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Archive for April, 2007

May Day

May 1 is celebrated throughout the world as Labour Day, often called May Day (not to be confused with “Mayday” which is an international distress signal code in radio communication derived from the French “m’aider” meaning “help me”). Its origin is found in the Industrial Revolution that took place in Britain at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. There was a fundamental transformation from manual to mechanized labour, which transgressed the socio-cultural barriers. Workers became exposed to poor conditions and irregular hours of work, putting in between 10 to 16 hours in some cases. The concept of the 8-hour work emerged in the struggle for workers’ emancipation; and it spread gradually throughout the other parts of the world.

In Mauritius Labour Day was celebrated for the first time in 1938 under the initiative of Dr. Maurice Curé, an eminent leader of the labour movement at that time. But over the years this “day”, which is a pubic holiday, has been taken over by politicians. It is an occasion for political parties (government and opposition alike) to demonstrate their popularity and force by organizing mass meetings in the main townships of the island. Unions can hardly mobilize their rank and file to the bare 100, while tens of thousands of people flock to the political gatherings. Most of the public buses have been booked to carry people free to the meeting places. Some roads have even been closed to allow for necessary arrangements.

However, in remembrance to those who struggled for workers’ emancipation, wreaths are laid by union leaders as well as political men at the respective tombs. Dr. Maurice Curé, Emanuel Anquetil, Guy Rozemont, Anjalay are but a few of the martyrs of the labour movement in Mauritius. Unions have been organizing talks around a particular theme each year in order to keep their members alert to the happenings of the day.

But there are others for whom Labour Day will mean nothing; it’ll be a day just like any other day. They’ll prefer a round at the seaside or at the hypermarkets or still at the various commercial exhibitions being held at the moment. Oh! Right at this time as I’m writing I overheard, and it’s confirmed by my wife, the TV news announcing government has just decided to prohibit all commercial sales on the 1st May. Are they anticipating low participation at their meeting? Will they be able to pull the shock-giving crowd? Anyway, one cannot underestimate people’s frustration these days with the ever-drastically-increasing prices of all commodities. As low participation means unpopularity, the government doesn’t want to take risks; so it seems.

As for me there’s no special arrangement. I’ll take a good rest in the morning before I get ready for a service and dinner at my niece’s place on the occasion of her birthday. The whole family will be there. You might call it a family day for me, if you wish; well deserved anyway, after long work commitments. It’s long since I’ve distanced myself form political meetings. When I was a trade union leader from 1984 to 1999, I had to show myself in prominent position; no longer now. I better devote my time for more constructive activities. And what’s better than writing?

Just one thing before I pen off, don’t miss the interview I announced yesterday. It’ll be up tomorrow, May 1. I just hope it won’t be a Mayday for me!

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Coming out soon!

I’ll be coming up with an interview category, where we’ll talk to experts. And as blogging is about writing, we’ll favour interview with
writers in particular. But this doesn’t mean that other experts will be left out. Far from it. We’ll find out as we progress. Any expert is welcome.

I’m also interested to know how beginners are faring, how bloggers are doing, and also about those who’ve just been published, or won competitions, etc. This site, if you remember, aims at honing one’s writing; so keep in touch.

The first interview will be released very soon. It will be with a famous international freelance writer and editor. We’ll talk to him lengthily about how he got into writing, how he succeeded in getting published, and how would-be writers can benefit from online resources to improve their writing skills.

So, watch out!

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When I woke up this morning I didn’t really have any plans for the day. I thought I’d reorganize my schedule so that I can have a smooth blogging the coming week. But then I decided to go to Port Louis. It wasn’t to watch the races. No, although it was the second day of horse racing here. I don’t feel like having an interest for the races any more. All seems to be high-betting business and you have to be armed with a good dose of patience if you want to see the sports side of it. So it was rather to visit a book fair that was organized by the National Library in the context of World Book Day. It’s become an annual feature now at the Caudan Waterfront.

