The Progressive Couple

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Yesterday I finally watched Ki and Ka, a refreshingly different Bollywood movie throwing a new light on the roles of men and women in a relationship. (Spoiler Alert!) Basically, Kabir (the guy) does not want to hear about the corporate rat race and dreams of becoming a house husband. He comes to a deal for a different kind of marriage with Kia (the girl), an ambitious workaholic, who would be responsible for providing for the financial needs of the family. It got me thinking of the different roles society and ages of civilization impose on men and women and how ready we all are to accept that things have changed… for BOTH men and women.

Family is the basis of the the social fabric. In my opinion, monogamy was favoured over any other forms of union because it was more easily controllable by the rulers, and it somehow prevented the spread of sexually transmittable diseases. Anyway, in the traditional family model, the man was the breadwinner and the woman was the childrearer. That made sense, because masculinity is associated to physical strength and most manual jobs required that very quality. Feminity on the other hand, equally important, was associated with the passing on of values. However, post industrial revolution, most manual jobs became redundant and now in 2016, even if the fight for gender equality is still real, it can easily be concluded that most jobs can be handled by both men and women. I’m all for virility, but the range of uses for man’s physical strength has become more and more limited, especially in the jobs market. We are living in an era where the gap between the earnings of men and women is becoming narrower and narrower.

So what of the couple of 2016 then? A deeply confused generation trying to make sense of the meaning of “family” from what they feel, from the reality of things, from the role models set by their parents. In Mauritius, in the previous generation, it seems that the gender roles were much more well defined than it is in the current generation. Mothers, even working ones, were primarily responsible for the home, and men were responsible for the finances. With divorce rates skyrocketing in Mauritius, I think the evolving roles of men and women in a relationship warrant some more analysis.

The Progressive Fam

I will talk about Fam (“Woman” in Mauritian creole) first obviously because I am a Fam. We have been raised by a generation of hard working parents who put a lot of emphasis on education. After academic education came professional education, and once you start earning, it is hard to imagine life without the comfort of a paycheck at the end of the month. I once met an ex colleague who, when I asked her about work, nonchalantly told me that she got married to a businessman and does not need to work anymore. My first reaction (which I did not voice out, of course) was: Lazy bitch! Relying on the generosity of your husband to get that new shiny pair of heels just does not seem right. Or doesn’t it? Maybe “Lucky bitch” would be more appropriate… Anyway, in my opinion, most women would rather work and feel better being financially independent. However, many would not mind quitting their highly stressful jobs for one with better hours, albeit less pay, to spend more time with their families.

I don’t know if it’s the media, the sound of biological clocks ticking, or pressure from the family, but the priority of most women seems to be “settling down”. Fall in love, get married, have kids, establish their very own social cell. Which they feel they are somewhat well equipped into doing, what with all the education, financial independence and all the self-help advice from the internet… WRONG! You can never be really prepared for the chaos of married life – juggling with work, managing a household, bonding with two sets of families, handling pressure for making babies, keeping fit, making sure there is a healthy yet tasty dinner on the table every night! Wow! Our mothers made it all seem so effortless…

What if the Progressive Fam needs a little help from her husband? The illusory 50/50 relationship – is that a myth? If you contribute 50% financially in a household, can you expect that the other partner contribute 50% in household work?

Now, if the woman is really progressive, it is only fair to say that she cannot put extreme expectations on the guy. Traditional education and net-worth xrays before choosing the right partner – are these things  really indicative of whether a couple will last or not? I don’t think so. If you are choosing a partner earning much more than you do, then can you expect him to contribute 50% in household work?

You cannot have it all in a relationship. Most women really have to choose between prioritizing their family lives over their careers. It’s a choice, and often a difficult one. And most of the time, this choice has to be made by women, and not by men…

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The Progressive Zom

Now for the Progressive Zom (“Man” in Mauritian Creole). Apologies, for I might be biased on this. I will try to be as objective as possible. Mauritian men have been raised by mothers who have treated them like little princes. Their priority was to love and provide for their sons – that often involved cooking, laundry, cleaning and everything else to make their children’s lives comfortable. They watched their mothers do this, while their dads supported the family financially, and came back home tired, rightfully demanding a hot home-made meal.

The Progressive Zom is now married to his girlfriend of a couple of years. They met at work, sparks flew, they dated, shared dreams and aspirations, all the boxes were ticked, and they got married. They moved into a brand new place which they lovingly decorated together. A few months passed. He realised that the house was never as clean as his mom’s house. The meals cooked were not as varied or tasty. His wife often came home late too tired to cook. He was also tired, and he had no idea how to cook. Now the macho man would never accept this. He would expect the impossible from his wife. And that would be the start of the end of it.

The Progressive Zom would however react differently. He would come to the conclusion that his preconceived notions of how married life should be, or what his wife is supposed to do were perhaps outdated. Because he is progressive, he will try to understand and help as much as possible. There is nothing emasculating in contributing to household work.

