I had no expectations when I started looking for a book from Mauritius. I was however sure there would not be a big selection. I was right. Luckily I found one book easily online; Benares and In Babylon by Barlen Pyamootoo. It is a short book with two short stories, one set in Mauritius and the other in Iraq.
Two men are roaming around Port Louis looking for two prostitutes to take with them back to Benares. It was not the easiest of tasks, because ‘Benares is so far away’, or it was an unknown place. After a while they got lucky and they group of people drive to Benares. The chit chatting turns into deeper discussions about life, especially the way it used to be.
“When I was a child and I’d come home late, my father used to say, ‘What have you been doing in Babylon this time?’ I wouldn’t answer, I’d just hang my head and go to my room – I used to feel so ashamed when I got told off. Because ‘to be in Babylon’ is a pejorative expression. It means roam, wander and so stray from one’s path.”
In Babylon is a story about Saddam’s Iraq after the First Gulf War. It is so noisy that many nights you have to get drunk to be able to sleep. There is so much smog you can’t see in front of you. The city has been bombed, there are holes in the roads and dead rats lying on the ground. Naturally, the city is filled with portraits of Saddam.
The stories are short, easy to read. In fact, the book is over almost before it started. There is a certain poetic rhythm to Pyamootoo’s writing, which makes it easy to read. However, the stories and the characters were not memorable. The places were memorable. The description of the landscapes, the smells, the surroundings… The places in the books were my favourite part.