Even with decades of world-wide experience in over 100 countries in the field of science and education, I would choose a small, quiet Mauritian of the early 1900s, son of an immigrant trader from Surat (India), as the most striking example of the spirit of enterprise I have ever met! Born on 25 May 1868, he died in 1947. With little formal education, restricted material and financial means - while working against the all-controlling oligarchy of those times - Amode Ibrahim Atchia (AIA) set up extraordinary things in this Mauritius of 1900-1930.
“The man who, brought electric lighting to Rose-Hill around 1900, built the Cinema Hall and around it the largest leisure centre on the island in 1915, featured evening football matches around 1927 even before England, who built houses, stairs, etc. in prefabricated concrete three-quarters of a century before ‘prefabs’, who used wind energy some 50 years before the ‘éolienne’ was heard of, this exceptional, legendary Rosehillian, was “Major” Atchia. (MD, l’express-dimanche 13th October 1985).
This bearded man, gentle and soft-spoken, was keen to show his grand-child (I was about eight at the time) his achievements and, more importantly, explain how they worked. He showed me his éolienne at Roche-Bois, his salt-pans producing free-flowing salt, his electricity power-plant at Réduit, his red “marchand-bazar” notebook in which he handwrote the names of those to whom he supplied electricity and their payments, his cane-crusher and children’s fun-park, his prefabricated concrete slabs and staircases, his ice factory, the network of cinemas he and his brothers owned, his Cinema Hall, a centre for film, theatre and opera and other things. More than half a century later, I remember distinctly his patient explanations.
What recognition has this country given him, besides a minor bit of road opposite his hydro-electricity building (now CEB) at Rose-Hill? Admittedly, most history books (from Hazareesing to Ameenah Jahangeer and occasionally a newspaper chronicle) have recognised his outstanding contribution towards starting Mauritius on the road to a modern “technological island”, 84 years before the “cyber island” revolution of 2004. When one lists the huge number of places called “SSR” (in no way a criticism of the man’s outstanding work!) the inescapable conclusion is that Mauritian society rewards its politicians far , far more than its “scientists , poets, artists and entrepreneurs”. How many roads are named after, for example, Claude Michel, Marcel Cabon or Amedée Maingard (for his entrepreneurship in aviation)?
And now, with the re-arrangement of the round-about opposite the CEB of Rose-Hill to cater for the RH-Ebène link road, even that tiny bit of green called “Place Major Atchia” stands the risk of being swallowed up! Since it was at l’étage Ah-Piang, (corner of Royal Road and Vandermeersch Street) that, almost a hundred years ago, a huge crowd assembled to witness electric light in Rose-Hill for the first time, courtesy of Major Atchia, it would be befitting to rename that bit of Vandermeersch from Royal Road to CEB after him. (And, by the way, when will all the Royal Roads become Independence or Republic Avenues?) With such gestures, we would embark upon a road to correcting past injustices and building a future where everyone is given his/her due.
Dr. Michael ATCHIA