The Progressive Couple

All in all, both men and women have to be progressive, reject traditional notions and embrace the new, modern couple. Even if a 50/50 relationship, though desirable, is perhaps not very realistic, love, understanding, and compassion is essential to make the modern family life work. I don’t believe in defined roles for each one, like in Ki and Ka. Even if the movie makes the idea of a house husband seem extremely appealing. But I do believe that we have to acknowledge changing roles in the couple and accept that moving towards equal financial contribution in a household comes at a price. And it need not be at the detriment of poor housekeeping and neglected kids if both partners agree to share responsibilities…

PORLWI by light – an oasis of awesomeness in Mauritius

Wow, what a weekend. Excitement had been building up around the island for a first of its kind event in Mauritius – a real cultural event, a “festival dans capitale”, and above all, an absolutely free event. The unmatched budget for this event was a pleasant surprise for Mauritians, who have never witnessed such a huge, amazing show, all designed to put forward the wealth Port Louis had to offer in terms of history and culture. Suddenly, everybody forgot about the other woes of the country, and this is all they could talk about – Festival dans Capitale!

As a die hard lover of the capital, I always knew Port Louis was special: its cobbled streets, old buildings from the colonial age, the proximity with the sea…

I had never imagined wandering in the Port Louis streets at night. During the day, it was hard enough to walk around in the streets bustling with busy people and ruthless drivers. Not to mention, the scorching heat. More importantly, Port Louis by night could never be envisaged  because after work hours, the streets became suddenly eerily deserted, with only homeless people, drunkards and prostitutes claiming the capital for themselves. This is what made this weekend even more magical – Mauritians of all kinds walking along side these rejects of society, all of them similarly awed like children at all the beauty in Port Louis…

Seeing the old Port Louis theatre put in the limelight after all these years of abandon brought a lot of nostalgia. When I was much younger, I used to read some of my written work there every Friday evening. The place was magical, and the video  projected on its street facade showed all the forgotten, amazing possiblities that a theatre can bring to a city. I hope this can open people’s eyes, especially those in power, to the importance of art and places of art in a country. It is of paramount urgency to restore places like Theatre de Port Louis and Plaza back to their glorious state.

I also really enjoyed the singing trees in Jardin De la Compagnie, or like Mauritians love to call it, Zardin Compayi. In the daylight Zardin Compayi is a busy and fairly dirty place. The huge banyans that are probably more than 100 years old go mostly unnoticed. During Porlwi by Light, these majestic banyans were given voices to share their feelings with those walking through the Zardin, making the walk quite surreal and amazing.

La Vielle Prison – an 18th century women’s prison – was a building in ruins next to NPF Building. It has always been there, never been properly restored, and nobody took notice of it till now. Artists exposed in each of the 2x2m cells, portraying “evasion in confinement”. Another completely free and accessible art exhibition for Mauritians to enjoy.

The turnout of Porlwi by light is proof that Mauritians have a thirst for events like this. Mauritians love culture, art, lights, music, food! Each of them probably went to bed that night feeling proud to be a Mauritian. Events like this centred on art, culture, history is key to restoring a sense of patriotism. And I personally think that those 40,000 square metres should always be kept free of traffic, like the heart of big cities elsewhere in the world.

I saw Ministers, CEOs and the like in the crowd of people in Port Louis this weekend. I hope things change and they realise that we have now more than 40 years of independence, it is now time to look at things differently, and value what needs to be valued…

Like one of the organisers said “Without culture, we are all poor”. I would like to thank them for this great initiative, and I hope this becomes an annual event. How about Mahebourg next time?

Check out PORLWI by Light’s facebook page for more pictures of the event: https://www.facebook.com/porlwi/

 

“It is not a sin to tax less”

I have not written in a while. But Financial Secretary Dev Manraj’s speech in the 8th Asia/Africa IFA Conference made me want to write again. Finally, an advocate for the Mauritius IFC speaks out loud and clear. Pity Indian (or for that matter, Mauritian) journalists were not here to listen. “Is it a sin to tax less?” he asks, “It is not because of a few accidents that we have to scrap the motorway,” “Are they protecting their own rights and preventing us from climbing the social ladder?” “When people think we are a rogue nation, it hurts us,” “India can now stand on its own two feet. How? By money coming in through Mauritius, it is Mauritius that helped towards India’s rapid development,” “Don’t kill us off with bad publicity” …

It has never struck me more how much taxation, and all the debate around it, was a political issue. It was highlighted by Dr Rama Sithanen during the conference that it is perhaps not a coincidence that international tax developments / issues such as Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (“BEPS”), Transfer Pricing (“TP”), US FATCA, and GAAR Provisions came at the forefront of global agendas just when most of the G20 countries were crumbling under debt and the financial crisis was unraveling. Below is the Hitchhiker’s take on the so called tax issues international organisations have been lamenting about for the past decade or so.

