MOOMTAZ EMRITH

Navin Nunkoo was born in the modest village of Fond du Sac, Mauritius, but he spent most of his childhood in the more well known village of Goodlands, in the north of Mauritius, which is where his grand-parents lived. However, I, who am also a native of Goodlands, never met Navin while in Mauritius.  I met him in London, England, where he was a student. I happened to be in London on vacation in the summer of 1971 and a mutual friend introduced us and we hit it off right away. We became fast friends. We used to meet often over tea or dinner and we would talk about our mutual interests, which were arts, literature and philosophy. Navin told me he loved to write and so did I. Thus we had a common interest. I had by then published a few articles on literature and culture in the weekly Mauritius Times and also a book on the Muslims of Mauritius.

When I returned to Mauritius, Navin and I continued to keep in touch via letters. Then a couple of years later, I left Mauritius for Canada, where I planned to make my new home. In the hectic period that followed in my life then Navin and I lost touch with each other. I would not hear from him again until 2010, when having got my telephone number from a mutual friend, he gave me a surprise call in Canada. And here we were touching base again. He told me that his interest in the arts and literature was intact. He still loved to read and write. He had published a book “A Gleam of Light”, in 1975, which was well received. It was a collection of his random thoughts. He told me that he continued to follow Mauritian politics closely.

In September last year, my wife and I decided to make a visit to London and Europe after almost ten years. I made it a point to visit Navin when I would be in the English capital. I let him know of my plans and promised to get in touch with him once I was in London which I did. In fact, as soon as I got back to London from Geneva, I called Navin. He was ecstatic to hear from me and was looking forward to seeing me. And so was I. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t seen Navin in person for almost forty years. Our last meeting dated back to the summer of 1971. I, sure, imagined Navin to have changed in looks and appearance during the past few decades. My old remembrance of him was that of a dapper young man, ever elegantly dressed and courteous, who divided his time between work and studies (night school) studying, among others, Journalism, World Religions and the Vedic classics. He lived a happy life with his wife and two grown-up children. I visited Navin on the evening of September 28, 2017, at his home in Edgeware, London. And what an emotional meeting it was! My dapper friend hadn’t changed much in the past forty years: only his hair had turned grey. To me, he looked the same Navin I had known. He looked his old self and was a content person.

I was touched by Navin’s hospitality. We talked for long. We reminisced about the good old days, and we talked about old friends — some of whom have left our world. The hours slipped by quickly and I was pressed for time. I had to get back to my cousin’s. He was waiting for my wife and me for dinner.

Finally, when I was about to take leave of him, Navin had a surprise for me. He very humbly presented me, as he put it: “A special gift, a souvenir of my visit, of our friendship!” It was a book. But it was no ordinary book. It was a copy of “Bhagavad-Gita for the 21st Century” — (Song of the Lord) translated into English.

I was touched and accepted the gift with grace. He asked me to read the autograph he had written for me. I did and was immediately struck with awe! The book was a translation into English done by none other than Navin himself and about which I had never heard, and neither had Navin ever made mention of it to me. The Bhagavad-Gita, as everybody knows, is for millions of Hindus the world over a sacred text. I congratulated him profusely and added that I was awed that he had published such a monumental work but it appeared that few people — including myself — were aware of it. But Navin, with his usual modesty, took it all in strides and observed:

“Really, my friend, it’s no big deal,” he said. “I worked on the book for the love of God. I wanted its divine Message of Love and Wisdom to get to the common people.”

When I asked him in which year he launched the book, he replied: “In 2006 in Mauritius and it was a low-key event. Unfortunately, for health reasons, I could not make the trip. I sent my son, Nitesh, instead. He did the launching with the help of my brothers and cousins there.”

I pointed out to him: “Still, it baffles me that the media literally ignored such a grand event– a Mauritian launching an English translation of a book considered sacred by millions of Hindus around the world! What a shame!” But Navin, with his usual modesty, pointed out that the print and broadcast media may have or may not have took place in my village, Fond du Sac.

— “What about the sale of the book?” I asked him. “I’m sure the book must have been well received and also sold well!” Navin became emotional.”What can I tell you, my friend?”, he said. “Soon after the book was offi cially launched, I learned that some unscrupulous people had made photocopies of my book and were selling it at a discounted price. That, of course, affected the overall sale of the book”

— “What did you do about it?”   asked. — “Nothing!, he replied with his usual modesty. “What could I do? I didn’t want to go through the hassle of a legal action which, as you know, is a costly matter. I knew, after all, whoever they were, they were diffusing the Word of the Lord — which was a good thing! I preferred then to let the Lord deal with them!”

And that was that! It was typical of Navin — ever modest and magnanimous! The Bhagavad-Gita is the sixth part of the great Hindu mythology, The Mahabarata, which tells of the tussle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas families. The Bhagavad-Gita depicts the epic conversation between the Pandava Prince Arjun and his charioteer and guide, Lord Krishna, just before the battle. During their conversation, the two embark in a powerful discourse about the values and ethics that form the very basis of human existence on earth, namely: what is good and what is evil; what is virtue and what is vice; what is moral and what is immoral; and what is ethical and what is unethical in our dealings with our fellow people. As Arjun hesitates to do his duty as a Kshatriya (a warrior), Lord Krishna urges him to fulfi l his duty as he sees it fi t. The epic message that emerges from it all is one of universal love, wisdom and righteousness. Truth is supreme; the Lord is Supreme. His will alone prevails. Navin confided to me that he had always been touched by the austere teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita and that he had, to the best of his ability, ever endeavoured to mould his life on its lofty teachings. He always wanted some day to translate that “Sacred Book”, into simple English so the common folk may understand its message of universal love, understanding and tolerance and benefi t from its teachings — which have moulded the temporal and spiritual lives of millions of Hindus around the world.

–”I feel extremely happy that I did translate the book and I am deeply comforted by the many kinds words of praise I’ve received from several learned people who have expressed their appreciation of my rendering of the Bhagavad-Gita into English.” Navin’s “Bhagavad-Gita for the 21st Century” contains both the original Sanskrit version in transliteration juxtaposed to the English as rendered by Navin. It is an impressive book to be sure with a glossy colourful cover. I must add here that I felt extremely proud of Navin that he had accomplished such a wonderful achievement. The more so that he is a fellow Mauritian and a good friend! What a joy it was for me to have met him in person again after so many years! And but for that visit of mine to London, I might have never known that a fellow Mauritian — ever humble and unassuming as Navin has always been — had made such a monumental contribution to our fl edgling Mauritian literature! Again, congratulations and kudos to him! May he be blessed with peace, good health and long life! Before taking leave of him, I asked Navin, who is in mid-seventies now, what he planned to do next. His simple reply struck me: “To visit our beloved Mauritius for one last time!” I wished him well and expressed the hope that the Good Lord will certainly fulfill his wish before long.

MOOMTAZ EMRITH

(WINDSOR, ON, CANADA)