Raag Shahana

Shahana used to be a relatively unknown raag in Hindustani classical music. Over the last quarter of the 20th century, it became more well known as part of the Kanada raag family. The most familiar raag in this family is Raag Darbari or Darbari Kanada which is thought to have originated in Carnatic i.e. south-Indian classical music and brought into the north-Indian oeuvre by Tansen, the legendary 16th-century composer belonging to the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. This tradition is reflected in the name Darbar which is the Persian (and Hindi) word for "court."

Like Darbari, Shahana Kanada too may have originated in Carnatic music to be termed Kanada. Yet the Carnatic music canon from south-India has a very popular raag called "Sahana" which, strangely enough, has nothing to do (musically or otherwise) with the Shahana Kanada of Hindustani music. 

The name “Shahana” itself is of Persian origin which etymology would be more common in the north of India rather than the south. Apparently there are medieval texts connecting the name to a Persian melody or rhythm (unclear which) called Firo-dast. Firodast today is a type of taal or rhythm and the word has been defined in Persian as 'speaking/singing or reciting together'.

Raag:      Shahana / Shahana Kanad

Thaat:     Kafi
Jati:        sampurna - sampurna vakra
Samay:   ratri ka tritiya prahar (third part of the night) 12AM - 3AM
Swar:      gandhar, both shuddha and komal nishaad (all other notes are shuddh)
               shuddh dhaivat prominent and is a nyasa sthana (resting note) along with pancham

For those familiar with the syntax of the genre, Raag Shahana Kanada is similar to Raag Bahar whose resting note is madhyam where in Shahana Kanada, it is pancham. This is a "uttarang pradhan" raag meaning in the upper part of the octave sung mostly between madhyam and tar saptak that is Pa Dha Ni (upper)Sa.

For a taste of the various flavours of Hindustani Classical Music, 'The Raga Guide' is a compilation of 70 odd raags in a 4CD box set with an accompanying guide book. For a comparison, it includes short versions of all the raags mentioned above - Darbari Kanada, Bahar and Shahana played by Pandit Buddhadev DasGupta on the sarod.


The Paradox of Energy Conservation

An experiment by a professor of psychology, Robert Caldini (author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion), studied how behavioural insight could be used to make people save energy in their homes.The team's experiments provided some surprising evidence into how behaviour can be manipulated, and one of their 4 strategies bore fruit resulting in reduced energy consumption for that target group.

But even if the effort to reduce energy consumption was a success and the strategy can be duplicated and scaled up, one very tricky question remained:

Does reducing energy consumption actually conserve energy?
Arik Levinson, was featured in a podcast by the authors of the book Freakonomics where he described how energy efficiency regulations weren't really that efficient in actually reducing consumption. One of the reasons cited was the "Rebound Effect". Behavioural tendencies is again at the core of this theory that explains why energy efficiency gains may paradoxically result in increases in energy use. 

For example, when a person has a more fuel-efficient car, they may end up driving more because each kilometre of travel becomes cheaper. This then results in no net energy being conserved or conversely, even more energy consumed. Read more in my post at the Urban Rural Fabric blog - 

Currently listening to the

2CELLOS - a Croatian cello duo comprised of classically trained Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser. They first became famous after their cover of "Smooth Criminal" was a hit on YouTube, receiving over 3 million views in the first two weeks and over 10 million views as of April 2011. The creation of the music video was prompted by the cellists' financial difficulties when Šulić was studying at London's Royal Academy of Music and Hauser at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (after completing his studies at Trinity College in London). 

The video was taken down due to copyright issues about the time it reached 15.9 million views. However 2CELLOS was signed to a record label shortly after and released their eponymous first album of covers, 2Cellos, a month later in May 2011. The Principal of the Royal Academy of Music had mentioned the Smooth Criminal video to Elton John's management, perhaps because Šulić was in the Royal Academy's Master of Arts programme with an Elton John Scholarship awarded in 2009. Elton John was much enthused and contacted them through the Royal Academy. He was an early fan particularly of their live performances and they joined him on his European tour in 2011. 

They are still featured on Elton John's own website where he is quoted as saying,
“Go and see them live, because it really is astonishing! I can’t remember seeing anything as exciting as them since I saw Jimi Hendrix live back in the ’60s.”

Between November 2012 and January 2013, they released their second album In2ition which was a series of collaborations with other artists but also had their first original track, Orient Express. Their cello rendition of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" to YouTube in February 2014 went viral by the beginning of March and was viewed 10 million times in the first two weeks. The track was then included in their third album Celloverse which debuted in January 2015. 