Will Pay Taxes

BEPS

The core issue here is globalisation. We live in a global world, intelligent businessmen have figured out that, by shifting production elsewhere, they could enjoy cheaper labour, cheaper land, cheaper facilities, and thus make more profits. The global community became so interconnected that it was soon realised that more cost optimisation could be achieved by shifting profits “offshore”. This can be viewed as an outsourcing of services: secretarial, accounting, management, administration, consultancy. The small jurisdiction gets administration fees, young graduates are happily employed in “finance”, multiplier effect for the economy, the businessman is saving money, everybody is happy. But now, boom! G20 countries are heavily indebted and they realise that their only salvation lies in plugging tax loopholes: making sure that the Taxman is not missing on any collectable cent, and even going to the extent of making the noncollectable cent become tax money due! So the OECD and co. ( which are incidentally funded by the G20 “rich” club ) have started massive campaigns against what they call “aggressive tax planning”.

OECD defines BEPS as BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) looks at whether or not the current rules allow for the allocation of taxable profits to locations different from those where the actual business activity takes place, and what could be done to change this if they do. But really, take Google, Apple, Starbucks. How do you allocate profits when the copyright belongs to one country, the manufacturing in another, the customer base in another? Professor Philippe Malherbe asks if sovereign tax rates are still applicable in the global era of today. Isn’t it time to think about some form of “global” tax rate? A utopia, you say? For now, maybe…

In a very interesting slide, Caroline Silberztein quotes “Multinational corporations, stateless income” by Sinclair Davidson – RMIT University (Australia): is the corporate tax base really being eroded? The paper shows that corporate income tax rates have reduced quite substantially over time – yet corporate income tax revenue has not: the average OECD corporate income tax rate has decreased from 50.5% in 1983 to 29.6% in 2010; yet, revenue collected from the corporate income tax as percentage of the GDP increased from 7.6% in 1981 to 8.6% in 2010. So what is all the fuss about base erosion?

FATCA

Uncle Sam

Oh well, what can I say about FATCA? It makes me think of the big octopus state of Uncle Sam spreading its tentacles all over the world. Cumbersome reporting requirements, criminal offense for non compliance, suspicious software being installed all over the world. Soon, the only place one would feel really free from the prying eyes of the IRS would be on Mars.

Tax Havens

First of all, how DUMB are NGOs like ActionAid and Oxfam? Or more importantly, how dumb do they think people are? I have been racking my brain to see the connection between tax havens and poverty in Africa. Say, Mr Rich Guy decides not to pay heed to his tax planner’s advice and pays his taxes to the IRS or to HMRC fair and square. Where in the world is the guarantee that this tax money is going to Africa to “help the poor”, especially when these countries are themselves sinking in debt by the minute? In my opinion, this is a huge PR campaign (of very bad taste) to prepare the world for FATCA, BEPS action plan, and whatever comes next. Mauritius and other targeted IFCs are mere collateral damage in the process.

Substance

The issue of substance is a fleeting concept. A walk in Ireland would make you think you are in Silicon Valley. It is not an issue to prove that management and control emanated from an IFC, especially in today’s era of interconnectedness. Board meetings, place of registration of company, office premises, qualified employees. You name it, the IFC has it. Will the Taxman stop the definition of “Substance” here? Let’s wait and see…

What should Mauritius do?

What does not kill us will make us stronger. The only thing we need is to know where we want to go and have the political will to stand by it. Switzerland or Singapore did not get to where they are today by bowing down to international pressure. The opportunities other than focusing on taxation treaty benefits abound. We must get the fragile balance between sound regulation and competitiveness right. If India decides it no longer needs us, so be it. Africa is rising, and it is starving for capital…

Disclaimer: This post reflects personal views only.

Farewell my Beloved Port Louis

My last week in Port Louis has finally arrived. I have had absolutely no time to prepare myself for this, but they say this is the way change should occur, without too much time to dwell on it.

I have been commuting to Port Louis every week day for almost five years. I must admit, I loved it more than I hated it. Forty minutes of extended sleep / chill-out time in an air-conditioned (most of the time, if you are lucky) bus listening to your favourite tunes, watching as the ocean gradually appears on the horizon while you effortlessly glide from Plaines Wilhems (higher planes) to the capital (coastal and harbour city) on the motorway, our morning view on this delicious commute. The great thing is, if you know you are running late because of traffic, you don’t need to worry because 75% of the Port Louis workforce (most probably including your manager), will surely be late as well. So, you lie back and enjoy another few minutes of precious tranquility before entering the bustling city.

