and the only means of connectivity with the outside world is by maritime transport. It is a great leap forward for Dr IDRICE AMEER GOUMANY, who comes from a modest family of Indian origin, to acquire professional education abroad in an environment of injustices and discrimination against people non-white background.

DR IDRICE AMEER GOUMANY, after having successfully completed his studies in medicine in Scotland, could have seized the opportunity to stay in Europe to carve a better future for himself. But he returns to Mauritius as he is motivated by the spirit to serve his fellow citizens.

The citizens of Camp des Lascars, including members of Goumany family, welcome Dr Goumany like a hero as soon as he disembarks from the ship at the harbour of Port Louis. It is a moment of joy and pride for his fellow citizens because they now have a doctor of proximity in their midst. This will spare them from the hassles discrimination and humiliation meted out to them by doctors belonging to the bourgeoisie/oligarchy class. His fellow citizens have high expectations on Dr Goumany who manifests keen interest in playing a social advocacy role on their behalf.

The return of Dr Goumany instils a ray of new hope in the financially-strained Goumany family. The parents of Dr Goumany had to contract a huge loan to finance the overseas education of their son. There is a general acknowledgement that the sacrifice endured by the Goumany family has finally been rewarded. The mother of Dr Goumany believes that she can now be relieved from her financial burden of a debt still non-reimbursed.

But destiny has its own twist. Mauritius is plagued by smallpox disease which takes toll on lives of many people. The situation gets complicated with frequent arrival of ships transporting indentured labourers from India. Among them, many are infected with deadly diseases. The colonial government takes strict sanitary measures to protect the population and, accordingly, isolate all the smallpox-infected passengers to the Quarantine of Pointe aux Cannoniers.

The situation at the quarantine is even worse. Sick passengers are being dumped, but the quarantine is operating without any doctor. Despite several appeals made by the colonial government, no doctor is willing to treat these patients. Finally, the colonial government approaches the young Dr Goumany who has become a notable figure in his locality. Dr Goumany responds positively and he agrees to take charge of the quarantine.

Dr Goumany assumes his duty like a committed professional. He cures many patients and saves several of them from the mouth of death.

Dr Idrice Goumany being welcomed at the harbour of Port Louis in 1886 after completing his medical studies in Scotland (Painting by Ali Khodabaccus)

As the situation gets under control at the quarantine and the health condition improves, the hero of the drama becomes a victim of irony of fate. The doctor himself catches the smallpox disease. No doctor is available to treat him. As per quarantine rules, his parents, friends and relatives cannot visit him, nor can he go out of this “prison”. He dies in a tragic circumstance, far away from his loved ones.

The drama, apart from the gloomy atmosphere of the quarantine, provides an opportunity to make incursion into the conviviality and vivre-ensemble that prevailed in the then Camp des Lascars. Madame Mootoo shares ‘gato ounde’ with the Goumany family, while Mrs Jasmin brings ‘gato Marie’ for the doctor. The Baron de Merville sends a bouquet of flowers to Dr Goumany as a token of friendship, but essentially because the doctor has cured many of his labourers who are critically needed on the sugarcane fields of his ‘tabisman’ during the harvest season.

The drama is based on a real account of life that happened in Mauritius in the 1880s. Most of the names of the characters or persons mentioned in the drama are derived from real life: Idrice, Roseline, Mirmani, Hassen Sakir, Mrs Jasmin, Imam Nazirouddine, Lord Campbell and Sir Pope Hennessy, Sultan Hamid of Turkey, Tipu Sultan, Bahadur Shah Zafar. It’s a drama intertwined with history.

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