The Bank of Mauritius has launched a competition to let the public have its say in the design of new banknotes. This is certainly laudable, and it is a safe bet that Mauritians will come up with plenty of suggestions. On our current banknotes we have Le Caudan, the State House, the University and other places of interest; this time, perhaps, we might go for our local flora and fauna. Let?s wait and see.
But the big question is: who are those personalities who will grace our new banknotes? Once more, are we going to concentrate solely on political figures? Surely, Mauritian history does not belong to politicians alone. Isn?t it time that we give some due to other ?citizens? who have stood out in the fields of science, music and literature?
History has shown that they are less controversial figures: they do not make racist statements or mismanage a country?s funds. They might not have been the centre of attention during their lifetime, but years after they are gone, what they have left ?still runs like a golden thread through the plain fabric of our lives?.
What person deemed worthy to be called a Mauritian has never hummed a ?sega? of P?tit Frere, and what lover of poetry has never, in the ?Jardin de la Compagnie?, backtracked on his path to go through the magnificent verses of Leoville L?Homme? And surely, it would be a shame, too, if the only Mauritian scientist to figure in the Larousse (Brown Sequard) is deemed unworthy to be on our banknotes just because of his ancestry. For once, let us not allow this mania for quotas to cloud our judgement!
But even if our emotion gets the better of us, there should be no cause for discontent. We are a new nation, but this last century, alone, has seen more than its crop of illustrated personalities - from every community ? to keep everyone happy. Who has not heard of Malcolm de Chazal (that misunderstood genius), Professor Bissoondoyal (eminent writer and patriot), Dr Idrice Goomany (the philanthropist), and Anjalay Coopen (our "Joan of Arc")? Less-known figures, but no less deserving are Claude Michel (author and scientist of international repute), Mootoocomaren Sangelee (scholar and translator of the Tiroukoural) and Roger Leung Pew (the first Mauritian film-maker).
So much for our personalities? there are other things to consider, too. No new banknote should be so small that it stays unnoticed amongst a wad of notes, nor should it be so big that it protrudes inelegantly from a lady?s wallet. The colour should also be different ? if we are not to hand over a Rs 500 note and then receive change for Rs 100! Furthermore, the note should be of good material, and not become like a soiled bit of rag after changing hands a couple of times.
It might also be a good idea to have notes in different sizes, too. Blind people and the partially-sighted will surely appreciate this. The difference in size should be really noticeable, and we should not have somebody from the bank to remind us ? in a posh English accent on TV ? that ?they differ in size really, we have seen to it that the difference is 4.24578%?!
How long the new banknotes will stay with us is anybody?s guess. We wish them a long life, anyway, but more importantly, let us make this an opportunity to steer away from politics, and grace these banknotes by people who have shone in less uncontroversial fields of endeavour: science, social work, and literature. If not, in a century or so, my great grandson might well see on future banknotes the grandsons of our present-day politicians! Not that it really bothers me, but then, we should not really be called a democracy. Perhaps ?monarchy? would be a fitter word!
Jean Lindsay DHOOKIT