Now Port Louis is something else. You love it or you hate it. I love it. It’s the place in Mauritius where everything happens. The skyline (if you can call it a skyline) is made up of the jewels of corporate Mauritius: Mauritius Commercial Bank, Rogers, State Bank of Mauritius, Air Mauritius (even if the company has recently sold Paille en Queue Court), Mauritius Telecom… Then you have old colonial buildings that make up the Supreme Court and some other important government buildings. Most of the city was built during the French / English Rule and many old paved streets were meant for horse carriages. These streets have not changed much since and nowadays swearing motorists, busy professionals, and valiant women in heels brave the uneven paved stones to grab a quick lunch, pay some due bills, buy some confi (pickled fruit), or incidentally, get their shoes fixed at the corner Cordonerie (shoe repair shop).

One of the things that I will always love about Port Louis is the wide choice of lunch time food. You can get everything, and I mean it absolutely everything, and during my five years working in Port Louis, I have labouriously endeavoured to try it all! Briani – there are several kinds and I have tasted the two most famous ones – Calife of course, and my personal favourite – Nafi. Boulettes – too many to chose from, but I love Jim’s Boulettes, Singer, Medine Mews and Lynn’s. Chinese food – the list is endless but I recommend Aline and First (also great for Dim Sum). Great places for salads, paninis and baguettes: Entre Deux, Life, 27, Caviar, Cafe L’Exquis, Gourmandises D’Anne and Cafe du Vieux Conseil. And the Hare Krsna place in Fon Sing building is great for vegetarian food and all kinds of cakes. I also loved trekking to Bazar Port Louis for a quick alouda or to buy fruit. All in all, lunch time is never ever dull in Port Louis.

When you work in the same building for almost 5 years and you see the same people everyday, you tend to get attached to them. The parking guy who rushes to help me park when I drive in every morning, because he knows I’m a hopeless case. The security guy at the ground floor reception who never misses to respond to even my grumpiest good mornings. The tea ladies and messengers with contagious good moods and who share great philosophies on life. Your 300 or so colleagues with whom you gradually get acquainted to while waiting (or complaning about) the lifts. Helpful colleagues who end up becoming such a big part of your life. The jokes you share that make you laugh your head off, commiserating or celebrating together. Welcoming new faces, saying goodbyes… And now, after five years (violins please), the time has come for me to say goodbye…

I know it’s no big deal, to change jobs. Some people do it every year, some every six months. But I get attached to things and people, and even if I am looking forward to my new adventure in Ebene (which will save me at least one hour of commute time daily = more sleep 😀 ), I will miss my old job and colleagues, my old routine, and my beloved Port Louis.

So this week, I will make sure to enjoy every single minute of what I will soon leave behind, especially the breathtaking view at my workstation…

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Les Enfants de Troumaron / The Children of Troumaron

So the event of the week is most certainly the Avant-Premiere of Les Enfants de Troumaron, which I had the chance to attend thanks to the Institut Francais de Maurice. I have always loved Ananda Devi, ever since I read Pagli more than a decade ago. Her prose is like poetry, and the fact that she writes about Mauritius in a way that no one has ever written about Mauritius before, especially how she turns the underlying cultural tension into art, makes her one of the most unique and refreshing Mauritian authors I have ever had the pleasure to read. One of her books has been turned into a movie previously: La Cathedrale. Les Enfants de Troumaron is based on her book Eve de ses Decombres. I have never read it, and wanted to discover it firsthand watching the movie.

The Avant-Premiere was held at Bagatelle, and the cinema was packed, not a single seat was free. We showed up early and… Ananda Devi was there! Clad in a sky blue sari, she looked more beautiful than ever. I had never seen her this close before. If I wasn’t practically forced to talk to her, I would have shied away for sure. What do you say to one of your favourite authors when you finally get the chance to talk to them? Well, I had so, so much to say to her, but only managed to tell her that I was a big fan. I guess that would have to do for now.

The movie was directed by Harrikrishna Anenden and Sharvan Anenden, Ananda Devi’s husband and son. Harrikrishna could not make it to the Avant-Premiere because he was presenting the movie at some festival in Canada. And Sharvan Ananden, in Ananda Devi’s own words, preferred l’ombre a la lumiere, being behind the camera instead of being in the spotlight of the stage, and he preferred to let his work speak for itself…

(SPOILER ALERT!!!!)

The movie opened on Eve, played by Kitty Phillips, casually pacing in the dark streets of colonial Port Louis, dressed in shorts and boots, smoking, waiting for her next customer. Seeing these familiar places in this light was quite an experience. Little things so beautifully portrayed, like the SDF (homeless) casually raising his head from his outdoor bed to check out Eve’s customers, not really interested, just out of passive curiosity. The movie is about 4 youngsters living in Troumaron, a rundown National housing Corporation set of flats on the outskirts of Port Louis, and how they all want to run away. Literally Troumaron means “brown hole”, but in the local slang, it has a dirtier meaning, which suits the place depicted in the story.

