Obituary - Dear Shakespeare : The end of the road

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Bhishmadev  SEEBALUCK

Dear Mr. Seebaluck

I have learnt with deep sorrow the sudden and untimely demise of our friend and former colleague Mr. Bhismadev Seebaluck. Although we all knew that he was suffering from health problems for quite some time, we did not expect that he would leave us so soon. 

In spite of the fact that I had known him for several years, I became more acquainted with him when I first joined News on Sunday in 2005. Very quickly, I noticed that he was well-mannered and that he loved sharing his experience. Quite often, he would pull me in a corner to either express his appreciation for an article that I had written or to bring to my attention a grammatical error which I could have well avoided in one of my writings for News on Sunday.

He not only had a great sense of humour but he was also a keen observer. When I was much younger, I never missed his columns titled My Dear Billy published in Week End. Later when I returned to News on Sunday, I was saddened to hear that he was not physically present in the newsroom and that he would be sending his column Dear Shakespeare by mail. As the then sub editor of News on Sunday, I had the privilege to read his writings prior to their publication. I can recall how he would very humbly agree with the very few corrections that were required. Humility was one his qualities.

Mr. Seebaluck would take the trouble to inform me by phone in the unlikely event that he would not be able to send his article for one reason or another. He was a real gentleman and a fine intellectual. His endeavours to promote drama, literature and the English language will be remembered for ages. More importantly, his deft analysis of the Mauritian society through his writings will remain as a compass for better understanding our society.   

Our deepest condolences to his close relatives, friends and all those bereaved by his passing away.

Sunil GOPAL


 

My dear Billy, It’s another year that ends this week. For the calendar it may be just the end of the year, but for me, it’s the end of a lengthy journey upon which I had embarked over 55 years ago in 1961. I was part of the team of young hopefuls who had joined the weekly Mauritius Times and since then there was no looking back. In those days a journalist was expected to write feature articles, report on events like sports, public meetings, theatre shows, music concerts, in short everything. Then in the early 1980s, I started writing to you in this column. Allow me today to bid adieu to you and through you to the thousands of readers who have done me the honour and pleasure of waiting for their weekly Dear Shakespeare column. I don’t know how much laughter I provoke or how much ire, but sometimes people grin at the sight of me, as if I reminded them at once of last week Dear Shakespeare.

Topicality, which is often the essence of the sort of articles that I write, allows them a very short life indeed. But in Mauritius, History has a knack of repeating itself too often and too soon: road works would be an everlasting feature of our life, so will be the clues and the inadequacies of our services. Some drivers will never stop breaking the traffic rules while our politicians will continue fooling the people; rumour mongering and character assassinations are an integral part of our system.

In the process I have compiled three volumes of these articles in book form. When the 1st volumes appeared, Stephen H. Arnold of the Department of English at the University of Alberta in Canada wrote: “Written to Shakespeare as if to a pen pal, most of this collection are short, humorous pieces taken from a column in Week End, a Mauritian newspaper. The author who takes delight in writing irreverent drama and film criticism, presents a collage of sarcasm about typical Third World problems endemic in this island, where Africa and Asia blend under a western veneer. Among the topics addressed with whimsy irony and cynism are: water supply, public transport, filth, provincial chauvinism, corruption, the population boom, inefficiency on punctuality and gossip as an art form.”

Another critic found that “the articles flow is a rich mastery of style which gives dignity to the issue at hand, however light, serious or natural it may be. There are also these piquant undertones, like the flutter of a fan, which convey raillery and irony but never fatalism.”

In her foreword to the third collection, Shakountala  Hawaldar says that “Bhishmadev Seebaluck is a rar’avis,  a rare bird in our literary landscape. He is a writer who elegantly combines subtle sarcasm of Pope and the not so gentle witticism of Oscar Wilde. He laughs, he guffaws, he tickles, he provokes, and he massages us with his narrations of Mauritian reality and tit-bits.”

Alan Perry from Wales, short story writer, poet dramatist and painter, observes that “Bhishmadev Seebaluck’s Dear Shakespeare columns read like the conscience of not only Mauritius but the world at large. Satirist, polemicist, controversial list, persistent hounder of the establishment and the powers that be and, always humorist and humanist, is literary preoccupations and target are wild ranging and divert, from the trivial to matters of great fist and moment: the universal acutely observe in consequential grains of Mauritian sand. He is hard on his homeland: the corruption in high places, the prosperous Mauritian industries of gossip, rumour and back biting, but with a fond and fatherly sense of anger and concern for the waywardness of a loved one.”

At a certain time, I planned to stop writing at the age of 70 but when I turned that age, I simply could not. Then I decided to postpone the event until I was 75. Now that I have reached that point and no more enjoying the best of health, I believe it’s high time to quit.

I believe that I must offer my thanks to you for having borne with me during all those years of Dear Shakespeare; I also have a tender thought  for all those who have been reading me during that time. I must add one word here: I have always chastised my compatriots so that they may mend their ways, never to offend them. Now that the time has come to say good-bye, let me leave quietly on tip-toe.

Parting is always painful, yet it must be done.

Bhismadev Seebaluck