By mid-2015, Thunderstruck had received nearly 50 million views. This latest album also included the second of their original tracks, the titular track Celloverse. Here is the one that started it all, the 2CELLOS facing off on a cover of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal which they have said is,

“harder to play than any classical piece, and it’s the toughest piece. It’s on the edge — people seem to like the intensity and energy. We use just the cellos as our voices. To create the intensity needed to make two cellos sound like a whole band is not easy”

Rail De-railed

I had previously posted about the history of trains in Mauritius including a documentary by Wassim Sookia. It was about how the original network gradually fell out of use and how a new transit system would bring back trains to the island. At the time the post was written, studies were being undertaken for feasability.

By mid-2014, the government had decided that it was feasible and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system became an important component of the national integrated transport system.  

And by December 2014, the light rail had come to a crashing halt. Elections were held and the incumbents decisively voted out. The LRT was quietly abandoned in favour of more road building. 

But in January 2015, the first cracks appeared in the new roads already built.

Read about the fall and rise and fall again of rail travel in Mauritius, in my post on the Urban Rural Fabric blog - 

Redefining Literacy?

Education is defined as the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. Literacy is to have the ability to read and write. Functional literacy can be defined as the ability to read with true comprehension as well as to advance to higher levels of education.  

The 2 states, of being educated and being literate, are frequently conflated but can actually be mutually exclusive. For example - many traditional occupations in India like building masons, carpenters, artisans and so on have inherited their knowledge from previous generations through word of mouth, training and practice. They are well-educated in their field of expertise and can earn a living from it.  

Many of them are also illiterate, lacking the ability to write their name and signing with a thumbprint instead. One of the basic tests for literacy is the ability to sign one's name. Yet online and offline technologies are all working towards perfecting digital signatures to remove just this very need to have someone physically "sign" their name.
To that end, what modern technology has done is quite astonishing. Being illiterate is no longer any barrier to using information technology even when the user can neither read nor write information. One can even claim that technology appears to be perfectly designed for use by the illiterate. Read my entire post at the Urban Rural Fabric blog -

Ivan Hewett’s selection of 50 Classic short works

“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” 
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Back in 2013, I was following Ivan Hewett, the music critic for The Telegraph on their website. He had created a 50-part series on his selection of the 50 best classical short works by the world's greatest composers. Each piece was introduced with an article by Hewett that explained why it was chosen. There was also a time-line of the piece with interesting bits to look out for (or listen out for) followed by more suggestions from the same composer.

My attention was caught initially because of his selection No. 9 which was a piece from the South African composer, Kevin Volans. In fact, I posted about that particular article and the music on this blog in October that year. All Hewett's articles can still be read on The Telegraph website.
The Telegraph series was also put together as a compilation for listening to on Spotify and these were the recordings to which Ivan referred to in his article when he was explaining the time-line. Spotify, however, was not and is not available in many countries including Mauritius.

Having listened to several of the pieces in a somewhat haphazard manner, I decided to listen to the series properly and so created a YouTube playlist which I eventually got around to finishing today. So here it is finally:
<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000005J0L/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000005J0L&linkCode=as2&tag=shahdastblog-20&linkId=NATUV4F3OYQOPLA3">

Brandy Barrel Music

This is a video I took of the Barrel Cooper at Van Ryn's brandy distillery in Stellenbosch Cape-Town. The brandy-florentine pairings were delicious but not nearly as much fun as the Barrel Cooper during our cellar tour.

Mauritian Blues

from the album "Blues dan mwa" (Mauritian Creole)

For more of Eric Triton's Mauritian blues, download Tritonik's 2012 album  Project One

35 Books on my To-Read list

* edited and 3 books added Jan 2015

1.Baker, Joanne - 50 Physics Ideas You Really Need To Know

2.Banerjee, Abhijit and Duflo, Esther – Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty
3.Broad, Eli – The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking

4.Jonson, Ben - The Alchemist

5.Brooks, John – Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street

6.Brooks, Michael – 13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time

7.Bryson, Bill – One Summer: America, 1927

8.Burr, Chandler – The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession

9.Canter, Jon – Worth [Fiction]

10.Egan, Jennifer – A Visit from the Goon Squad [Fiction]

11.Farrell, John A. - Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned

12.Feynman, Richard P. – Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)

13.Foer, Joshua – Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

14.Galbraith, Robert – The Cuckoo's Calling [Fiction]

15.Galbraith, Robert – The Silkworm [Fiction]