Eve is beautifully played by Kitty Phillips. I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job at impersonating the jaded 17 year old prostitute Eve. She is the backbone and the soul of the story. Her nonchalance, her resignation, her strength, her despair, which were no doubt intricately described in the book, were tastefully portrayed in the details of the scenes: Eve staring at the ceiling while smoking in her trashy room, Eve talking to her customers in night-time Port Louis, Eve shaving her head to renounce her feminity… The other actors, considering that none of them had real previous cinema experience, were really good as well.

But the beauty of the movie is the way the whole thing is packaged. The locations were beautiful and unique: Baie Du Tombeau, Apravashi Ghatt for the prison scenes, NHDC flats for Troumaron, Caudan (the steps leading to the water), the streets of Port Louis, the roof of the NHDC flats, next to a Resiglas water tank… Being a Mauritian and walking through these places every day, the scenes had a special meaning. I am not an expert, but I think the movie was filmed in a very professional and modern way. The way the killer was filmed slicing his vegetables for dinner made me think of Dexter’s opening credits. The soundtrack included a few of Menwar’s songs, which contributed to the “ghetto” atmosphere of Troumaron, and some Indian ghazal type songs which added depth to some of the scenes.

All in all, the movie was Ananda Devi material experienced in a totally different and beautiful light. And a first for Mauritian cinema. Les Enfants de Troumaron is proof that, given the right support, there might be hope for the industry. And being a young Mauritian always looking to be inspired, this movie made me feel so much more than I would have been able to feel with a non-Mauritian movie. That is why I feel the first step towards developing a sense of belonging to a country is to invest in the local arts…

A Child’s Wonderful World

Remember when you were a child and how easily things amazed you?

The hues of blue in between the leafy branches of the tree in your backyard which reminded you of the seaside. Wobbly jelly castles that you could hold in the palm of your hand. The comfortable scent of your grandma’s sari, especially when you buried your face in it to cry. Crying your heart out just to make yourself heard. Making flowers with spiro graphs. A magic slate that erased everything when you shook it.

Colouring pencils. Asking yourself what the hell the white pencil was for. Water colour and water colour palettes! Pouring water into miniature whisky bottles to be used with a sponge to erase your slate when you were at school. New slates and asking your uncle to help you draw permanent lines with a nail and a ruler so you could learn to write on a straight line. Lunch boxes. Colourful juice bottles. The teacher explaining division by using apples, or multiples by using match stick bunches. Getting a star on your maths test. The nice flowery hand writing of your school teacher. Being able to buy three confi (mango) slices with one rupee.

Queuing up to have a go at the slides, swinging away and imagining you could fly, feeling your head spinning and spinning on the merry go round, happily forming part of the screaming, running children in the school playground. Falling down and grazing your knee and being taken to the nurse.

Walking to the municipal library and spending hours looking for just the right selection of books with just the right mixture of catchy and intriguing covers and watching the stern looking librarian date stamp the first page of each.  And when you really really loved a book, tearing away the tiniest portion of a back page so you could keep a piece of it with you forever. In that tin biscuit box where you kept those shiny marbles and other secret stuff which you’d like to keep forever.

Cousins, when we were best friends. Cartoons that made you travel to mysterious places. Characters with whom you still relate to at 27. Beautiful places that you dream about at night. Worlds and scenarios which you invented to amuse yourself. And that treasure hunt in your garden, with a map just like the one in Treasure Island. Stealing bilimbis that have been carefully laid out in the sun for pickling, eating too green mangos or litchis and falling sick afterwards. Being threatened by rotin bazar (some kind of bendy stick) when you were naughty.

Long December holidays, when your cartoons started early and you rushed to the corner La Boutik Sinoi ( Corner shop held by a Chinese) to buy a list of your favourite snacks to savour during the shows. Never failing to marvel at the wonders beneath the glass panes of the table in La Boutik: all colours of Gato La Gom (some sort of marshmallow), Losti, Gato Piaw, shiny Zanimo or shell shaped chocolates, bonbon lapin, Gato Dile, the list goes on and on. And the cartoons at the time were not the mindless trash aired nowadays, they were really thrilling, mostly japanese style animes translated in French, with well crafted plots and real values: Les Mondes Engloutis (this one I only vaguely remember), Ulysses 31 (the Odysseus, but set in the Universe), Les Mysterieuses Cites D’Or (A spanish boy called Esteban looking for Eldorado), Taotao Le Panda (A cute panda and his friends in the forest), Nils Holgerson (A boy cursed into a minaiture tomte who flies on the back of a flock of of wild geese), Les Moomins, Au Pays de Candy, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer (this is how we knew and loved the classics), and my personal favourite, Anne et la Maison Aux Pignons Verts (Anne of Green Gables). Man, we learnt so much from these great stories.

Try as you may, not being able to write a perfect letter “e”, having to practise over and over again so your handwriting got prettier and prettier. Believing everything you read was possible, hating school. Having your teacher tell your parents how talkative you were at school, or how timid, depending on their mood. Standing in line to go back into class after the afternoon breaks, getting free cheese and disgusting tasting milk which the teacher distributed from a ladle which he plunged into a big steel milk container. Potato and sack racing sports day. Learning all about the Dutch, French and English colonising the island during EVS (Environmental Studies).

