A BOOK LOVER

Last year the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage invited contributions from short story writers on the COVID-19 experience. The e-book is now available on the link https://culture.govmu.org/Pages/eBOOK/eBOOK.aspx. 14 stories are in English, 5 in French, 3 in Kreol, 3 in Hindi, and 2 in Bhojpuri.

A new experience

The lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic was a new for us. We experienced confusion, fear, panic and a feeling of loss. We did not have a clear understanding of what the coronavirus was all about. There were words we had never heard before: frontliners, gestes barrières, social distancing, quarantine. With the closing of the frontiers, many citizens were left stranded.  We tried to make the best of a bad situation but we also had those who were completely overwhelmed.

The writers in this collection have drawn inspiration from such elements to pen their stories. The plots may be imaginary but they are never far from reality. The reader will identify himself easily with the stories.

Indurani Chatoo’s “Une épreuve inédite” depicts a mother who is entirely on her own at home, her daughter (a doctor) being busy at the hospital. Aware of the implications of the situation, she decides to be frugal    no question of wasting food. She discovers what it means to be confined “telle une bête apeurée, dissimulée au plus profond de mon terrier, à l’abri du prédateur omniprésent, guettant sa proie.” We see her apprehensions as she struggles to come to terms with an invisible enemy.

However, bad a situation, we can always learn something from it. Armed with this new knowledge or understanding, we are better able to face the future. This is the main point in “Enn leson pou lavi” by Ramessur Vishnudev. A teenager regrets his absence from school because he will not be getting his “kargo ladrog”. Confinement to him represents deprivation and he hates it. He strongly misses his dose and desperately tries to “snifle tinner” secretly in the store, believing that it will calm down his nerves. He hallucinates at night and even, in a hysterical moment, bangs his head against the wall. The doctor arrives only to confirm that the boy is doing drugs. Shocked, the helpless father has a heart-to-heart talk with the son who then realizes that drugs can be fatal. Written fluently in Kreol, the story is interesting to read.

Another story with a positive touch is Sornum Theinambal’s “My COVID-19 experience”. As a student, the narrator has been leading a routine life. She feels saturated with boredom and dullness. But confinement eventually becomes a blessing in disguise when she finds satisfaction in new activities like decorating the room and learning aerobics on YouTube. Be resourceful, try new ideas, find something meaningful to do to fight boredom, and especially enjoy what you do. Keeping busy in a positive way plays a part in her transformation. She develops empathy for those who could be in worse situations than hers. Confinement serves as an eye-opener and also as a source of personal enrichment.

Juvenile delinquency

Suresh Ramphul’s “Deep trouble” has juvenile delinquency as theme. A few boys decide to steal vegetables from a field during the lockdown. Confinement is an ideal opportunity for them to make some money. However, one of them has an intuition that the plan will not work. The group’s leader takes this as a challenge or a threat to his authority. Conflict inevitably ensues. The boy is ordered out of the group. In a group you are bound to follow your peers or else you lose your place. The others take the risk of going out but, to their surprise, they are severely beaten up. How their plan misfires, no one knows. The ex-friend has nothing to do with this. Youth culture, poverty, broken families, and survival are at the heart of the story.