16.Gleick, James – Faster: The acceleration of just about everything

17.Halvorson, Heidi Grant - 9 Things Successful People Do Differently

18. Huysmans, Joris-Karl - Là-bas(The Damned) [Fiction / translated from the French by Terry Hale]

19.James, P.D. - Talking About Detective Fiction

20.Kipling, Rudyard - Debits And Credits[Fiction]

21.Levitin, Daniel – This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

22.Lovins, Amory B. and Rocky Mountain Institute – Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

23.Martin, George R.R./Dozois, Gardner - Down These Strange Streets: all new stories of urban fantasy [Fiction]

24.Medina, John – Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

25.Patel, Aniruddh D. – Music, Language, and the Brain

26.Ross, Alex – Listen to This

27.Rusbridger, Alan – Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible

28.Sabbagh, Karl – The Hair of the Dog: And Other Scientific Surprises

29.Sacks, Oliver – Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition

30.Salinger, J.D. – Nine Stories [Fiction]

31.Silver, Nate – The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't

32.Taleb, Nassim Nicholas – The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

33.Turin, Luca - The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell

34.Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher - The Secret Life of Plants: a Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man

35.Weiner, Jonathon – The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time

36.Wilcox, Robert K. – The Truth About the Shroud of Turin: Solving the Mystery

37.Willingham, Daniel T. – Why Don't Students Like School?

38.Zimring, Franklin E. – The City That Became Safe

Paco de Lucía - Death of a legend

Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomes also known as Paco de Lucía was a Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist, composer and producer who died last month. He is one of the most famous guitarists (if not the most famous) in modern times for traditional Flamenco and the evolution of 'New Flamenco' as well as Latin jazz fusion in the 70's. He famously collaborated with jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and jazz pianist Chick Corea and composed/performed on movie soundtracks like The Hit, a 1984 film with a score by Eric Clapton (and some input from Roger Waters?).

In 1990 he recorded Zyryab, a groundbreaking Arabic flamenco/jazz album with jazz pianist Chick Corea and another virtuoso flamenco guitarist, Manolo Sanlúcar. The album is named after Ziryab, an 8th–9th century Shiraz-born poet/musician at the Umayyad court in Córdoba credited with introducing the Persian lute to Spain which evolved into the Spanish guitar - and according to some, established flamenco itself. Here's a performance of Zyryab just 3 months before he died.

On being given Heaven and Earth...

दोनों जहान दे के वह समझे यह ख़वुश रहा 
यां आ पड़ी यह शरम कि तकरार कया करें

دونوں جہان دے کے وہ سمجھے یہ خوش رہا
یاں آ پڑی یہ شرم کہ تکرار کیا کریں   

donoñ jahān de ke woh samjhe yeh ḳhvush rahā 
yāñ ā paṛī yeh sharm ki takrār kyā kareñ   

gave us both worlds, they thought it would keep us happy  
and so, this embarrassment upon us, how could we object?  

Mirza Ghalib
(1797-1869 A.D.)
Ghazal 102, Verse 01

Port Louis flooded - a documentary

Les inondations du samedi 30 mars dernier, qui ont fait 15 morts à Port-Louis, sont la catastrophe naturelle la plus meurtrière que le pays a connu depuis plus de 50 ans.

Happy New Year? List of Holidays for 2014

2014 has 4 long weekends and a 5th potential one if the Eid Moon cooperates. In fact, there are 4 holidays on a Thursday including Eid that could potentially be converted into long weekends. There are 3 wasted holidays because they fall on the weekend - which is good because I think 2013 had 5 of those wasted ones.April, June, September and November have no holidays. Well April would if the cyclones cooperate... June and September never do have holidays. November has a holiday but it's on a Sunday.

New Year - Wednesday 01 and Thursday 02, January

Thaipoosam Cavadee - Friday, January 17
Long weekend (yay). This is a festival celebrated by Indo-mauritians of Tamil origin. Lots of processions on the street. Expect traffic jams.

Chinese New Year/ Spring Festival - Friday, January 31
Long weekend (yay). Expect traditional sweetmeats from Sino-mauritian colleagues at work

February could be better but one can always hope for some extra "CYCLONE" public holidays. But Mauritians believe (and it was true last year) that cyclones only come on the weekend to ruin the good beach weather. By Monday it's back to work and sunny again. Murphy's Laws are universal

Abolition of Slavery - Saturday, February 1
Public holiday on the weekend. Waste.

Maha Shivaratri - Thursday, February 27
Festival celebrated by Indo-mauritians who are Hindu. Lots of people walking on the road towards Grand Bassin and stalls set up on roadsides to give them food and water. Expect occasional traffic jams from 2 days before.