I was curious to see what’s selling, how it’s being done and who the local publishers are. I was pleasantly surprised that people do indeed show the interest deserved in books and other literatures in this era of information technology. Although a wide range of resources is available on the internet; hard copies are still in high demand. We have to reckon that books will continue to exist, as long as writers and readers will exist.

It was a family event. Some years back there was no much rush. People now make it a point to attend such event, and with their wards. They want to “show” their children rather than “tell” them what’s going on and how, what’s there in the market, and how they can benefit. It’s sort of making them get the feel of the book world. Education and upbringing have become highly competitive. Excellence is the word. You could see everybody leafing through every single piece of literature. Much more, everybody had something in their hands, a book, a magazine, a periodical or other reading stuff as they were leaving the stands. Prices were considerably reduced on some materials.

The nearly two-meter-corridor in between the 20 or so book stands was crammed; and the air was roasting. In another stand some meters away, children were invited to story telling, quiz, reading and reciting poems. A well-known artist entertained them.

But my attention was drawn by an old lady, well, older than me, sitting in front of a desk with some books under a large umbrella. She was outside the stands. As I passed by she invited me to have a look. She was promoting inspirational items. She immediately discovered by my body language that I wasn’t interested. Even then she insisted. I didn’t want to displease her. So I had a quick glance. She knew I was doing it for her sake. In a move to conceal her embarrassment she asked me with a smile:

“You’re champion, Sir?”

On the spot, I didn’t get her. I just murmured: “Well… but I’m fond of reading…. and a bit of writing, for the pleasure of it… Just that.”

She regained her ease now; and we started exchanging some vibes about my interest in writing when I realized that I was wearing a T-shirt on which was written “Champion”. Before I’d blush I decided to withdraw as somebody else popped at the desk. I was just slipping away when she looked at me in my eyes: “I hope to see you in print, Sir. Good luck; and May God bless.”

The words she uttered during the brief conversation seem still to be rolling in my mind. I cannot imagine how meaningful they can be. I hope I can make it one day. If not for me, at least for my well-wisher. Although by now I cannot figure out who I talked to.

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Yesterday I couldn’t make it to my blog. I came back very late. It was 10.30 pm and I was exhausted. I had a long day’s work. On Thursdays I usually do consultancy for a private enterprise after my normal work. After a quick bath, a coffee sip and a light snack I rushed to Quatre Bornes. It’s about 15 minutes’ drive from where I live. I had to be at the Gold Crest Hotel by seven to attend a talk on hepatitis awareness in the context of World Safety Day which is celebrated on 28 April every year for quite some years now. It was organized by a pharmaceutical company in collaboration with the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health Management (Mauritius) of which I am a member.

I really didn’t feel like approaching my computer after a copious and relatively late dinner served following the presentation made by three eminent doctors in the field of virology and occupational health.

So what did I learn? I must confess that I had a very superficial view of hepatitis. I took it for granted, like any other disease that infects, affects and then leaves after a certain period. But it’s more than that, as I learnt that it can be a deadly disease.

By now you should be asking yourself (unless you already know about it) what the hell hepatitis is. Ho does it affect people? Are we all at risk? What are the symptoms? Can it be prevented? Don’t worry folks; I’ll give you a feed back of the talk, if you can follow me. Just bear with me.

Well, hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver, caused by a virus. Different kinds of the virus cause different types of hepatitis, namely hepatitis A, B, C, D, E. The most common are hepatitis A and B. They are different diseases caused by different viruses and different modes of transmission, although they are both characterized by the development of what is known as jaundice if the condition persists. But hepatitis B is more dangerous and may even develop into liver cancer. I couldn’t imagine it’s 100 times more infectious than the Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV).

