Sometimes, without notice, memories of days gone by flood into our wandering mind. Memories of our childhood, like the washing stone, on which we used to wash our clothes, and the smell of blue soap; the clanging of huge tin basins, where the laundry was soaked, and the same laundry being hanged out and “pinched” onto a line of coir twine, commonly named “la corde coco”. The “chalis” (floor) had to be slathered with red wax, then brushed using a “coconut brush” (one half of a dry coconut husk). I can still hear the swish-swash of the coconut brush on the floor! Then, we used to buff the floor with our “patins” (square pieces of fleece astutely sewn by our grandmothers) for a shiny finish.
Finely chopped fruits and vegetables were laid onto large metal plates and left to dry in the sun. Then, they were cooked into traditional cast iron pots to obtain mouth-watering “achards” (pickles). As we stood by the cooking pot, our eyes would sting and tear because of the chilli! Often, we would filch slices of dried fruit to the great displeasure of our Grandmother! The delightful smell of homemade red cattley guava jam (the fruits had been picked in Plaine Champagne) filled the house. I also remember gathering the vegetables that grew in Grandfather’s kitchen garden… At that time, we were eating nothing less than organic vegetables, and our gardens brimmed with fruit trees of all kinds. We ate the fruit directly from the tree, in its purest, most organic form! Then, we would hear an adult shout: “Come down from this tree! You’ll get hurt!” But none of us would obey, since we were too busy feasting on mangoes or litchis!
Holidays spent at our grandparents’ place with all the cousins were unforgettable moments of joy! Up at dawn, after a quick breakfast of “pain maison” (a traditional round bread with a split in the middle) with homemade jam and a cup of tea with milk, we would hurry to the garden and only come back at lunchtime. Our childhood games – blind man’s bluff, hopscotch, statues, and many more – would keep us busy for hours. A typical day would not go without shouting, falling, fighting, making peace and catching sunburn. Such fond memories will forever remain in my mind. Each one of us was assigned a chore – setting the table, washing the dishes, etc. – and we would comply without complaining, failing which immediate punishment would fall upon us. We would swallow our lunch in haste to resume our games, until we were eventually summoned to take a bath at the end of the day.
What a blessed time it was, when children never got bored, and yet, cell phones, tablets and computers did not even exist! A time when ten people – both children and grown-ups – could squeeze into a single car to roam across the island and head for the beach! No seat belt needed, not a single traffic fine.
I like to think that the best Mauritian rum-arrangé was the one my Grandfather used to make, involving a whole ritual of its own. First, orange peels were sun-dried. Then, the blend was meticulously prepared, adding prunes, raisins and orange peels… Mind you! Once filled, the elegant carafes were stowed away and we had to wait. Only Granddad was allowed to occasionally take them out and give them a little stir. With a single glance, he could tell when the rum was ready!
On convivial evenings with guests, the grown-ups would sip on the rum between two conversations, while we, children, would content ourselves with the delectable scent of this famous nectar.
Now, it is high time we leave memory lane and turn back to reality… The reminder of my phone says that it is laundry day today. In a wink, I set up the washing machine and off it goes!