Place Where You Live:

Rose-Hill, Mauritius

The architectural emblem of my mid-size, mild-weathered town is a municipal hall adjoining an out-of-use theatre from the 1920s. The government has been promising to renovate it for years, and I wonder if I will ever see Molière performed five minutes from home. The style of the building harks back to the colonial past, yet it doesn’t have the grandeur or aloofness of similar ones in Port-Louis or Curepipe. For Rose-Hill has always been — at least in my eyes, which see through the translucent film of familiarity — an unassumingly bourgeois place, peopled mainly by schoolteachers and administrators who look at life with kindness and indifference in equal measure. A gentle beauty underlies both, yes, even the indifference.

In front of the municipal building is a fountain that’s hard to qualify as tasteful or odd. It’s in the shape of a statue of three men helping each other up, a noble gesture, yes, but each body is abnormally elongated, each arm a twisting branch. Every Rose-Hill child has loved climbing up its limbs on Saturday nights, when the sprinklers are off. She will taunt her siblings to reach higher than she has, giggling furiously as someone’s foot slips and grazes the dirty water. Her tired parents will sit on a peeling white bench and eat Vona Corona ice-cream cones, looking at the stars above or the church steeple on the other side of the road, grateful for an opportunity to not talk to each other, while the family dog runs through the still-wet grass, chasing an invisible frog. During the day, in the smaller garden behind, Loreto schoolgirls steal kisses from their St. Mary’s beaus. Some, quietly queer and nursed by the wide-eyed, soft-mouthed courage of youth, save these kisses for each other. At dusk, a drug addict will come squat in their spot. Close his eyes, kiss the dark.

During the worst years of my adolescence, this town has felt like a tropical Privet Drive, Surrey. I was isolated because of family dysfunction and depression, and I had few friends (at least those who, in teenage lingo, “got me”). I decided to deal with these difficult feelings by taking the gentle indifference pervading the town and brewing it into something much more pointed, toxic. I decided to ignore the Plaza’s hall and odd statue, the old cloth shops of Surtee merchants, the elegant Catholic churches, the bursting colours of the local market, and see only beige, utilitarian buildings. I sneered at the petty ambitions of the people around me, at how their Saturday plans always resembled those that came before. I saw the sidewalks but not the flower-heavy jacaranda trees lining them.

I am now twenty-three, and everyday, I try to fall back in love. Last year, a friend, who spent his early childhood here, told me, “Ever noticed there’s something about the sound and smell of leaves in Rose-Hill? When you’re walking down the main road and turn into the streets near Notre Dame de Lourdes?” There are many trees here, it’s true. When I came back from a trip to Mumbai, I noticed how pretty and green this town actually is. There’s a lingering scent of crushed flamboyant petals, mango leaves, tall ferns and breeze on every walk to the bus station, Chinese corner store or municipal library, if you pay enough attention. I try to now, each time I step out of the house.