Independence Day - Wednesday, March 12
For some strange reason the Mauritian national anthem is in English. I know it's the official language but there are loads of folks here who can't speak a work of English. Wouldn't they be better off with one in French or Creole / Kreol Morisien?

Ougadi - Monday, March 31
Long weekend (yay). Festival celebrated by Indo-mauritians of Telugu origin. I believe it's their New Year following the lunar calender.

no holidays, a month of sorrow 

Labour Day - Thursday, May 1
1 holiday in May courtesy of Marx and Engels. In Mauritius, us workers join our brethren around the world to unite and overthrow the oppressors. Many political rallies are held around the island this day.

And then, the party starts. The political parties sponsor lots of buses to ferry the rally-attendees to Flic en Flac beach where they also sponsor the Briani (biryani) and Cola. I guess if you can't beat them, join them.. and make them pay for a day at the beach

no holidays, a month of sorrow

Eid-ul-Fitr - Thursday, July 29 (depending on the visibility of the moon)

Festival celebrated by Indo-mauritians who are Muslim. Always suspense about this one. If the moon cooperates, as it did this year, and show up on a Friday instead of a Thursday then that would mean a long weekend (yay).

2 holidays and one is a long weekend

Feast of the Assumption - Friday, August 15
Long weekend (yay). I love the Assumption.

Ganesh Chaturthi - Saturday, August 30
Public holiday on a Saturday. Catastrophe.

no holidays, a month of sorrow

Thank God (literally) for the 1 holiday in October sandwiched between the 2 months with none at all

Divali - Thursday, October 23
Festival celebrated by Indo-mauritians who are Hindu. This is a big one so expect lots of Hindu colleagues to be taking the Friday off and making a long weekend of it.

no holidays, one missed opportunity

Arrivée des laboureurs engagés/ Arrival of Indentured Labour - Sunday, November 2
Encore, une catastrophe

tis' the season to be jolly
Christmas - Thursday, December 25

Summer Hols and Beach!

A classical music born of Africa

Since moving to Mauritius, I've tried to immerse myself in the music of the continent. For anyone who's been following Ivan Hewett at The Telegraph, he's been showcasing 50 short pieces of classical music at 6 minutes or under - and last February, his selection no.9 was from a South African composer called Kevin Volans. The piece selected was the First Dance from White Man Sleeps.

“It was a music I had never heard before or could have imagined,” he wrote. “It derived from nothing and no one. It had arrived. It was free and alive. I heard the sounds of thorn-scrub Africa, the insects and the swish of wind through grass...”
Note the paradox: “it derived from nothing”, and yet was full of the sounds of “thorn-scrub Africa”. Kevin Volans is indeed an African, though he was trained in echt-modernist circles in Cologne. He was born in 1949 in South Africa, in the very Anglicised town of Pietermaritzburg. There he lived the typically sheltered life of a white boy, only encountering blacks on the walk home from school. But the music he heard stayed with him, and three decades later bore fruit in a string of works with wonderful titles: Mbira, Hunting, Gathering, White Man Sleeps.

The titles suggest “thorn-scrub Africa”, but the music doesn’t sound African at all. There are no exotic instruments, no township choirs. This version of the piece is actually for string quartet, that quintessentially Western medium. And yet there’s something deeply anti-Western about the music. There’s an innocence, as if it really does “come from nothing”.

Volans achieves this by seizing the spirit of African music, rather than simply aping its sound...And the title? The composer says it comes “from a moment in nyanga panpipes music where the performers leave off playing their loud pipes for a few cycles and dance only to the sound of their ankle rattles, to let the white landowner sleep – for a minute or two.” 

Learning French

When I arrived in Mauritius, I decided to learn French rather than Creole because a) No one actually teaches Creole and b) I figured French would be easier to learn having some sort of structure and rules. After a couple of years of trying and failing at both, it is now clear that they are equally difficult for someone who has no natural facility at learning any language whatsoevah...

But anyway - the video below from the comedian Eddie Izzard illustrates exactly my issue with learning French. The challenge of how to bring into conversation, the very limited number of words one remembers from French lessons. And keep the conversation running along those lines because anything that deviates from it falls immediately outside one's vocabulary!

Living in Paradise

कम नहीं जलवागिरी में तेरे कुछ से बिहिश्त
यही नक्षा है वाले इस क़दर आबाद नही

کم نہیں جلوہ گری میں ترے کوچے سے بہشت
یہی نقشہ ہے ولے اس قدر آباد نہیں

kam nahīñ jalvah-girī meñ tere kūchh se bihisht
yahī naqshah hai wale is qadar ābād nahīñ

No less in splendour than Paradise, these streets of yours
Laid out to the same plan, just not inhabited the same way

Mirza Ghalib
(1797-1869 A.D.)
Ghazal 174, Verse10

Why the iPad is useless....