Being somehow given a money box for every birthday so you could learn the value of money, and spending all of it on Panini and Sailor Moon stickers. Collecting all kinds of shiny barettes of all sizes and shapes and colours, and also all kinds of pencil cases, fancy erasers and pencil sharpeners. Piggy tails, pony tails, french braids, anybody remember the very popular laker brinzel? (which literally means eggplant braids, which are piggy tails pulled up a bit like Princess Lea style, but with braids, uh does this make sense?)

And most of all, being in such a hurry to grow up and become an adult so you can stop going to school, earn money and no longer have to listen to your parents…

Miss Mauritius 2012

First of all, I am not a fan of beauty pageants. What is the point of having a definition of beauty and awarding a crown to it? Model competitions make more sense, at least, the point of these is selling clothes. Miss Mauritius is a big joke, but year after year, I myself have to admit that I can sense some improvement, in the organization of the event at least. They made the different competitions paid events, where people who want to attend can buy tickets, so the funding part is more or less taken care of. The judges are the sponsors, yes people who run businesses and have decided to invest in marketing ARE capable judges of beauty, no question asked! At least, the organizers invested in giving the girls some communication classes this year. It was most necessary after last year’s fiasco where a contestant did not have a single idea as to how to respond to the question “What is an independent woman in your opinion?” Seriously, she just laughed nervously and could not think of a single thing to say! I was so embarrassed for her. Granted, she was a young 17 something girl whose only exposure to life was surely Disney Channel and MTV, but still! So, this year, from the presentations, the girls seemed focused and ambitious people, who could talk. Talking is an important part in being the ambassador of a country in an international competition. This is the weakness of the Mauritian education system, there are very few outlets to develop this skill, not to mention the fact that most of us being trio-lingual (French, English, Creole, maybe even Hindi for some), it is a challenge to speak and write well in at least one of French and English. So my machiavelic mind was eagerly anticipating the Questions and Answers round, which would surely determine who the crown would go to. There were 6 contestants and 6 questions. I have to say, the girls were much more prepared for this than in the previous years’ pageants. They were more at ease, and addressed the crowd calmly before actually answering the questions. Yes granted, it is a daunting task to strut around in a wedding gown, with a whole nation’s attention on your next wrong move, but hey, isn’t that what the competition is about? Beauty with a purpose, may I remind you! Miss No. 1 replied acceptably, her question was on the evolution of the role of women in society. She took her time and gave a decent answer. The rest panicked and most of them did not even give a direct answer to their question. The two crowned Miss Universe Mauritius and Miss World Mauritius gave deplorable answers to their questions, the sponsor-judges must have reason to believe that they can do better at the actual competition at representing Mauritius (let us hope so at least!). Miss No. 1 looked surprised when she was awarded only Runner up No. 1. It was actual proof that the whole competition is not only based on the Questions and Answers part, but on continuous assessment throughout.

Oh well, at least we were extremely well entertained by the Club Med entertainment team, complete with carnival style samba dancers, singers, and even a beautiful trapeze type act.

So what happens to the girls who did not win? At least they would have spent a month all expenses paid at Sofitel and hopefully they would have grown from the experience! And what about those who did win? Let us hope that they would use their crowning moment for some purpose bigger than the enlargement of their own ego! And lastly, let us hope that next year the beauty will be more purposeful!

Susheela Raman Vs Old School Mauritius

So I was all excited about going to the Susheela Raman concert, which was going to add to my 27th birthday celebrations, till I came to this post on her official facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/susheelaramanofficial

VERRY HAPPY and privileged to be in beautiful Maritius to play but VERY UNHAPPY to be told on arrival that we a cannot play the Murugan-related songs ‘Paal’ or ‘Ennapane’, which are centrepieces of both the album VEL and our live show, because some minority ultra-conservatives within the Tamil minority are upset by them. We have been give a choice, after a 26 hour journey: either agree not play the songs or cancel the show, which has been sold out/much anticipated. Hrrmph.

I was quick to youtube Paal, which is supposed to be a song about a sacred pilgrimmage for Lord Muruga:

I did not find in this video anything that would sound more “offensive” than any of her other carnatic songs. What I think happened is that some “ultra-conservative” religious group wanted to make themselves heard and did not even bother to carry out real research on Susheela Raman songs, but just picked the first two most popular ones and with the most references to the words “Vel Muruga” and decided that they were “offensive”. Which in my opinion, totally defeats the purpose, because most of her carnatic songs, which constituted 70% of the concert, contained religious Tamil terms. What is even more astounding is that these songs were freely played (and appreciated) in places such as Mumbai and Pakistan, and (wait for it) in the holy seat of Lord Muruga, Tamil Nadu itself. Would the reaction of these hotheads have been the same had these songs been performed by an old lady in a saree, wearing glasses and playing an harmonium? Or if the songs had been first over-mediatised and glamourised and accepted by Bollywood mainstream?

