Nishiraj A. Baruah attends the shoot of a Kingfisher Calendar in Mauritius and discovers firsthand
why Mauritius continues to be the playground of the bold and the beautiful, the rich and the famous
Way back during my years in Delhi University, there was this guy from Mauritius named Sunil Sewooshankar Guruduth in our hostel. Awfully boastful, he would endlessly talk about how beautiful and organised his country is and how by comparison, everything in India is in such pathetic disarray. We, the hostellers, would be damn annoyed by this. So as revenge, often late at night when he would be fast asleep, we would explode a bomb or a bunch of crackers right on his door and run. Shocked out of his sleep by the tremendous sound, amplified many times by the confined corridors, he would emerge from his room like a lunatic and swear at all the ‘bloody Indians’. His complains went on to include Indian underwear. “Very bad fit” he would say and get me ‘Made in Mauritius’ undies. “Try them. They are good,” he said. Never mind the colours — shocking yellows and pinks — but I did agree with him on this for sure.
We also had another Mauritian hosteller who was just the opposite. Soft-spoken and mild mannered, everyone liked him. I liked him too, until one night. Around 10 pm when I was studying, he walked into my room and said: “What are you doing? Come to my room, I will show you some photos.” I went. Only that I didn’t expect him to show me what he did: A book of gay pornography, even as he made a physical pass at me. “Hey, I’m not into all this, ok,” I said firmly and walked out angry. Since then, we avoided each other’s eyes.
So with these once irritating, but now amusing, Mauritian memories that I boarded the Air Mauritius flight from New Delhi. But not before counting as many as 23 honeymooning Indian couples – the women displaying their new marital status with a spectacular display of red glass bangles and kilometre-long sindoors, their brand new hubbies playing the knights in shining armour. A dot on the Indian Ocean, Mauritius, seven and a half hours away, offers just the kind of privacy newlyweds are denied by the extended family members during the great Indian wedding.
Woman in love next to my seat
Do I talk to her? Or not? Even as I debate on this, the thirtyish woman seated next to me on the plane takes a brown disposable bag and throws up. “Are you ok? Should I call the attendant?” I ask her concerned. “No, no. I will be ok,” she says. She goes to the toilet and after she returns she tells me her story. Hailing from the Reunion Island, a French province near Mauritius, she is on her way back home from Rishikesh. “Went rafting?” I ask her. “No,” she smiles, “to get married.”“Oh, wow! So where is your hubby?”“He is in Rishikesh.”“???” “Oh, he is an Indian!”“Really? How did you meet him!?”“I have been going to Rishikesh for years now,” she says. “I have developed a special spiritual connect with the place. It was during one of these trips I met him.” “So you will shift to Rishikesh?”“No, he will join me in Reunion,” she says. “I’ve a good job there… though I know it will be a hard thing for him to be away from the Ganges.”
Spot of red in the blue ocean
“Doesn’t your wife mind — you with all these near-nude models all the time?” I ask ace lensman Atul Kasbekar, as he shepherds a group of swimsuit models that include Lisa Haydon, Fiona Thomas, Charlotte Lohmann and Liza Golden, at the Le Touessrok, the place of our stay and venue for Kingfisher Calendar 2011 shoot.“No,” he says, “we have been college sweethearts and are very comfortably settled in our marriage.” “But honestly, were you never attracted to any of them? No flings?” “Would I tell you If I have?” he quips, but adds on a serious note, “You see, after a while it becomes just a routine job. We – right down to the spot boy – become completely immune.”“And are you happy with the new faces?”“For sure. I strongly feel cross breeding between different cultures should be encouraged. The results are incredible.”
This is the second time the Kingfisher Calendar is being shot at Mauritius. Vijay Mallya himself lands up there to oversee the shoot. “Mauritius has the best light in the world,” Kasbekar declares.
Walk the ocean
“What you dhooing in the evening? I ghot thickets, you kno’ for a show. You khen chome along,” says the underwater guide.“We can think about it, yeah,” she says as our motorboat slowly sails away from the platform. We are returning to the shore after an undersea walk somewhere in the Indian Ocean. “But hey ladies, how do I conthack you? Give me your number?”the young black man with Rastafarian hairdo yells out. The girls pretend not to hear it.
“You should have gone out with them… You’d have enjoyed the local flavour,” I tell the girls later, smiling mischievously. “Oh, never mind, we do enough parties in Cape Town. We are in Mauritius to relax.” That is Courtney and Whitney — no, not sisters, but friends — and students from America studying how to bridge the gap between the First and the Third world in South Africa.
