A little girl less than two was trying her new trottinette, scooting under her father’s guidance past the front of our house in a traffic-free Ragoo Lane, a father who, that age, used to pick up Indian guavas as they fell off that same tree, and come to our children’s new year’s day parties that were a feature for 20 years or so, for generations of little ones, now parents. So, anyway, they stopped at a little distance, and she and I, at a physical distance – the word distance sometimes means closeness now – began to pick up guavas for her, and put them in a paper napkin I gave her dad to hold, to take home and wash and eat.
A friend from near the mountain in Bambous arrived in Ragoo Lane – playing truant, on their day out by alphabet – and jumped out of her partner’s 4x4, an old vehicle now looking new because of the 40 days’ free time for care no doubt, asking if I could give her some lalo seeds urgently, which I could do, in their pod, and Ram gave her two pumpkin seeds in case the ones she planted don’t come up.
Another friend came by with bred and coriander that he deposits in the flower pot out front, a food fairy.
And we have been eating wonderful meals. Like last night for desert we had banana flambé, turning off the lights, and watching the flames and all, with cream. As snacks before supper we had fried green banana chips with a little bit of salt and turmeric. For supper we had, with our lasagne, polimas banann, a gorgeous staple made from boiled green bananas, then peeled and grated and prepared with spices, to look like rice, but tasting better. And this morning, in our DIY fruit salad, we had on a plate half a pawpaw each, half an atemoya each, half a fig that you have to go up on the house and tie a plastic bag around to keep the birds from eating all, each – all from the garden – and you just peel and eat, plus half a granadilla so sour you have to mix it with sugar and put it in the middle of the pawpaw, and of course, half a banana. And we are giving bananas away.
And all this makes me think of how future housing development and future urban planning must keep in mind the need for a bit of land for each family. The housing estates in Cite La Ferme, Cite Richelieu, Riviere Noire, Case Noyale, Le Morne, Riambel – built as they were in the 1960s and 70s – were designed for a bit of land for each family, and everyone did have fruit trees and did sit under them, and sort morunga leaves to add to a meal, whether they lived in the village or the Cité. But, with the privatization of housing, the closing in 1992 of the CHA and the Napoleonic “forced heirs” laws, what was one family’s land is now often the land occupied by three, four, five, even more nuclear families. This is just one of the outrages that working class families have had to put up with. While in poverty-stricken times, there could be social housing, with all the “development” and with all the supposed “Mauritian miracle” nonsense, there is no longer proper social housing.
This tiny bit of land around a house – as was the Mauritian tradition – is not what assures food security. No. Make no mistake. What will ensure food security, as well as proper jobs and also foreign exchange for imports, is the production of food crops, the preservation of food crops in factories for that purpose and the transformation of food crops into value-added meals. And this will need, at least, one-third of the sugar cane estates’ land. The State is using public funds to subsidize this colonial sugar cane industry. These public funds must be used to help the public not the sugar cane bosses. By, in a thought-out policy, providing work on the land, work in factories, work in transport and marketing, work in agronomy, you name it, and providing food for all, and providing produce to export.
All this, the lockdown teaches us. 40 days of thinking. The lockdown is the best teacher in the world. But only if we really get together and organize as it begins to end.
Otherwise, it will be the forces of repression, of domination and of age-old exploitation from when slavery was the labour law of the land, through indenture as the freed-up slave labour law, and then as wage-slavery until today, as the freed-up indenture labour law. The class that buys our time – should it deign to do so – will continue to reduce us to selling ourselves, or more accurately, our ability to work, our labour power, as though it is separate from ourselves. This vestigial slavery must end. And we must put our minds and our organizational, even our political skills, to this end. We must become masters of our own bodies and minds, and refuse to sell our power to work to anyone for a profit. We must all be essential workers. Doing fewer hours each. Deciding by democratic means how to organize production, distribution and leisure.
for LALIT, a personal view.