Roshni Mooneeram’s ‘Flerkann Longtail’:
English is the official language of Mauritius. Examinations are conducted in English. Administrative work is done in English too. It is the international language of communications, business and diplomacy, technology and science. We may dispute the colonial past of those who introduced the language. But undoubtedly, it has come to stay and we have to communicate, to interact to make ourselves accessible and competent in a competitive globalized world. We are a multilingual country and this is to our advantage. Languages do not divide. On the contrary, they unite. The more languages one knows, the better one can develop one’s innate intelligence and faculties. Mauritius stands at an advantageous position. Why are people afraid of developing and polishing their English? Why do we do everything to destroy or neglect it? What are the mentalities that weigh us down?
Changing our mentality
It is good that we start changing this mentality towards languages by loving and appropriating the languages that we have been bequeathed. They may be our mother tongue/s or other inherited languages. We have reached an era of multiple identities. If we want our children to be successful in life and become smart A class citizens of the world, language acquisition and mastery is one of the tools to make knowledge accessible to them and help them to be articulate to express their ideas, thoughts and feelings with confidence.
Writing for Children in English
Writing for children in English is a big challenge. In the old days children used to be told stories. At school we used to read tales and adventures of Sinbad the sailor, or Hans Andersen’s books, myths and legends of Greece, Fables de la Fontaine. We have the rich corpus of literature such as the Arabian Nights, Panchatantra, Hitopadesh, the Jataka Fables, or Birbal and Akbar’s unending questions and answers; or Bikram and Betal and the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the story of La Barbe Bleue…. These stories still fascinate and contain myriads of messages and wisdom that tame and shape the mind towards good ethics of life.
Our generation has also grown on Tintin, Asterix etc and other classics or bandes dessinées and Amar Chitra Kathas. What about the new generations?
English is regressing
There is an alarming cultural gap that gapes at us. It is to fill this cruel gap that Roshni Mooneeram has brought out a beautifully illustrated book “FlerKann Longtail” meant for children of 8-11 years old. It has been written in English. Says Roshni Mooneeram, “today Mauritius is the only country in the world where the level of English is regressing while the rest of the world embraces English as the world language. This is a dramatic situation and an important factor which will inhibit the ambitious dreams of a high-income economy necessarily dependent on high literary skills, access to information and high levels of service.”
For Roshni Mooneeram, one way to redress this situation is to capture children’s imagination and engage them in reading a story in English.
Flerkann Longtail has been written for that purpose. It is the story of a little bird that goes a long way, somewhat like Jonathan Livingston Seagull written by Richard Bach.
How to make English accessible?
50 pages long and in hard cover, the book is beautifully and colourfully illustrated, which makes reading it appealing. The interesting thing is that it carries at the back a supportive glossary of more than 50 words.
The book is “a story of daring adventure and discovery”. Roshni wrote the first version of the book while she lived in China where she taught English as Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham. FlerKann tells the story of Longtail (Paille en queue) from Black River. His adventure takes him across the Indian Ocean across a transformative journey during which he makes friends for life and comes back to his den, full of the knowledge of life.
After her teaching career in China, Roshni came back to Mauritius and noted the dearth of literature for children by local writers. She says, “It is of course an advantage that our children are now connected to the global village through a panoply of electronic devices. But it is important that they retain a sense of connection with what it means to be from an island in the Indian Ocean, so that they develop a sense of knowing who they are.”
Roshni Mooneeram was born in Curepipe and completed her MA in English with a PhD on Mauritius Creole from the University of Leeds UK. Brimming with ideas and a concern to upgrade the quality of the English Language in Mauritius, she wrote this first book for children. She also had a short stint in politics.
Flerkann Longtail is available in all the bookshops of Mauritius and is published by Graphic Press Ltd. The book does not only make pleasurable reading for children but for adults as well.
- Published in print edition on 9 October 2015