The main mode of transmission of hepatitis A is by the fecal-oral route from an infected person. It may be excreted in the saliva. It is also spread through blood (for example by contaminated blood transfusion) or by the use of contaminated syringes and needles. If you drink or swim in water contaminated by fecal matter, or consume contaminated food which has been handled by an unaware infected food handler with poor hygiene, or eat raw food like salads, cold meat and fruit handled by unwashed (contaminated) hands, then you may be at risk. Don’t take shellfish for granted. If they’ve been harvested from dirty water they may be contaminated and put you at risk.

Hepatitis B is transmitted in practically the same way as HIV; by personal contact with an infected person, sexual contact or contact with infected body fluids or contaminated blood, by use of infected syringes or needles. Beware if you are fond of acupuncture, body piercing or tattooing. Whereas HIV is not transmitted through bites, hepatitis B is. If you are bitten by an infected person, you may get infected too. Skin conditions like abrasions, eczema and bites have also been found to be common routes of transmission.

You may also be at risk of hepatitis if you work in sewage plants or emergency services, or if you are a health care worker, day care centre worker, doctor, nurse, dentist, food handler or you work in a food handling industry or prison. Dialysis patients and frequent travelers are also prone, reports have shown.

If you’ve been infected you’ll feel feverish, nauseated, unwell, and experience lack of appetite and abdominal discomfort. Jaundice may develop some days later. The virus is very resistant and able to survive in water and food from about 12 weeks to about 10 months.

The most effective preventive measure is vaccination, although safe and good hygiene practices are essential in curbing the spread.

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A healthier heart

Today I had an appointment for the routine health check-up. There’s nothing serious, thank God, except the high blood pressure, which I manage to keep under control with the daily intake of Atenolol 100 mg. Usually the blood pressure is OK in the morning and the evening, especially when I’m at home. But at the health centre during mid-day it wasn’t. It never is whenever I attend the health centre.

“Stressed?” asked the nurse.

“No… why?” I stared at her.

“It’s 140/90”.

“So?”

“…”

I knew that’s why I wasn’t worried. Sometimes it’s even higher. Last time, three months ago, it was 150/100. My problem, I am told, is not so much the systolic pressure; it’s the diastole that’s usually abnormally high.

Today’s visit reminded me also of the diets and the physical exercise which I often skip. I may be regular over one week, and just pass on it the next. And you know I can’t leave my keyboard. Anyway, to keep up with the physical exercise which the doctor advised I resumed the evening walk.

It’s normally recommended to have a half hour walk every day, which, it is said, reduces the risk of a heart attack by some 30 per cent. I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but I read about it (this evening itself after the walk) in an article in the Reader’s Digest Asia of this month, “10 Steps to a healthy heart” by a certain Dr Michael F. Roizen. The article goes further in recommending that one should do whatever it takes to get their blood pressure down to 115/75. Means I got to do something about it.

But I walked longer than the half hour; and I always do more. I actually did it for exactly, yes exactly one hour. I didn’t time it. I mean I didn’t do it in the sense of a “course contre la montre” (race against time). Well, I noted the time instinctively when I left and then again when I came back home, my departure point. It was 6.13 pm. Amazing. And I walked six to seven kilometers. Almost. As if I was out to catch up with the backlogs.

Anyway, if you are interested to read the article and know more about ways to have a healthier heart follow the link here.  You may have to login first. Registration is free.

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Farewell party

After the heavy dholl-poori-chicken-curry dinner of yesterday I could hardly get up this morning. And the idea of a jammed road on the first school day after the Easter vacations made me even lazier. Is it also hectic for you on Monday morning? I lied until the thought of a farewell party at the office turned me on. How could I miss my good friend’s send off?

It was Nizjad’s last day at the service of the state. He’ll be on leave until he attains retirement age in September. He’s got to exhaust all his leave. We met in the club room as from 2.30 pm. All the staff was there to bid him farewell. It’s always sad to have to part with those you’ve worked with for more than a quarter of a century.