I bought an iPad a few months back and have used it or tried to use it on an almost daily basis since April. Here's why I've given up and think it's just complete rubbish
1. Can't type properly on it because
typing on a touchpad's extremely slow particularly if it's a long email with some substance to it or an email with lots of numbers and figures interspersed with words ... like many work related emails are (or should be!)

2. The battery life is terrible
and the cable that comes with it is so short that you can't really use the iPad with any degree of comfort while it's charging

3. Can't be used for any actual work
because one can't type properly on it (see Point1). Anything to do with image editing or image processing is faster and easier on a proper computer. Folks who claim to be able to do most of their job on an iPad as opposed to requiring an actual computer obviously have some sort of pointless job non-essential to anything on this planet


are those management types whose jobs involve talking nonstop in some jargon-filled management gibberish so they neither require nor have any technical skills or need any proper software to do any proper work

4. Practically the only things one can use it for is
reading ebooks - but then an ebook reader would be better, cheaper, lighter, easier to hold, have a non-glare interface and more battery life (see Point 2)


checking email - but then it's hard to reply to them properly because one can't type properly on it in the first place (see Point1)

5. iTunes is pointlessly difficult to use
'coz moving files to or from the iPad should just not be this complicated. Apple's heroic efforts to protect copyright have ended up in a non-intuitive system of file management where everything has to go through this one clunky software. Having to do everything through iTunes is a bloody waste of time; just one USB port would have made all the difference...

image courtesy blog - Small Efforts and Big Changes

6. Awkward to hold and view and read from
because it's too heavy to hold in one hand like a paperback


the angle of viewing permitted by the Apple-designed folding cover/stand is either too obtuse or too acute to read from with any degree of comfort. Compare either position with the angle that you normally keep your laptop screen at

7. Camera on it is rubbish
and the cheapest point-and-shoot digital camera will give you better resolution pics. Also they are smaller and lighter to carry. Why does one need a front and back camera again? Ah for selfies to upload on Facebook. As I said, rubbish. A rubbish feature for a rubbish purpose...

8. Forces you to use the mobile version of websites

like Gmail and Yahoo mail even though it is not a phone and there's enough screen space to use the normal desktop version of these sites. This essentially means you can't use the messenger and email service simultaneously but need to use 2 separate apps to chat and check mail. Did I say counter-intuitive?

In fact, other folks have arrived at the same conclusion as I have that you can see here, here, here, here and here (not to mention the post the image comes from above). Next time, I shall read read read read read and read some more before wasting my money on pointless gadgetry

Euphemism + Guilt = DoubleSpeak

from the wordspy website: 
camouflanguage n. 
Language that uses jargon, euphemisms, and other devices to hide the true meaning of what is being said. (etymology - camouflage + language)

from Grant Guimont, "Carousel of Sorts: The Cynic’s Secret Guide to Ultimate Happiness", Writers Club Press, June 1, 2001:
"Right, but where is it taking us? This is camouflanguage you’re using, distorting the truth to fit your own ideal. What does it mean?"

from the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak: 
“We must report that during the handling of your 12 35mm Kodachrome slide orders, the films were involved in an unusual laboratory experience.

from When You Don’t Want to Say What You Really Mean, Roanoke Times & World News, March 19, 1998:
An oriental rug store in St. Louis advertises “semi-antique” rugs. 

from Mark Alan Stamaty in "Washingtoon", The Village Voice, August 18, 1988:
He is speaking in a language that is most effective when those being addressed do not know what language is being spoken. It is the international language of political Spinnish. In fact, more than just a language, it is a camouflanguage

Day Trips in Mauritius - The West

As an expat resident in Mauritius, I'm frequently asked for my list of "must-See" "must-Do" stuff on the island. Not being a tour guide or anything, I've explored the island on weekends and come up with my own favourite list of things to do. I've already written up about some of these day trips previously on my blog and am in the process of writing up the rest. They don't always reflect what's in any of the tour books or package excursions - perhaps because I've discovered the island as a local and not as a tourist.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my list of recommendations for
The West
adventures beyond the beach

