The pilot had announced his last instruction to the crew. We were landing. After my seven-hour journey from Delhi, I was arriving at the island nation of Mauritius. The next few minutes would be my first encounter with the shimmering blue country which looked like a paradise online. The clouds parted, as if acknowledging my curiosity, and the mountains rose to greet us. The blue sea with sandy shores appeared. The plane swooped lower, tilted a bit, then swooped again, and after a light bounce, maybe a screech, we were on terra firma.
This airport looked like any other, and it could be anywhere in the world, except for the instructions in French. I was entering what was once a French colony, though the history of Mauritius is far more complicated than what that simple line suggests. I stood in the immigration queue, shuffling my feet as we moved at a snail’s pace. I wanted to head out and see the real country immediately but queues in India teach you a thing or two about patience.
We rolled out of the airport in a van and were greeted by sugarcane fields that stretched endlessly on both sides of the road. The sea waved from the distance and the black tar roads were smooth. A few villages or towns crept up along the way and the traffic by Indian standards was negligible.
It felt like Goa, but without the Portuguese yellow, and with lesser traffic. A friend asked me, if I thought the scene looked like some parts of rural India with those sugarcane fields on both sides.
I thought about it but I could find no reference point. I must say Mauritius is unique or perhaps I don't know enough about some parts of rural India with their swaying sugarcane fields. But here the vista of sugarcane fields endlessly stretches with intervening black tar roads, shadowy mountains in the distance and when you reach the coast, there is the bluest of the blue sea melting into the blue sky.
Mauritius showed the nonchalance of a countryside married with the orderliness of a modern, developed city. It was all very cosy but the size was a little disconcerting. I had never been to a country this small. I think even Bhutan is bigger! There is just one motorway M1, which connects the north to the south and the rest of it is a network of small roads that crisscrosses through towns and villages.
It is an intimate conversation between the landscape and the wide-eyed tourist, instead of a sterile drive through an expressway that stays disconnected because of its superiority, with the story of its surroundings. I think of small roads and their stalls as mini bazaars with local flavour where there is so much to see and do unlike supermarkets that have dead souls.
Despite my love for those meandering roads, those brimming sugarcane fields on either sides, and nothing in the distance but the continuing line of black that darted through the green, it is the blue that I have come to know as the colour of Mauritius.
If I close my eyes today, all I see before me are those intermingling shades… that flowing canvas with hues I cannot name. My art class taught me to recognise sky blue, cobalt and prussian, and somewhere I learnt about aquamarine but then the sea in Mauritius throws up an entirely new palette. I felt uneducated about colour when confronted with those blues.
Even when we went deep into the sea, we could see far into the water. I mustn’t be partial though for when the sky was grey, the water reflected that desolation too.
Every time we went out into the sea, I thought about the pollution the boat was causing. And I found myself wondering, if we would say sometime in the future that the waters around Mauritius were once clear and blue.
That would be a tragedy, and one that will not have the cathartic coming together of a Shakespearean tragedy, but one that we could and should have avoided.
Bhavani blogs at http://merrytogoaround.com