… AND THE LOCAL ‘MOGUL’ WHO MADE IT HAPPEN
MOOMTAZ EMRITH (Windsor, ON, Canada)
It is a fact that, in Mauritius, the Muslim community has always played a prominent role in its economic, social and cultural life – more particularly the Gujerati Muslims or Surtees and Meimons as they were called locally.
The Gujerati Muslims did not arrive in Mauritius as indentured workers bound by any contract. They came as businessmen and traders with money to start up business and trade in the island. The descendants of these Gujeratis are still around and many still run businesses started by their grand-parents or great-grand-parents more than a century ago. A good example is the conglomerate Currimjee–Jeewanjee on Royal Street, Port Louis.
These traders settled in Port Louis, the capital, where they set up shops. Their business area was in Royal, Corderie and Louis Pasteur Streets — the section that became a colourful segment of the mercantile community. The Surtees would be more involved in the commerce of textiles while the Meimons were mostly traders in food stuff — cereals, edible oil, rice and flour. These merchants would leave their mark on the land and would eventually also play a significant role in the social, cultural and religious life of their co-religionists – that is, the larger Muslim community of Mauritius, that comprised the indentured workers of Muslim faith and who were referred to as Culcutteeas.
Indeed, the Gujeratis, who were mostly of Muslim by faith, took good interest in their less fortunate brethren. They would play a meaningful role in their social and cultural growth. They would build mosques, madrassas (schools), and other institutions like Orphanage and Infirmary, and establish cemeteries for their Muslim brethren.
Manna Dey (1901-2013), versatile vocalist of Bollywood, was the first to tour Mauritius on a concert tour sponsored by A. Gaffoor Hatteea
The Gujeratis were generally an affluent class and, as traders and merchants, they would be in the forefront of several business and industrial enterprises They would be the first to launch electricity in the colony and were truly pioneers in launching movie-theatres to provide affordable entertainment to the Indian masses, who formed the bulk of the island’s population and who lived all across the island in camps on the sugar estates, where living conditions were never easy. However, the Indian workers would tough it out and emerge, at the expense of immense sacrifice and perseverance, in just a span of three generations, to rise socially and economically and ascend the social ladder of progress and become a shining example of success in all fronts in the face of towering odds.
Abdool Gaffoor HATTEEA was a descendant of a Gujerati trader and, like his great-grand . parents, he too went into business and made a success of it. His store was located in Bourbon Street, Port Louis, and stood right next to the main entrance of the Port Louis Central Market now absorbed in the MCB Tower.
Gaffoor was an extremely affable man with always a smile on his face. Enterprising and ever a risk-taker, he expanded his textile business and ventured in the 50’s into (Hindi) the distribution of Bollywood movies and made a big success of it. Among the remarkable blockbuster movies that he brought to Mauritius, were such classics like: Raj Kapoor’s iconic film: “AWARA” and Mehboob Khan’s history-making movie: “AAN” (the first full-length Indian movie shot entirely in colour) and “MOTHER INDIA”– also a Mehboob Khan production. Hindi movies, which always carried a wide medley of songs and dances – a feature that was hugely popular with the Indian masses. The movies were shown all across the island in theatres that were owned mostly by Muslims.
Following his success as a film distributor and given his connection with Bollywood people in Mumbai, Gaffoor Hatteea opted to take his knack of taking risks up another notch. He expanded his distribution enterprise to include live entertainment. He decided to sponsor concert tours of Hindi (playback) singers to Mauritius. Indeed, music and songs were always a major part of Hindi cinema and the Indian playback-singers, male and female, were as popular as the Bollywood stars themselves. He knew that the Mauritian Hindi-movie-going public would love to see their favourite singers perform live before them on stage.
Accordingly, Gaffoor Hatteea was successful to have popular play-back singer MANNA DEY to come to Mauritius to perform live for his many fans and the Mauritian music lovers. It was in the late 50’s. Manna Dey spent a little over a week in the island and gave shows in the main villages and towns. The tour was so successful that followed Gaffoor Hatteea would soon follow it by another successful tour star of the music world of Bollywood: MUKESH, whose full name was Mukesh Chand Mathur and had a large following in the island and known for such all-time hits like “Awara hun…” “Hum aaj kahin dil kho baithé” or “mera joota hai japani …” Mukesh’s tour was a highly memorable one. He too spent over a week in the island and performed almost in most of the major towns and villages.
Mukesh (1923-1976) made a memorable concert tour to Mauritius also sponsored by Gaffoor Hatteea.
Not wishing to rest on his laurels, Gaffoor Hatteea was inundated with requests from admirers and fans to sponsor a tour of the singing legend MOHAMMED RAFI, who was household name in the country. But Rafi was a big fish and it would not be easy to get him to come to Mauritius. Not that Gaffooor Hatteea did not keep on trying. His effort would last almost ten years before Mohammed Rafi could accommodate Mauritius in his schedule.
Rafi arrived aboard an Air India flight and landed at Plaisance Airport (now Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam) Airport. A huge enthusiastic crowd had already gathered there to welcome him and he gave his gala performance at the LUNA PARK Cinema on Pope Hennessy Street, Port Louis. LUNA PARK was then the largest cinema house in Mauritius. The show was a huge success. Rafi would actually spend about two weeks in the island and regale his countless fans and the Mauritian public with an unequalled bouquet of ghazals, qawalis, bhajuns, geet as well as many of popular hits from his vast repertoire.
Mohammed Rafi’s visit created quite a sensation in the island and he was greeted everywhere with great enthusiasm and jubilation. The event was
Mohammed Rafi (1924-1980), legendary singer, whose versality was unmatched and was considered by many as the greatest by his peers.
unparalleled in the annals of music in Mauritius. Memories of his shows still linger among the fans who recall it all with nostalgia and emotion. In a tribute to Mohammed Rafi’s unmatched talent and versality as a gifted artist, the late Mohamad Vayid, well known critic and fan of the playback singer, wrote in a daily the following about Mohammed Rafi’s uniqueness as a master of his art:
“For the uninitiated, “Vayid wrote, “to realise the stature of Mohammed Rafi as a singer, he must mix on Lanza, two Sinatras, four Beales and half a dozen Presley, shake them together, add a dash of Scotto (Vincent), three beats of Berlin (Irving), twenty bars of Rodgers and Hammerstein and serve with some melody of Litz and Chopin… And he will still not have achieved the complete formula that explains Rafi, because the tenderness of the Sitar and the exquisite harmony of the ragaas are missing from his composition.”
Mohammed Rafi, who passed away rather prematurely in 1980 in India, is still very much loved and admired even to-day and his voice is ever heard on the local airwaves in Mauritius and India and wherever Hindi music is appreciated. Young and old — all enjoy Rafi’s songs to-day as did their dad and grand-dad did years ago.
The unprecedented success of Rafi’s tour was to Gaffoor Hatteea a triumph. He was very proud that he had finally pulled it off. It was an event that is still remembered with nostalgia by those who were privileged to attend his shows and got caught in the euphoria of “Rafimania” that had gripped Mauritius in October, 1967.
Gaffoor Hatteea is still remembered as a pioneer in terms of Bollywood entertainment in Mauritius. Soon visits by artists and personalities from Mumbai film industry to Mauritius would become routine and would include not only concert tours by Bollywood artists and entertainers but also by many film personalities and film producers who, fascinated by the natural enchanting scenery and landscapes of Mauritius, would pick Mauritius as the locales of their films. Gaffoor Hatteea, the modest and unassuming businessman of Port Louis, was, in his own way, an entertainment mogul and a trail-blazer.