1. Dolphins at Tamarin
There are 2 ways of doing this. You can take an up-market catamaran cruise where you are served unlimited drinks & BBQ on board and taken around the bay for dolphin watching, snorkelling (equipment available on board), Crystal Rock and an hour or so at Île aux Bénitiers. The other and cheaper way is to take a raucous local boat full of locals and tourists from Flic en Flac out into the bay. After the dolphin watching and Crystal Rock, they take you to Île aux Bénitiers where you are served BBQ on the island with unlimited drinks (again) and some impromptu live music.
Crystal Rock
The catamaran tour can be booked at J.P.Henry Charters - more details here at the website of West Sails Catamaran tour. They normally cost 1800MUR per person (about 50€/$60) The catamarans leave from Le Morne Angler's Club in Black River.
Of all the various catamaran tours offered in Mauritius, this is for me the nicest one by far because the weather is usually always warm and sunny on the west coast as opposed to the north and east.
Also the sea is very placid here unlike the choppy waters normally experienced on the Grand Baie tours to Îlot Gabriel. This makes the Tamarin catamaran infinitely more enjoyable for visitors with a tendency to motion/sea-sickness. The snorkeling in the sea here is great and, of course, there's almost the certain guarantee of seeing lots of dolphins. 

The other thing is that the Madiana catamarans are much smaller than the big bus-like catamarans at Grand Baie, so the trip while more expensive has much better personalised service. The folks on the catamaran do an excellent BBQ on the boat though there's nothing vegetarian on the menu (unless one makes a special request? I dunno). They also come around plying everyone individually with drinks non-stop until one loses one's sea-legs almost immediately after having gained them - and gently and woozily topples over the side into the water to join the dolphins. An excellent way to go...

The local boats are far more lively and much better if you'd like to make friends and get to know the locals better. One gets equally drunk on this trip as on the other ... but to the wonderful (and loud) accompaniment of local Sega music and high-spirited fellow passengers. These local boat tours can be easily found by walking along the main road on Flic en Flac and asking at one of the numerous little tour and travel shacks or even at any of the shops or restaurants.

Île aux Bénitiers
2. Casela Nature Park
For something very fun to do that doesn't involve sand or sea, a very enjoyable day can be spent at the Casela National Park where they offer an adventurous morning's worth of Ziplining through deep gorges and canyons. This is followed by a lunch served up near a lovely waterfall/pool and by 3:30 - 4PM one is finished.
Casela Park (http://www.caselayemen.mu/galerie.php)
For those who don't feel quite as adventurous, you can instead spend the morning taking a Safari tour to drive around and pet some extremely tame zebras and ostriches. Later, everyone can spend some time quad biking or toodling around the park on Segways OR 'interacting' with lions. Casela has tigers as well, but apparently they don't like to be 'interacted' with...

It's hard to tell really why the lions are so amenable to human company while the tigers are not. And they also have cheetahs to interact with. One is spoilt for choice.

The park is open from 9AM to 5PM from May to September (winter) and upto 6PM from October to April (summer). So after a busy day - one can spend the rest of the afternoon/evening at their restaurant enjoying the lovely views out over the coast with a sundowner. OR one can take a short 15minute drive up to Albion Lighthouse to enjoy the sunset there instead.

3. Albion Lighthouse
The Lighthouse at Pointe aux Caves in Albion is one of only two functioning lighthouses left on the island. This is also one of the only places (apart from Gris Gris in the south) where there is a break in the barrier reef so the waves crash directly onto the cliffs.

The rock formations and tidal pools are very picturesque - and the cliffs a perfect perch to have a beer while watching the sun go down over a pretty spectacular view.

If you can find the lighthouse-keeper, he sometimes allows folks to go to the top for a few rupees. The structure is completely safe and clean from the inside. Only the last flight is an inclined ladder instead of regular stairs but quite easy to climb.

Albion Lighthouse
© Desire Lilyman http://www.betterphoto.com/

Gris-Gris, Grimoire, Vaudou, Black Magic et Le Petit Albert dans l'archipel des Mascareignes

In 1782, a book was published in French titled Les Secrets Merveilleux de la magie naturelle du Petit Albert detailing the practices and rituals associated with a sinister Grimoire figure called Petit Albert. The book quickly became well known in the French colonies around the world. This practice of 'black magic' and the cult of the Grimoire is said to have deeply influenced the Creole psyche on the Mascarene islands of Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues that were also French colonies at the time.

During the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century, when the English took over the island of Mauritius from the French, such practices of black magic or 'Gris-Gris' were found well entrenched and described in many English reports from Mauritius in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all expressing concern over the influence of the 'Petit Albert'. Though on the other side of the world, many of these practices closely resembled those that the British experienced in the Caribbean.

