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Mauritian dodo

By Nickunj Malik - Oct 17,2018 - Last updated at Oct 17,2018

Ten months ago, I moved back to the African continent, after a gap of roughly ten years. I had lived in Johannesburg and Dar-es-Salaam earlier, which were as different from each other, as chalk and cheese. The latter is in Tanzania, which is in East Africa, while the former is in South Africa. These two countries do not have much in common as their spoken languages are dissimilar, eating habits are diverse and even the weather patterns are varied. 

Mauritius, where I have relocated, is “the best African destination you know almost nothing about”, claims Tony Smart in the CNN travel magazine. So, let me tell you everything about it. This is an island state in the Indian Ocean, which is situated geographically in the intersection of Africa and Asia. The country is a part of the Eastern African sub region, which constitutes twenty territories and is included in Africa’s small island nations, together with Comoros and Seychelles. It is also a member of the African Union.

Right! These particulars you might find while surfing online too but what you will not discover is how far the distances are between the north and south of the island or from east to west, for that matter. Despite the total land area of the country being 2,040 sq.km (about 80 per cent the size of Luxembourg) it takes a minimum of ninety minutes in commuting from one end of the island to another. Everyone has their own social circles according to the region they reside in and going the extra mile to a party is not very common here. It happens but I have observed that it is quite a rare occurrence. 

Also, though people in Mauritius do not like to associate themselves with the laidback “hakuna matata” (Swahili language phrase from Central East Africa that means no worries) mindset of the rest of the continent, they seem to have the same disregard for time. There is never any rush to get anything done and everybody follows the “island time”, which can be anything between a few hours to a few days. 

The dodo is the national bird of Mauritius that is now extinct. Sadly, the first European explorers ate it up in the seventeenth century. This three-foot tall flightless bird lived on fruit and nested on the ground. It is curious that a bird without wings could exist on an island. Experts believe the dodo could fly but once it got to Mauritius it chose not to; it had a strange reverse evolution of trying to achieve something called, flightlessness.

Aside from the phrase ‘as dead as a dodo,’ the bird’s chief contribution to literature is its cameo in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” where it stages a “Caucus Race”. It’s widely believed that the Dodo was a stand-in for Carroll himself, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Take the first two letters of the author’s last name and the fact that Carroll had a pronounced stutter, and you can see why he identified so closely with the long-gone dodo. 

Surprisingly, before visiting any country in Africa, my acquaintances call me first to check. 

“Listen, you got mugged in Tanzania or South Africa?” asked my friend on the phone. 

“Dar-es-Salaam,” I replied. 

“We are going to Cape Town,” she confided.

“Everything is beautiful there,” I exclaimed.

“Crime scene as extinct as the dodo?” she joked. 

“Also enhanced,” I said cautiously.

“Rare occurrence?” she questioned.

“Daily occurrence,” I warned.

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