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A kind of hush

By Nickunj Malik - Jan 23,2019 - Last updated at Jan 23,2019

If one is relocating to Mauritius, the first thing one must do is purchase a drill along with a tool kit, and the second thing one should do is take some basic carpentry lessons. 

It is necessary to hone these life skills because it is easier to put a man on the moon than to get hold of a carpenter on this Paradise Island. Believe me, it’s true. 

Carpenters are people that specialise in woodwork. The term used to describe them has been around since the 14th century and originates from the Latin carpentarius, “wagon maker”, with its root word carpentum, “wagon”. It is also a common last name; like Richard and Karen Carpenter of the musical group The Carpenters with hits such as “Yesterday once more”, “Top of the world” and “A kind of hush”. 

So, I was saying that the busiest people in Mauritius are the carpenters who, for some strange reason, spend more time in Madagascar than they do here. 

The two countries are very far apart with the shortest distance between Madagascar and Mauritius being 1,134km. 

If you travel in an airplane, it takes 1.26 hours to arrive. The sea route is erratic and takes three days to cross one way, but the cruise ships operate only once a month, which is not very user friendly, so to speak. 

However, once the Mauritian carpenters are in Madagascar, there is no telling when they are expected be back home. Nobody knows, least of all the company these specialists work for or the listed number one calls for such services. I do not have the faintest idea why they keep visiting the neighbouring country when there is such a drastic requirement for their services locally. But “gone to Madagascar” is supposed to be a self-explanatory statement that brooks no further argument and there is nothing one can do about it, other than wait for them to return. 

And this can be a long interval, mind you because the concept of waiting, on the African continent, can quickly stretch from a couple of hours, to a few months. 

Eventually — after months of persistence — when they do turn up, one must have a proper “scope of work” lined up for them. I mean, asking them to put some nails on the wall or to paint the chipped corner of a table is a strict “no no”. 

Since there is such a shortage of them, they are a very sought after lot, sometimes more so than a heart surgeon, and work on an extremely tight schedule. In retrospect, I think if my parents had sent me to a carpentry school instead of a journalism one, I would have had a more successful career in Mauritius. 

To avoid the manipulating carpenters, a lot of the residents pick up the drill themselves. Or train their gardeners to do so by paying them extra for the additional work. I became accustomed to this bit of reality, but my new Chinese neighbour was in for a surprise. 

“Guess what happened today”, she said to me through her fence. 

“A carpenter came to the house”, she said. 

“Wow!” I exclaimed. 

“I needed some pictures to be hung”, she continued. 

“You know what happened next?” she asked.

“He said he was going to Madagascar?” I joked. 

“How did you know?” she was shocked. 

“A kind of hunch”, I improvised the Carpenter’s song. 

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