MOOMTAZ EMRITH

Windsor, ON, Canada 

It will be five years this June since my good friend Jagdeesh G. Fokeer passed away. And, not a day has passed since when I have not thought of him. Jagdeesh or “Jag” as I and his intimates called him, had been friends for over fifty years. He was a few years my senior, therefore, he was more like an elder ‘brother’ to me. He was my friend, my mentor, my guide and always a source of support to me — in good times and ‘bad.’

Jag, as a person, was one of a kind. He was ever honest, upfront and sincere.  Indeed, he was never afraid to speak his mind – a trait in his character that often led many sometimes to misunderstand him. However, I believe it was this trait in him that endeared him to people. For, with Jag, you always knew where you stood and you got what you saw.

I know for a fact that, as a long-time resident of our village of Goodlands, he came  to touch the lives of many youngsters with his advice and help, in one way or another and, I’m sure, many still remember him — with emotion and gratitude.

Jag had a sharp sense of humour and an inimitable way of telling stories that stayed with you for a long time. So much so, whenever and wherever he was around he often became, despite himself, the centre of the ‘party.’  It was always great fun to be around him. I, for one, got to be his friend for decades. I loved him as a brother and respected him for his wit, intelligence and many fine qualities as a person. I also learned a lot of things from him – among others, how never to take a set-back as a defeat but rather as a stimulus to strive to do better. I did or I would not be where I am to-day. When I opted to move to Canada, he told me “Don’t buy a return ticket! Rather do as the Romans did. Once you land, burn your boat! That way, you will be forced to face the odds and survive!”  I took his advice and travelled on a one-way ticket. I faced the odds squarely and ever strove to survive and make my Canadian adventure a success. This year, it will be forty-six plus years since I have made Canada home. I have built for myself and my family a beautiful life and achieved what I always wanted: get a university education and be reckoned as a writer. If I did succeed, I am thankful to the advice and encouragement of friends like Jag. May the good Lord rest his soul in peace!

Jag was, in his younger days, an avid sports buff and a talented soccer and volley-ball  player — in fact a good all-rounder! As such, he encouraged many youngsters of Goodlands to be involved in organized sports and encouraged them to become active members in youth clubs and be involved in cultural, social and sports activities. The end result was that many youngsters from Goodlands became in the 60’s and 70’s, national ‘stars’ in the premier soccer clubs of Mauritius, namely: Fire Brigade, Hindu Cadets and Muslim Scouts, and some also became known for their athletic prowess and in volleyball at the national level. It was little wonder then that Jag enjoyed enormous respect among the youth of Goodlands.

By the way, we can never forget the role he played in getting myself and a group of youngsters of Goodlands, involved in the centennial celebrations of Rabindranath Togore’s Birth Anniversary in 1961an event that was commemorated island-wide. He got me to take the chairmanship of our local Committee. We put up a great programme that became the talk of the day and shortly after we were asked to make an encore presentation at the Plaza Theatre, Rose Hill, before an elite audience, of the Tagore play “CHITRA” we had staged at KING’S Cinema.  Young novices that we were, we pulled it through thanks to the guidance and technical advice of elders like Jagdeesh Fokeer, D. K. Jankhee and Harry (later Sir) Tirvengadum.

« Jag » was always a good story-teller and he had so many interesting stories and incidents to tell, in his own inimitable way, about his encounters and dealings as a diplomat over the years with VIP’s — both local and foreign. I had always urged him to write his Memoirs. I knew they would make fabulous reading. Unfortunately, because of a nagging ailment (he was diabetic) and failing eye-sight, he never got around to it. Too bad!

A few years after his retirement, one year, during the many trips abroad he used to take annually with his wife Ansuya — a great lady in her own right! — Jag, very pleasantly, surprised me and my wife with a personal visit to Windsor, Ontario. Oh what a joy it was for my wife and I to welcome our good friends!  They spent a week with us and we had so much fun together. It was truly great to have them over and we had such a memorable time with them! We cherish the memories of their visit and the time we spent with them and of the many places we visited together.

Jagdeesh G. Fokeer and his wife Ansuya meeting H. E.
V. V. Giri, President of India (1969-1974), at a reception
hosted by the Mauritius High Commission in New Delhi, India. Jagdeesh was on staff at the MHC

Also, whenever I visited Mauritius, I certainly never failed to touch base with Jag. The last time I saw him was in 2013 – that is less than a year before he passed away. I still recall how he was his old dear self — ever cheerful and hearty, and how he related to me with relish the last trip he and Ansuya had made earlier to Australia and the Far East. I also recall that before, we took leave of him and Ansuya, he presented me and my wife with a beautiful stuffed kangaroo which, he said, he had brought especially for us from his trip ‘Down Under’. It now sits in our library. It is a priceless reminder of my late friend Jag!   

Jag’s kindness was proverbial and his heart was ever big and always full of compassion. He was a fascinating person in his own right and a gem of a family man and always a sincere friend. Whoever was privileged to share his friendship would ever vouch of the nobility of his character. He was one of kind. He enriched the lives of all he came in touch with in more ways than one.  I’m sure, all who knew him, will feel — like I do — that our lives are a trifle cheaper without him around. We miss his smile, his humour and wit. But we have one comfort:  Dear old Jag may be gone but his memory lives on in our hearts. And, as long as we remember him, he will ever be in our hearts!