Virgile Picot
In 1879, the British judiciary on the island dealt with a horrific case of murder that was similar to a murder in St. Lucia about twenty-five years later. A local 'sorcerer' named Virgile Picot abducted and mutilated a 5 or 6 year old girl apparently to obtain human flesh for a ritual. He was subsequently arrested and condemned to be hanged. Picot was said to be deeply into the Petit Albert and declared that "he was beyond the power of the Government; that the authorities could not hang him; his sorcery placed his life out of their reach."

The Chief Judge who sentenced him lived a few miles out of town, and immediately after the sentence was passed, showers of stones started raining down on his house every night. Most of the local British administrators firmly believed it was Picot’s accomplices and friends throwing stones at the roof of the house and then escaping into the darkness. However none of these persons were ever traced or caught. The Judge's wife was terrified by the events and the Chief Judge himself went on to plead before the Executive Council to change the death sentence for Picot he himself had delivered - to one of imprisonment for life. This appeared to cement Picot's reputation on the island and the power of witch-doctors in general. The sensational story appeared in newspapers across the globe from the New York Times to the Brisbane Courier.

The correspondent reporting from the island in 1884 about the Picot affair described the events above and went on to delve further into what he called 'sorcerors and witchdoctors' stating - "The more educated classes believe in the precepts contained in a book known to the initiated as 'Petit Albert,' and either practice the doctrine it teaches themselves or employ others to make incantations for them. Either way, the system is equally degrading. The professors of this modern diablerie are of the lowest order, generally negroes, with sprinkling of Indians among them; and, although they practise on the lines laid down in Petit Albert, not one in 20 ever saw the book, or could read it if laid before them. The precepts it contains are handed down by word, of mouth. But among ignorant people other teachings are mixed up with those of ‘Petit Albert,’ and crime is sometimes resorted to in the preparation of charms."

He went on to talk of the ‘believers’ in and ‘priests and priestesses of “Petit Albert" among both the poor and wealthy Creole population also stating that in Rodriguez, it was observed that "everybody knows titalbèr, without knowing exactly what it is."

The Bishop of Mauritius

In 1928 the British Bishop of Mauritius wrote in the Church Times, in similar vein, complaining of the hold sorcery had over the island: "witchcraft or Petit Albert is practiced by many thousands of persons…Petit Albert is nothing less than the cult of the Devil." The Bishop went on to describe the practice of black magic on the island as follows:

"The petitions are for personal gain or injury to enemies, and are often of an erotic or obscene character. Sacred names and phrases are used in a blasphemous way. These intercessions are accompanied by various ceremonies, in which a skull, a dagger, camphor, and flowers figure. Engravings of saints have pins stuck in various parts of the figure; I have seen a picture of the Sacred Heart covered with such pins. A crucifix is also frequently used in these blasphemous rites...It has been known in Mauritius for a newly-interred female corpse to be dug up and used for horrible purposes. To take part in such practices, and at the same time to pose as a Christian, is, in my opinion, perilously near committing unforgivable sin...In 1895 a particularly revolting instance of defilement of the Host occurred in the Island of Mauritius."

Sitaraine, Fontaine, Calendrin
The case of Réunion that remained a French colony was no different. On June 20th, 1911 - two occultists called Sitaraine and Emmanuel Fontaine were guillotined to death for the practice of sorcery. Sitarane's actual name was Simicoudza Simicourba and he was originally from Portuguese Mozambique, supposedly from a long line of sorcerors. A contract job brought him to Reunion, but he soon abandoned it for the black [magic] economy. A purported necromancer named Pierre-Elie Calendrin pulled Sitarane and Fontaine, a petty criminal, into a prolific crime ring that terrorized Reunion between 1907 to 1909 adding up to nearly a dozen murders.

Calendrin, Sitarane and Fontaine practiced what could be described as practical magic - they killed people so that they could rob them. Their practice of the "dark arts" was similarly practical. Sacrificed chickens were drugged and tossed to watchdogs while mysterious powders blown through keyholes stupefied targets before the gang burst in to execute their plans. The three were finally surprised in the midst of one of their crimes and tried in 1910. All three received death sentences but Calendrin, who as the trio’s leader should have received the most severe sentence, had his execution mysteriously commuted to penal transportation to Guyana instead. This echoed the case of Picot in Mauritius a few decades earlier.

Sitarane died crying a death-chant from the Comores Islands. Fontaine panicked and tried to resist the executioners and so got his neck twisted which resulted in the blade getting lodged in his jaw. Strangely enough, after the execution, a cult formed around the grave of Sitarane in St.Pierre that exists to this day. Painted a bright red, the grave attracts a flow of offerings from supplicants believing in the supposed powers of Sitarane as some sort of 'dark saint' after death. The toxic hallucinogenic herb Datura, a “witches’ weed” used locally for centuries in potions and poultices is known colloquially as Herbe à Sitarane.