So does that mean that multi-cultural, key to the Indian Ocean, ex English and French colony Mauritius is more conservative than India itself? Or does that mean that society, or in this case, the organisers, feel that they are too vulnerable to the power of the voices of a few religious hotheads?

So what was the point of the ban? And most importantly, how come these voices had to be heeded to? Do we live in a society governed by “ultra-conservative” religious hotheads? Is this the kind of society we want? Is Mauritius a religious state?

I think that the paradox of Mauritius is that we want to be too many things at once. We want to be fervently religious, we want to be westernized, we want to conquer Africa, we don’t want to forget our roots, and we want to be modern at the same time. In this case, we want to bring Susheela Raman to Mauritius because she is an world-renowned artist, but we do not want her to sing Paal and Ennapane fearing that this might offend some easily offended hotheads. Which happen to have the power (and means) to organise potentially violent demonstrations. Why? Because something like religion, which in this case is itself a branch of Hinduism, leads to feelings of sectarianism or the “nou ban” effect and fires up tempers easily. It is human nature to protect one’s “own” with tooth and nail, agreed. But after more than 40 years of independence, is this normal? Or desirable?

Are the whims of religious groups to be tolerated? Is this going to fade away as the current generation retires making place for the new one, that is, for us? Or are some of us being brainwashed by fanatics and groomed to gush out the same old sectarian bullshit over and over again? Mine is good, mine is sacred, yours is bad, yours is blasphemy and nothing else matters. Do politicians who use this weakness in the Mauritian society to their own good when it suits them, to blame? Or are we the ones to blame, the passive ones, who sit through a Paal and Ennapane – less Susheela Raman concert, with a nondescript smirk on our faces, knowing full well of the absurdity of the ban, but who wish to remain in our comfort zone of letting it go, just because it is the safer and easier option?

As a side note, I have to say that listening to the album Moksh by Whosane has had the merit of making more than one take the time to sit down and leaf through the Bhagavad Gita. What’s wrong in making old religious texts and mantras accessible to a jaded youth who is so desperately looking for something to believe in?

At least Susheela had the guts to stay true to herself and voice out on the absurdity of the ban and hold a one minute silence in protest. Respect…

Window to the World

ImageHello world, I am back! 😀 Yes indeed, I have been laptop deprived for almost a month, but now my dear old Sony Vaio is back and feels like new, and it feels so good to have my window to the world restored back to perfect health! You only realise how much time you spend in front of your computer screen when you can no longer do it! Yes I have to thank my sister who has generously granted me a few minutes on her Dell to check my facebook from time to time, and I have managed to fill up some of the time with good old TV. I have been amazed once more at how my 17 year old Sanyo TV set still works and marvelled at the uselessness of most of the channels on Mauritius MyT, or how they got several utterly boring Indian channels for free and gloriously added it to the “Bouquet MyT”. I did enjoy YogaCity on NDTV Good Times and a nice movie with young Brad Pitt with long blond hair on TCM last night though. And I put some of the spare time I had in testing my cooking skills (Yesterday I made a smoked salmon quiche which miraculously earned myself a 7/10 on my sister’s scale of appreciation) and I courageously continued on my mission to educate the youth in my backyard to watching some good movies. Actually, considering that I did not have a laptop, I needed my cousin’s DVD player to watch some DVDs and at the same time thought that the youngsters could do with some award winning inspirational movies to add to their repertoire of Bollywood, Fast and Furious, Hanna Montana, and some more Bollywood. Verdict: I at least managed to convert one of the four little brats to intelligent animated movies and I for one enjoyed How to Train your Dragon, even if it was dubbed in French.

So what else happened in April? We went to see My week with Marilyn, Michelle Williams was brilliant, I already thought she was pretty great in Blue Valentine, but this time, for someone who does not know much about Marilyn Monroe except that she was an iconic blonde diva in an age when I was not yet born, she really made Marilyn re-live for me. Just watching that movie, I could capture at least some of the essence of the icon, the sultriness, the innocence, the pretty blondeness charm that made generations succumb. There is no one in the current generation of stars who can come close to that kind of charm. It was to say the very least, magic.

And then today the French go to vote, and all the polls say that Sarkozy is going to lose. Only time will tell us what a Hollande Republique will bring to the world. I have to say that I will personally miss Mr Sarkozy, who had solid charisma, and who has been trying so hard to be one of the rocks behind the Euro.

No comments on May 1st in Mauritius, just the same faces bickering at each other, not real sustainable solutions, just the same music.