The Under Sea walk has been an awesome experience. With oxygen helmets on our heads, we are lowered 9 m down the surface. There we are walking (part jumping, part flying) like you walk on the moon, as millions of multicoloured little Nemos come swimming for a nibble at the bread crumbs we hold out for them. And when the bread finishes, the little ones end up nibbling at our fingers.
Water activities are aplenty in Mauritius. You can go deep sea fishing (boats are available in most hotels) for black marlin and even sharks, or you can enjoy parasailing, subscooter rides, scuba diving and paddle boating. We speed boat our way to the resort’s island called Ilot Mangénie and see tourists everywhere, either on the sea or sun bathing on the shore: Kids with buckets, parents in tow; couples rubbing suntan lotions on each other; someone reading a book on a hammock, others enjoying a cocktail…
And in the middle of all the bikini bodies, we see a few odd (wo)man out. In full nine yards glory, they make comical attempts to enjoy the sea, their sarees hitched up till the ankle.
If it is not the blues, then there are the greens. We take a tour of Le Touessrok’s exclusive golf course. Green grass beneath my feet, turquoise waters all around, sunshine on my face, cool breeze on my hair. “You work in a fabulous place,” I tell the Course Manager, “I work from a tiny cubicle back home.” “Yeah,” he agrees, “My office is rather spacious.”
A little thief in my room
Le Touessrok resort itself has many activities to indulge in. Eat in the many restaurants, swim in the six pools; sit on the loungers with a bestseller by the private beach, and by sundown, enjoy Sega performances over cocktails. Unfortunately, I can enjoy nothing. Fever on my forehead post the undersea walk, I am reduced to swallowing paracetamols instead of prawns. So I sit in a strategic location and watch the Russians with their young mistresses; the Brits with their kids, the French with their friends, the Americans with their self-important body lingo – all in sexy beach wear – sauntering in and out.
I have an appointment at the Givenchy spa, one of the select few in the world. However, when I show up there hoping my aching muscles would get a healing touch, the spa manager refuses to entertain me: “It isn’t good for you, sir.” Reason: Massage may make my fever worse.
Being in the room itself has its rewards. One evening I notice that the banana on the fruit basket has a small hole in it. The hotel would not provide me a decaying banana! And I don’t remember doing it myself. So where has the hole come from?? It is in the morning that I discover. As I laze on my bed, I see a blue bird with a red beak merrily flying in. Without even having the basic courtesy of knocking on the window, without even acknowledging my presence, our birdie now delves into an aggressive offence against the banana republic.
Even when you breakfast in the restaurant, there will be sparrows standing on the other side of the table, unafraid by your presence, waiting to be served. No wonder, with such little joys of life, big boys of Bollywood and business such as Amitabh Bachchan and Vijay Mallya enjoy staying in Le Touessrok resort. As do Hollywood actors and rock stars. And as do the kids whom I see going berserk in the Tarzan House despite instructions that read: No hanging from the ropes.
The resort is also very popular for weddings. But not every wedding has a fairy tale ending. Fabiola, the resort’s communication expert, recalls a couple who gets into a huge fight soon after their marriage. It ends with the new bride tearing into pieces her hubby’s passport.
Rum rum, Port Louis
For an experience of the city life, you will, of course, do the mandatory round of Port Louis, commercial and political capital of Mauritius. Full of high rises, the city square with shops, cafes, bars and live music is cool to hang out. I cross the main road to find myself in a local market. Buy your stuff from here: masks, jute bags, sea shells, sarongs, hats and toys. Being a brown skin has its advantage as you can pass off as a local. However, when shopkeepers start talking to me in French or Creole, I give away my touristy id. Interestingly, in some shops the salesmen are honest enough to advise me not to buy their stuff. “We get our goods from India only. You will get it cheaper there,” they say. What you won’t get in India though is Goodwill – a brand of local rum with a map of Mauritius on its label. Very potent, I’ll unleash it on my buddies in the new year. Wild night guaranteed.
All along, we meet residents who are only too happy to reiterate their Indian connect. Our driver breaks into broken Hindi to talk about his own lineage: “The French called my great grandfather from India to Mauritius and promised lot of money. But instead, they put him in chains, beat him up and made him work in the sugarcane fields 24/7. But now, look, how things have changed. We’re the masters.”
Yeah under ki baat hein
Finally, we are all packed and sitting in the lobby. A butler approaches our little group, hesitates, then gesturing towards me, says: “Please sir, can you come aside for a second?” Have I damaged something in the room? And, no I have not used the mini bar. “Yes?” I walk upto him. “Sir, he whispers, “You have left your underwear in the room…”
This is one thing I cannot afford to leave behind. It’s ‘Made in Mauritius’ after all.
(The writer is the Managing Editor of Air India’s inflight magazine Shubh Yatra; He can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org)