Kewal - The Story of Seewoosagur Ramgoolam

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The story of Seewoosagur Ramgoolam spans across the twentieth century and illuminates the great moments of its modernisation process.

Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, also known as Kewal, was born with the century on 18 September 1900 at Belle Rive at a time when the country was being ravaged by outbreaks of epidemics, mass poverty and exploitation for the benefit of a handful of sugar magnates. His father, Moheeth Ramgoolam, an Indian immigrant labourer, lived in the small village of Belle Rive, five miles away from Bel Air, in the Flacq district.

Moheeth Ramgoolam married a young widow, Basmati Ramchurn, who had two sons, Nuckchadee Heeramun and Ramlall Ramchurn.

Kewal grew up freely as a child of nature, amidst plants, wild grass, flowers, the Camizard mountain which sent forth innumerable streams down the Belle Rive river, known as "Fourgett ke nadi" from where Kewal accompanied his father to catch fish and prawns in the flowing river. As a village child, he had lived and shared in the daily suffering of the oppressed Immigrant labourers. As a sensitive child who grew up as a kind, compassionate soul, Kewal must have vowed to wipe out the tears off the faces of his compatriots once he grew up to become the "governor" of this country.

He had his early grounding in Hindi alphabets and Indian culture and philosophy in the local baitka and at home. This was to flower into a broad culture of compassion, mutual understanding, non-violence, tolerance and love for his fellow human beings. Later, this broad Ramgoolam culture would find expression in the democratic principle of this country, combining the eternal values of the East and the West into a perfect blending that went into the shaping of our harmonious multi-cultural society.

The child Kewal joined the neighbouring R.C.A school under Madame Siris on his own without his mother’s knowledge. Later he left for Bel Air Government School, travelling by train from Olivia station until he passed his sixth standard.

In those hard days, life was shortened by all sorts of hazards, epidemics and threatening diseases, the plague, malaria, diptheria, typhoid, tuberculosis and Kewal was lucky to have been well looked after by his mother and his twenty-one year old step-brother, Ramlall, a fairly prosperous small planter and "marqueur" at Belle Rive estate. At the age of seven, Kewal lost his father and at the age of twelve, Kewal met with a serious accident in the cowshed that cost him his left eye permanently.

A studious and ambitious boy, Kewal was to continue his scholarship class at the Curepipe Boys’ Government School while he took up boarding at uncle Harry Parsad Seewoodharry, a sworn land surveyor, living at Bougainville street, Curepipe. There he would listen to the drawing room politics of the day carried by his uncle and his circle of friends. From there, he used to relish the talks given by the barber, Ratan, eloquent on the local political situation in Mauritius and the current passionate struggle for Indian liberation under Gandhi, Nehru and Bose.

Ratan was well informed about the articles written in Manilall Doctor’s weekly paper "Hindustani" and the current activities of the Action Libérale under Dr Eugène Laurent. That was his first lesson in politics, a taste which he was to nourish all his life. Later, after his studies, he would contribute to Fokeer’s "The Mauritius Indian Times" and revealed his personal interest in writing and journalism.

The scholarship classes helped Kewal to skip Forms I and II when he went straight to Junior Cambridge at the Royal College, Curepipe where he fell under the influence of the English tutors, Reverend Fowler and Mr Harwood. Early in life he was impressed by British culture and manners and he became a devoted lover of the English language and literature. But he also loved French literature and later, in Paris, he devoured the books of André Gide and André Malraux with whom he struck friendship. In London, he was to go deeper into English literature, listen to literary debates between George Bernard Shaw and G. K. Chesterton, make friends with the poets, Spender and T. S. Eliot.

After secondary schooling, Kewal worked for three months in the Civil Service, then a preserve of the Coloured bourgeoisie and firmly closed on the Asians.

One day, he met an old Indian woman, visibly in pains and in tears as perceived from her immense physical and moral suffering. Kewal enquired gently, "mother, why’re you crying so much? Please tell me how I can help?"

She looked at him in surprise, dried her tears and said a few words that went straight into the heart and soul of Kewal. "There’s nothing you can do, babu. This is our fate. We’ve been suffering all our lives. The white sahib doctor has called me names. Where else can I go? All the sahib doctors are alike. It’s the same insults, the same humiliations".

Kewal was overwhelmed by the memory of his sick mother, dying of pneumonia and her last words on her death bed as she held his hand and entrusted it into the hands of Ramlall and Nuckchadee, his two brothers while she breathed her last, "I’m leaving little Kewal into your hands. Take good care of him".

Kewal was indeed well looked after by his step brothers who did everything to help their young brother realise his dream of becoming the head of this country one day. In his turn, Kewal was deeply attached to his family and after the death of Ramlall, Kewal would look after his sister-in-law as a precious member of his family.

He also remembered how as a child he used to accompany the sick and suffering people, resigned to their fate, to the village hospital.

Kewal realised that the only way he could help mop up the suffering of the poor was by serving them as a doctor. And his brother Ramlall promised to help him through his medical studies in London.

By Anand Mulloo 15.9.98