This week is going to be decisive for Mauritius Offshore Industry. At long last the Minister of Finance, according to the newspaper article I read today, seems to be waking up to the threat and how India keeps using Mauritius as a scapegoat for all of its fiscal problems. This is a sticky situation because everything relating to a country’s taxes is highly political. If the Indian government continues to ignore the billions of rupees of taxes it loses due to the DTAA with Mauritius, it will lose popularity and hence votes from the general Indian population. No government in its right mind will ever take a decision favouring capitalists over the general population. So I think GAAR will prevail, investors who used to invest into India through Mauritius will chose Singapore as conduit in the short term, and the bigger investors who can afford to do so will try to build greater substance in Mauritius by opening offices and actually employing staff. The way of doing business in Offshore in Mauritius will definitely have to change. It is a time for change in the Industry, Mauritius Offshore has to become Mauritius Expert Professional Services instead of mere double taxation exploiters.

And winter has definitely come in Mauritius. My university hoodie is out, I have already had my first change of season cold, the winter rains are here, days are getting shorter, and it’s becoming harder to wake up in the mornings. And it will certainly be hard to drag myself out of bed to face another week of deadlines at work tomorrow. But hey, two more weeks before my birthday week! 😀 :O

A Simplistic View on the Evolution of the Mauritian Animal

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Not so long ago, there was the concept of slavery. People belonged to their “masters”. They were caught, herded onto a ship, and brought to a place to work the land, usually. Then, after people became a bit more humane, slavery was “abolished” and these people were called labourers. The “masters” became the owners of the business and the bosses. They paid ridiculous wages and reaped all the profits, and worse, they elected one of the labourers themselves as Sirdars, to watch over and whip their brother labourers back to work. Labourers in Mauritius worked the land, worked as sugarcane cutters, pruned tea leaves and cut down Ebony tree forests.

Then machines were invented and there was the Industrial Revolution. The labourers became machine attendants. They worked in the Export Processing Zone or EPZ sector, which consisted mainly of textile and manufacturing products meant for export. The wages were a bit higher, and the labourers now worked indoors in factories. They got lunch breaks and worked eight hours a day, and even got paid overtime. They chose to work overtime to earn more money, to save towards a better life, maybe to buy that colour TV or that washing machine.The Sirdars were replaced by the Supervisors, who carefully supervised the output of each factory worker to make sure it met the standard.

With the EPZ and the agricultural sector, the economy developed and money started to circulate into the country and out of the country. With time and popular political decisions from the ruling parties on working conditions and minimum wage level, the Mauritian wage and standard of living started to improve. Factory workers had to be imported from poorer countries to stay competitive. Banks started mushrooming everywhere. Somebody got the great idea to copy the Channel and Cayman islands and develop Mauritius as a financial jurisdiction. The slaves / indentured labourers turned factory workers turned into clerks working in the various financial institutions, while their friends less versed towards Finance worked in the more and more luxurious hotels burgeoning around the coasts of the island. They started earning even higher wages as the banks started competing with each other to reap the bigger talents, and tourists brought their foreign currency into the island. Nobody wanted to work in factories, or in the fields anymore.

With the opening up of the Mauritian economy, and the growing affordability of all sorts of satellite tv channels, the wants of the Mauritian got bigger and bigger. The Mauritian is a typical consumerist, wants-to-do-better-than-his-neighbour, mostly hardworking animal. Banks started giving out more and more loans, hire purchase companies made a fortune out of interest and the Mauritian went on collecting and collecting gadgets to add to his Mauritian dream lifestyle. To succeed was usually symbolic to owning more than one house, preferably one in the highlands, and one on the coast. Overtime became the norm and both the mother and father of the typical nuclear family would be working hard to climb the social ladder steps, while their children were herded into private tuitions so they could “achieve” even more. Either that or they watched Disney channel and MTV and rebelled against society because they thought they should be living the same kind of life as what they saw on TV. With the pressure from their peers, their children and the ever evolving Mauritian economy, the Mauritian would slave away at work for years and years, consoling themselves with the carrot of performance bonus at the end of the year while always fearing the consequences of the fatal stick of being fired. For without this great job in this small office of this great institution, they would not be able to afford the luxuries they got so much accustomed to, and this would really be the ultimate low. So they slave away for 10 hours a day with the comfort of knowing that a handsome pension would be waiting for them when they turn 60… wait 65 now. Whether they would be in a good enough shape to enjoy those millions at that age is another question altogether. With the increase in wages and the busier and busier lifestyles, fastfood became the norm and fastfood in Mauritius consists in a haphazard briani of western and eastern cuisine, or the Mauritian variation of it, which tastes yummy, granted, but which can be said to be the cause of diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, the most common life-taking diseases in the small island. Some of them try to practise sports, but most of them end up promising to practise that jogging or swimming or football or finally entering into that expensive gym only once their doctor orders them to AFTER that stroke.

Oh and the Sirdars became the Managers, and the Managers became the Senior Managers, Department Heads, and CEOs, while the owners… well the owners remained the owners…