My grandfather's hut

Ram Persad Singh Goburdhun 1880 1949
Upon his return from yet another trip, this time to Mauritius, my husband handed me a book. It was surprising,  as though I did not expect the customary bottle of perfume - the ubiquitous gift you expect from a man - as Mauritius is a land that holds some of my roots and family, a book was the last thing on my mind. A glance at the title and I realised that the sepia coloured book was the story of the Transport Company crated lovingly and painstakingly by my elder uncle, a man with a vision way beyond his times. The book is replete with family photographs that made me all fuzzy as long forgotten memories came alive. I sat down to read it as it began with the family history that till date I had pieced through the occasional chats with my father. I was hoping to fill in the gaping holes. Little did I realise that the book was serendipitous as it concealed a small anecdote, tucked away at the bottom of page, 11 that would complete my life circle and perhaps explain why I am where I am today.

The book is called La Grande Histoire du Bus Mauricien, and is beautifully written by Tristan BrĂ©ville. It was published to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Company. (I was unable to find a link in English. The one given above is of an article in a French newspaper). The anecdote I am referring to is about my grandfather, Ram Pershad Singh Goburdhun, the son of a indentured labourer bearing no 354495, who landed in Mauritius in 1871. The son born 9 years later was my grandfather. Of the sparse bits of my ancestors' history imbibed with yearning at my father's knee, I was to learn that my grandfather was a school teacher. The story of how the son if an indentured labourer would become a teacher remained shrouded in mystery. All I knew of my grandpa was that he was a teacher and that he was a very strict man.

Tristan Bréville
La Grande Histoire du Bus Mauricien page 11

The tiny but life altering anecdote that I referred to, tucked away on page 11 of this book, reveals that my grandpa was not just 'any' school teacher. It says that he was one of the youngest school teacher ever as he was just 21 when he started teaching. But that is not all. He also created his own school, and when the owners of the sugar mill 'acquired' the little piece of land where his school stood in 1918, he converted a little straw thatched hut on his own sugar field into a school. The primary school  at Belle-Vue Maurel in Mauritius still bears his name as you can see by scrolling down the list on this page

Every life has a story to tell and those of our ancestors often foretell the ones of those yet to be born. It is when you and you alone read it, that you find the part that relates to you. And as I read of the school under the thatched roof, I knew this part was mine to hold on to. Nothing in my early life or career would have ever suggested that I would in my twilight years turn to educating children, and that too deprived children. True I taught in an University but that was not my true calling and was a short and not so sweet stint. Even when I started project why, education was not the first thing that one had in mind. But then a series of unexpected events, an encounter with a beggar whom I know now was a man with a mission, and a string of deafening whys led me to what was to be my calling: creating a space to educate children from slums, children of the kind that would have found their way to my grandfather's hut. I can feel the undoubtable and powerful link that binds that little hut created almost a century ago to the first project why classroom that was a mud hut with a tin roof. 

I have often wondered why I set up project why! I always felt  the presence of an invisible force that blew beneath my wings and steered  me on an unknown journey. Unable to identify it, I thought it was the one I called the God of Lesser Beings. Today I know who he is. The man who would not give up when his school was taken away and built one on his own land. The man who knew that education was the greatest gift of all. The man  never met. The man who was my grandfather.

Life has come full circle and I feel blessed.