When I was a boy, my parents always took my sister and I to Kovil, to watch the Cavadee procession and pay our respects. We went to many different Kovil, from Goodlands and Grand Baie to Quatre Bornes and Rose Hill, but there was one that remains entrenched in the corners of my mind above all the others.
I never took part in the Cavadee ritual, I always watched from the outside and as a boy I was impressed by the will to walk on steaming tar. The water tankers hosing the streets were as much for the benefit of the devotees as it was for my mind to comprehend the level of willfulness that was being displayed. I was also curious about the spontaneous occurrence of dancing trances. Man and woman alike, pierced throughout their bodies, spinning, chanting, and dancing, with no consideration to their pain and suffering. The young boy that I was could not understand, I could only admire as my logic of self-preservation was smashed to bits before me. Through all those moments and all these intense events, one stands out.
It took place in Terre Rouge at the Veeramakalee Kovil. My cousin and my aunt were joining the procession there after their fast. As a family we went to support them and encourage them. On that day I witnessed something I had not noticed before. As the procession was underway, I saw that many inhabitants had their gates open to the street. Some were carrying pails of water to cool the feet of the devotees as they walked. Others had built small stands where they were handing out cups of water to devotees and onlookers alike. I had seen this support before in other places, but at that time in Terre Rouge, something was markedly different. Most of the people that were caring for those in and around the procession, were Creole. I clearly remember the image of a Rasta gentleman carrying pails of water from his home to the feet of the devotees, chanting as he did his part. I turned to my father and pulled on his sleeve. My question was simple; “Dad, why is this man helping?” I needed to know why someone would help in a tradition that was not theirs. My father turned to me; a look of surprise painted on his face. Slowly he smiled and said, “Because these are his neighbours and his friends.” That was enough for little me. After all, why would a man from another culture and another creed not be there to aid his neighbours and his friends. That simple message, in that vivid moment has stuck with me till now and will be with me forever.
It was a depiction of Mauritius that I respect above all else, the fact that this many cultures, peoples, and traditions coexist within our shores. A place where a Mosque exists across the street from a Chapel and where Temples and Churches can host the same people. We have learnt to live with one another, as Mauritians. We all enjoy “Mine Frire” and “du Riz Frire” and we need to remember who to thank for those dishes. As a people lining up for “Roti” or “Dhall Puri” we do not stand separate from each other. When we eat a “Rougaille saucisse”, “sachini coco” or a piping hot biryani we should take a moment to recall how we got here. Too often we see our differences rather than our diversity, we mistake our strength for our weakness, and we fall prey to our baser instincts. We have shown time and time again that on this tiny stretch of rock and sand that we call home, we live together like no other nation can. We are a Metropolis, not of concrete and glass, but of a union of cultures and traditions, of many peoples that do their best to live and grow in peace. We should remember that we are descendants from numerous continents; Africa, Asia, Europe, and we carry those cultures and traditions as part of our diverse identities. But above all, we should remember that our forefathers all toiled together, suffered together, ate and drank together, as on-e, as Mauritians.