(Windsor, ON, Canada)
Enayat H. Edun is a poet and writer in both English and Urdu in his own right. He has published poems, plays, collection of short stories as well as an interesting introductory study in English on Mir Taqi Mir, one of the masters of modern Urdu poetry – more
particularly, the ghazals, which are considered to be among the most sophisticated form of urdu shairi (poetry) perfected by Persian masters like Rumi, Hafiz, Attar, Ghalib and others. In 2006, Enayat H. Edun published a collection of essays under the title “Urdu Studies in Mauritius” that recounts the very fascinating history of the evolution and promotion of the study of the Urdu language in Mauritius. The book received plaudits from the lovers of Indian languages in Mauritius. Seven years later, that is 2013, Enayat H. Edun showed another facet of his literary gift in the Urdu language. He published the novel titled “APNI ZAMEEN,” (My Land), which is set in the early years of British colonial rule in Mauritius and the arrival of the indentured workers from India to work in the sugarcane plantations. Many of the migrant workers would eventually opt to make Mauritius their home and, at the end of their indenture, choose not to return to India. And, it would be these workers who, along with the disenfranchised slaves and their descendants, who would be among the early ‘pioneer-builders’ of the future nation-state of Mauritius.
The story of the indentured Indian workers in Mauritius is a gripping saga of the trials and tribulations of a people, who would brave the perils of a dangerous sea-voyage during which many would die of infectious diseases and epidemics. However, those who survived and made it to the colony, would take up employment on the sugar estates (tablisman), meet the challenges in the face of heavy odds and contribute positively to making the British colony a viable place to live and, generations later, leave to their progeny a “LAND” that would be, in many ways, a model of a peaceful and hard-working nation, who would know how to rise above the narrow climes of pettiness and make of their new multicultural homeland a shining model of a peaceful rainbow-nation where peace and harmony would be the norm of everybody’s day to day life.
In his novel “Apni Zameen” (My Land), Enayat H. Edun reveals himself as a gifted storyteller. In fact, the novel tells the stories of the arrival in Mauritius of the indentured workers from India to work on the sugarcane fields after slavery was abolished in 1835 and the liberated (African) slaves refused to return to the cane-plantations, which was to them a constant reminder of the tough life they had endured before their liberation. Under the indenture system, these labourers often signed on to escape poverty and famine in British India. They were lured by alluring tales of ‘gold and silver’ to be found in the colony by unscrupulous touts and henchmen, who acted as agents of the plantation owners. Their indenture was generally for three years and the workers were free to renew if they so decided at the end of their indenture.
“APNI ZAMEEN” (“My Land”), originally published in Urdu, was released in Mauritius in 2013 and, later, also in India and Pakistan. It is a moving tale of love, friendship, and pain and sufferings of the Indian workers under the indenture system. Sugar was the backbone of the colony’s economy and it was literally facing economic ruin as a result of the shortage of labour created by the liberated African slaves’ refusal to return to the fields. The Indian workers signed on to escape the poverty-stricken life in rural India. So much so, their eagerness to leave India behind in the hope of a better life in Mauritius, and many would not hesitate to renew their indenture for subsequent terms till many eventually opted to make Mauritius their home.
“Apni Zameen” (MY LAND) understandably, had a limited release in Mauritius given the restricted circle of Urdu readers. However, later that same year, Enayat H. Edun would launch the book in the Indo-Pak sub-continent, where it received wider press-coverage and excellent reviews from notable Indian and Pakistani book critics and readers. However, in Mauritius, Enayat H. Edun’s novel would remain mostly unknown to the general public except to those few connected with the Urdu language. So much so, a translation of the book in English or for that matter in French — the prevalent languages of Mauritius — was definitely long warranted and overdue.
Enayat H. Edun knew it and he would work hard, with the editorial collaboration of his good friend, Mythil Banymandhub, who is a sharp intellect in his own right, to translate “Apni Zameen” into English. And, now seven years later, that is, on November 02, 2020, which also happens to be the “Arrival Day of the Indian Indentured Workers in Mauritius”, Enayat H. Edun is releasing in bookstores the English version of his novel to the Mauritian public. The English title is “My Land” and highlights Enayat H. Edun’s knowledge and understanding of the history of the early indentured workers in Mauritius, and whose struggles — and also triumphs — he paints with admirable realism in his book.
Indeed, as we move along in the story, we slowly begin to know and, eventually, love his characters, whom he adroitly sketches as real people and close to life – notably Elias, the sympathetic hero and his friends Ram Bharosé, Rangasamy, who was eager to meet his brother Narain already in the colony, or the friendly Jagoo Chacha or Dawood, the wrestler; and also Ramzani or Soogrim and even friendly Katherine, the ‘African girl’ who was teaching them the patois-creole. The story is told with gusto, in simple language and impresses as the reader plods on. Enayat H. Edun, who has well studied the history and times of Indian immigration in Mauritius, draws clear and realistic sceneries of life in the “camps” where the workers lived and the tablisman (estates), where they worked, very smartly interspersing snippets of dialogues in creole and, as he narrates their past times and the games held in the various tablisman for the entertainment of the workers, namely: the Tazias (mela) and competitions with other estates in such games like kusti (wrestling), kabaddi etc. and, in the process, never missing to stress the spirit of camaraderie, friendship and community that existed among the migrants, irrespective of their faith, culture or religious affiliation. It never mattered to the workers whether their neighbours were Hindus, Muslims, Tamils, Telegus or Creoles, who were generally the liberated former African slaves. The bonds of friendship among the workers were ever strong and genuine which, to a large extent, helped them face the odds and hardships and succeed as eventual settlers in the island.
Indeed, Enayat H. Edun’s “My Land” is a joy to read. We relish the characters and their predicaments which are drawn and in keeping with the tough life in colonial times – to which some of our Indo-Mauritian elders can easily relate to given the fact that many of them may have heard tales from their own elders, who were themselves among the early immigrants. Sure, it may not be that easy for everyone to relate to the conditions and events — Mauritius having certainly come a long, long way since then — but I’m sure, those few who do, might have recollections of those times of our great-grandparents and thus, can, to some extent, relate to their living conditions, who, despite knowing the odds against them, yet chose to stick around and make of our then little known island of Mauritius, their home. It was, on their part, a very brave and courageous decision, indeed! It demanded tremendous guts and called for hard work, sweat and sacrifice from everyone.
In “My Land”, Enayat H. Edun spins the simple tale of the life of the poor, illiterate, and sometimes hapless migrant workers from India in Mauritius. I tip my hat to Enayat H. Edun on a lovely, credible literary piece. It beckons to be read – if not in the original Urdu – now in English as brilliantly translated by the author. The book is destined to be reckoned someday as a classic and, hopefully, become recommended reading to our boys and girls in the higher grades at schools – a fact, I’m sure, would be loved by all Mauritians who love our beautiful home island. It is always good to know all aspects of our island’s history of which “My Land” tells of an enticing chapter of how our fascinating rainbow-nation slowly came about.