My prose is mostly autobiographical. They are the memories of my childhood that I cherish the most, of real – life events, people and places. I was born in Mauritius before the country won its independence from the British Rule in 1968. I was fortunate to be born in a wealthy Hindu family. My Papa was a big sugar magnet in the North of the island, having inherited from his father, 200 ‘arpents’( units of land area as measured by the French when they occupied Mauritius before the British).
Mauritius was an underdeveloped country. The huge disparity between the social classes was horrendous. The rich were very rich and the poor, very poor. Hence, promiscuity was rampant in the country.
Radhika married a very prosperous landowner. She was merely sixteen and she had no choice but to succumb to the will of her father. She fell in love with her husband, Seelall, on their wedding night. He was six years her senior and as handsome as a god. She bore her husband many beautiful and healthy children. She was proud to belong to the class of high society women. She learnt how to drive the luxurious imported cars from Britain, to perm her hair, to wear expensive silk saris and elite handmade sandals brought from India by Punjabi merchants. Her mansion was run by maid and man servants as labour was very, very cheap.
Behind the house, there was a large open space where the washing of dirty linen was done by hand, with foreign soap and tap water, on big slabs of stone. Then hang out, on strings of bamboo, to dry in the sun. Collected in huge raffia baskets when dry, the linen was brought in a special room, adjacent to the house, for ironing. This was a routine process involving the task of many washerwomen, locally and commonly called ‘dhobis’.
A washerwoman could be a woman of any community yet, there was, prominent in those days of illiteracy and ignorance, the existence of the caste system. The dhobis belonged to their own caste. The Hindus were very conscious and very wary about the caste system, brought over from India. So was Radhika.
The ‘dhobis’ were not allowed in her kitchen or to touch the food.
Other people and those who could not afford tap water at home sent their washing to the local dhobis.
There was one reputed dhobi, by the name of Salsa. She was a widow and she raised two young daughters, Rosemay and Mimine, by her own sweat because widows were not allowed to remarry. Often they were found on the streets, pushing a wooden cart, packed with big bundles of customers’ clothes which they washed at a neighbouring river; then brought home for ironing with the heavy steel irons fuelled with burning charcoals.
Rosemay, the eldest daughter of Salsa, was a fine-looking young woman. She had long, black, crimped thick hair, a flawless complexion colour olive, captivating, bewitching black eyes and a mouth of extraordinary beauty. She never wore make-up, except for ‘Kaajol’, eyeliner which was made at home by placing a spoon in front of a lighted oil lamp. To add to her blessings, she had two gorgeous breasts, rounded and firm like two green apples. She never wore a brassiere under her blouse. Brassieres were a luxury for the rich.
One critical day, Radhika received a phone call from an anonymous informer. Her head reeled at hearing that her loving husband was keeping Rosemay as his mistress. She nearly collapsed but insisted on getting a proof of this devastating rumour. She was promised a proof by the informer, who added that he only wanted to see her happy.
Two days after, she lifted her phone. The informer was calling again. He told her to go immediately to such and such address. Her husband was there with Rosemay. She asked, Jalil , the chauffeur, to bring out her Rover; she was trembling all over; she asked two of her children to climb in the car, on the rear seat, beside her. Jalil drove her to a remote village which was bouncing with joy and music. The car of her husband was stationary on a side road which led to a cluster of ragged huts made of corrugated iron sheets. She alighted and went straight to a one room hut, pushed the door open and entered.
Followed screams, howls, cries…then Radhika returned to the Rover and Jalil drove silently home.
Later in the evening, and after a refreshing tub bath, Radhika found an ugly surprise awaiting her, by the side of her bed. An odd sandal was staring mockingly at her. She realized her blunder. During the scuffle at the place of her rival, she had lost the left sandal of the ‘Kalighata’ exclusive footwear which her husband had offered to her on her birthday. Moreover, in trying to bring her husband home, she had slipped, in her anger, disappointment and confusion, her left foot in the left ‘Kalighata’ sandal of Rosemay and brought it home with her.
Radhika howled with pain. Maid servants and her children all rushed to her room. She pointed to the sandal of Rosemay with a shaking finger, speechless. Her complexion had become completely white. In her eyes, there was a spark of madness. One of her daughters, a pony tailed girl of eight years, had the insight to lift the sandal of Rosemay from the bedroom floor and to throw it out of the balcony, very far in the wilderness. Somehow she knew that it was not her mother’s sandal. It was the sandal of Rosemay.