The practice of black magic in Mauritius was particularly associated with some of the southern settlements like Camp Diable and Gris-Gris. Whether this was due to the actual documented presence of a higher density of practicing witchdoctors as compared to the rest of the island - or because some of these areas were predominantly populated by Creoles of African origin is not immediately clear. As runaway slaves and later freed slaves, most of the Mauritians of African origin had chosen to live in these areas that were relatively far from most of the sugarcane plantations and thus outside the sphere of influence of the colonial planters and their foremen.

Another factor could have been the particularly intimidating environment at Gris-Gris (for example) which is one of the very few places in Mauritius that the coast is not protected by the coral reef - and the sea violently crashes straight onto towering cliffs. This part of the island is also windier and more prone to storms - creating the sort of grim atmosphere that further encouraged tales of black magic.

Present-day MYTHS : Ministre Prince and the Tuoni Minuit
There are verbal accounts from the island of Rodrigues describing ghosts, hauntings and varied other spectral phenomena including that of the Ministre Prince. These are said to be 15 feet tall emaciated male figures dressed in white and seen hanging from the branches of trees - supposedly summoned by the witchdoctors. One account tells of a sighting of the Ministre Prince near L'anse aux Anglais.

The story of Picot and the showers of stone is similar to the account of the Petit Albert or Ti Albert in Rodrigues who is said to cause showers of very large stones to rain down on the corrugated metal roofs of houses. These showers were always heard by the residents inside but never seen, further investigation outside revealing only some little pebbles and gravel - nothing that could have caused the fearsome noise described the inhabitants.

After cyclone Hollanda struck Mauritius in February 1994, the electricity was knocked out and hadn’t been restored to many parts of the island. Rumours swept the island that a woman was menaced by a werewolf in Port Louis. Within hours of the first report, sightings and encounters with the werewolf began to multiply. The werewolf was given the name of Touni Minuit (literally, Naked Midnight). He was described as being shiny black or silver and took the form of a naked man and sometimes a dog.

Mass hysteria swept the island and the story was reported in the news media. Armed vigilantes roamed the streets in search of this 'werewolf'. As the weeks passed and electricity was restored, sightings of “Touni Minuit” died down. Some people attribute the disappearance of the “Touni Minuit” to the killing of black dogs in Pleine Verte by the vigilantes who appeared to have done away with the spectre while in its canine form.

More prosaic explanations describe the Tuoni Minuit as rather enterprising robbers who stripped naked and covered themselves in black oil to take advantage of the electricity breakdown after the cyclone. The dark oil would provide camouflage and ensure that they would be too slippery and difficult to grasp if caught - enabling a smooth escape. In fact, the version of Tuoni Minuit from Rodrigues only mentioned the oiled man and not the werewolf. But instead of robbing homes, the figure would be sitting down in people's kitchen eating food. On being disturbed, the figure would apparently laugh manically and then vanish.
Present-day SORCERY
As recently as January 2012, a 48 year old female Mauritian 'healer' or 'witch' called Rosemary was arrested after being observed on the beach in Tilac in Pointe-aux-Sables. Accompanied by a couple who appeared to be her clients, the lady was performing rituals when she came to the attention of the police. On being questioned by the police, she stated that they couple had come to her for help after the young woman suffered a nervous breakdown from the loss of their 15 day old baby.

Rosemary claimed to be known locally as "a person with the gift to chase away evil spirits and other evil spells". The couple who were from the Camp Levieux area had met her while she was reciting prayers on the beach. Impressed, the husband and wife approached her for their problems and the alleged witch then asked them to bring a chicken, saffron, camphor, onions, incense sticks, 'Christian' sandalwood and a sum of Rs 700 (about 18 euros). The police arrested her as she was about to sacrifice the chicken which had to be done 'not far from a place of worship'.

On later questioning, it was determined that she was sans domicile fixe that is of no fixed address, and had previously been denounced by another 'client' as well. The supposed sorceress was remanded to custody. It is still not clear whether she genuinely believed herself a practitioner of the 'dark arts' or was just another modern day Sitaraine-type occultist indulging in con games and 'practical magic'.

Montague Summers - Witchcraft and Black Magic
Owen Davies - Grimoires: A History of Magic Books
The New York Times - 23 August 1884 'Witchcraft in Mauritius'
The Brisbane Courier - 30 September 1884 'Witches in Mauritius'
Linfo.re - 30 January 2012 - 'Une guérisseuse prise en flagrant délit de sorcellerie à Maurice'