Mauritius: Rebel with a cause

Mauritius: Rebel with a cause

Date: August 6, 2012
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Port Loius, 3 August – Not only is she still going strong at the age of 86, but bubbling with energy and the will to enjoy life to the most. The young generation cannot compete with her. She is always well dressed, draped in the most beautiful stylish sari and some discreet make up. I’m writing about Oumah, my dear mother.

Oumah probably takes after her mother who died at the age of 92 after having seen five generations. I’m so blessed to have seen these five generations as well; my grandmother dearly called Amam (meaning grandmother), my mother Oumah, myself known as Loga by everybody, my two daughters Saskia, Anushka and my three grandchildren, Anastasia, Yann and Rachel.

Two words describe my grandmother, strong willed and determined. She took the decision to die at the age of 92 and nobody could stop her. She went on a hunger strike until she passed away peacefully and beautifully in her sleep. Has this strong determination been passed over to my mother?

I have every reason to believe so. My mother Oumah has not had an easy life at all. Being a strong and well-focussed woman, she nearly became an outcast in her family. She left the life of a princess in a huge mansion in the heart of the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis for a small house with nothing but two double beds; one for the couple and the other one for the three small girls (including me).

My grandfather obviously thought that Oumah’s actions brought shame to the family. In the mid-1900s it was unimaginable for a girl to take her own decision especially in an Indian family. A young woman from a rich family, leaving behind a life of being pampered by maids had never been heard of. But Oumah chose to live like a pauper than be dictated by patriarchy.

She wanted her girls to go to school. In those days, families did not believe in girls’ education. My mother never completed her primary education but at this point decided that her girls were not going to suffer the same fate.

Once we moved out, Oumah had to find ways and means of putting food on the table. My dad earned a meagre income and it could not sustain a family of four children. Meanwhile my mother bore a son.

This is how Oumah became the most famous dressmaker in the neighbourhood. She started by undoing her own blouse, sewing it over and over again before starting with new materials. Soon she started taking orders, especially for cholis (small Indian blouse that is worn with the sari). She soon became the most reputed seamstress in choli making in Port Louis. High profile people including Ministers’ wives would bring their material to her when they had important events.

It did not take her long to convert one room into a workshop and employed six needy girls to work with her. Poor relatives also sent their children to her for training and she gave them full board for a period of six months.

Both her talent and the business flourished. She even started making sophisticated and complicated dresses including wedding dresses. I thought to myself, is she competing with world designers like Giorgio Armani or Yves Saint Laurent!!!

Not only did her business flourish but her children excelled in school. With the income from her sewing business, she paid for our studies abroad because at the time, there were no tertiary institutions in Mauritius.

Although full of colours, her long journey has also been thorny. For over five years while the children were doing well academically, my fathers best friend became rum. My mother had to cope with her job, her children and an alcoholic husband. She turned this traumatic experience into a challenge and she became much stronger. Fortunately my father overcame his alcoholism.
During the last ten years, we have often thought we would lose Oumah at least three times but for her, life is worthwhile than death.

In the first instance, on a spiritual visit to India her best friend died in front of her and the body returned on the same flight. Oumah had a mild stroke but recovered. The second time, we were preparing for a big end of year feast when she hurt her head and stayed in hospital for a few days. The third time, she fell down as she tried to sympathise with me after I broke my knee. She broke her hip in several places. She stayed in bed for over three months followed by physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

The saying “where there is a will there is a way” cannot be more than true in the case of my mother. The will to enjoy life with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will make her live forever. I do not know how many more years she has ahead of her, but she will always remain alive through the values and hard work she has inculcated in me.

Loga Virahsawmy is the Gender Links Director of the Francophone Office based in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on celebrating phenomenal women, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.




0 thoughts on “Mauritius: Rebel with a cause”

Sue Gutteridge says:

Having been privileged to meet Oumah I knew what a fantastic person she was. I knew some but not all of what KLoga has wrtitten. Thankyou for letting us know about your mother’s inspirational life. No wonder you sre like you are Loga with a mother like Oumah. With love, Sue

Aniissah says:

Indeed it’s a very inspiring story. It’s a lesson which youngsters have to learn irrespective of boys or girls who get depressed over petty matters like their mobile phone is outdated, no fashion clothes etc. I have myself had this sort of experience and I am still fighting.
Today I find myself at a junction whereby I have no job because I dared to raise my voice against the discrimination and harassment that I was encountering at work. But life is about challenges and it’s up to us to pick ourselves and walk the journey which is called life.

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