I remember, in 1979, I was posted in Rodrigues islands, some 600 km to the east of Mauritius for a brief tour of service. Nizjad was there as officer-in-charge. He was my senior. But we did our work without the least discrimination of rank. He was very humble, he still is. We spent a cyclone episode together. I still can’t forget the hard time we had lighting a hurricane lamp; we had never used one before. I was worried being away from my parents in such a bad weather. He patted my shoulder in encouragement and said: “Don’t let yourself down my dear, whatever’s going to happen will happen; we can’t go against God’s will; just keep your head on your shoulders.” I nodded in assent; and he added: “We shall overcome, together we shall overcome.”

Nizjad’s very philosophic and highly religious; he never misses his prayers, five times a day. He’s also an avid reader. I bought a book recently “La face cachée du 11 Septembre” by Eric Laurent. Quite interesting; it delves into the so-called untold stories about the US twin tower tragedy. I hadn’t finished reading it than Nizjad borrowed it. I couldn’t let him wait. He devoured it in no time and returned it back. I’ve yet to take it up again.

So today it was time for farewell. The Chief of staff welcomed Nizjad and his family, after which the Deputy Director praised Nizjad’s journey within the department since the time he joined the service. Then Nizjad was invited to speak. Words could harldy come out, jerky at the beginning, and they flowed smoothly as he continued his short discourse. He’s had an enriching career, he said; and he’s had good moments as well as bad ones. He’d deleted all the bad memories and archived the good ones, the only bit that he’ll bring along with him on his retirement, he reassured. Tears nearly rolled off his eyes as he uttered his last words in a gesture of advice to all his fellow colleagues: “Always do the best, God will do the rest.” A standing ovation followed, and two new recruits (lady staff, to keep up with tradition) were invited to hand him a souvenir gift, and a bouquet to his madam.

It was now time for tea (not peppermint tea, Beccy – we have vanilla flavored tea and we take it with some milk – I had two cups) and snacks, Indian snacks: “samoossas” (cakes made of flour strips rolled with spicy stuff, potatoes or chicken or beef or whatever, even cheese and deep fried) and local “gateaux piments” (cakes made of crushed dholl mixed with chilies, onions, shallot and fried). Ummmh…delicious crispy snacks!

I’d have missed these moments had I let my laziness take over this morning.

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Dholl Puri

Had a pretty cool day. Spent most of the time in the kitchen, giving a helping hand to my other half. Woke up at 9.00 am. After the usual market chores, a quick glance at the weekly news and a copious breakfast (which sustained me until a delayed lunch time at 2.45 pm), settled with the preparation of a special meal.

We often make special preparations on Sundays when everybody is at home. I’m not a good cook though. It’s not my stuff. Sierra does most of it. But I do try my hand on occasions. So what did we cook? Are you used to Indian cuisine? We prepared what we call “dholl puri”. What’s that? Shrugging? OK, let me tell you.

It’s a common quick snack sold everywhere, in the street corners, here in Mauritius. Of Indian origin, it’s a sort of flat bread stuffed with dholl and eaten with “chutney” (oh! Another new stuff, but not as awkward as it may appear – it’s simply a kind of paste made of tomatoes crushed with onions, garlic, coriander leaves and chilies, which are all oriental aromatic stuffs). You may accompany it with any curry or plate (fish, chicken, beef, veggies or whatever) if you wish. We made chicken curry today, right?

Now, for the “dholl puri” you need some flour, dholl, salt and aniseed. Bring the dholl to boil and then crush it to a uniform mash, adding salt and ground cumin to taste. In a separate bowl or plate knead the flour into dough and make small balls. Reshape the ball hollow like a bowl and fill it with the dholl mash you made earlier. Close the flour ball by sticking the open ends together; then roll it in a flat circular shape (using a roller on a flat surface). Depending on the amount of the dough used it should be no more than 6 inches in diameter approximately. Place the flat and circular dholl-stuffed dough on hot plate and cook for a few minutes, turning it upside down to ensure it’s cooked on both sides. Your “dholl puri” is ready.

With chutney or curry, enjoy.

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