BOOK REVIEW TURNING PAGES: The extraordinary Autobiography of RON RAMDIN.
Life like a river merges its waters of rich experiences, good and bad, into an ever-changing humanity.
With a pen in hand to mirror its depth, too deep and dark to see within, the writer writes.
Meet RON RAMDIN.
In this year 2017 observing 100 years since the end of the India’s Indentureship to Trinidad, the book, “TURING PAGES, The Extraordinary autobiography of Ron Ramdin,” opens the history of Indian ancestry to add vivid images of life in a Christian-Indian family. Set in a Marabella of the 1940s and 50s with grandparents born in Chennai (formally Madras), childhood was haunted by the nickname “Blackie” that underlined the sense of inferiority that weighed heavily on the young boy. As the eldest child in a fast growing family of constant struggle he tells us that he grew up before his time squaring his shoulders to help make ends meet.
Ramdin, born in 1942 takes us through the “garden”, an empty space behind his modest wooden home at Sand Road now Union Park Road. The elders planted vegetable crops to feed the family and kept cows until the area was upgraded into Gopaul Lands. It stands today a prime commercial area. A childhood not unlike life for second generation Indians born in Trinidad, we follow the young boy as he went barefooted, remained at the beck and call of parents and grandparents while tending animals and walking long distances to deliver bottles of milk. An able writer, he takes us back in time to where Sand Road met Union Road connecting Marabella to Gasparillo with Union Park Race Track (now Mannie Ramjohn stadium) opposite Harmony Hall Canadian Mission School. His fascination with the Race track left clear images as he recalled, (Page 29). “The rows of stables were painted green and cream and often the thoroughbreds could be seen with their grooms in close attendance.”
The pages turn to a failed attempt to gain employment as an Office Boy at the nearby Pointe-a-Pierre oil refinery where his father worked as a painter. Not to be dithered and more determined to find work, a young Ramdin left school and began taking odd jobs in a firm effort to get out and move up in life. He strengthened his resolve with the purchase of a blue suitcase to set in motion the dream of leaving Trinidad for a better life in England. Discipline and sacrifice became important character traits of the writer as he put together the pennies to buy a ticket to reach Southamption, in England by sea. This he accomplished at the age of 20.
The life story devotes 201 pages to a childhood in Trinidad before the book published in two volumes with a total of 3,187-pages enters Part Two. He continued in an England that gave Independence to his birthplace in the same year of his arrival (1962), wandering around to sign up for the “dole” and finding himself a single room for rent while surviving on fish and chips. An advertisement in the newspaper for a library attendant at the University of London fetched him his first job and then there was no turning back.
Surrounded then by books, it was inevitable that the boy who managed to hold the dream of a better life so far would conjure the ambition of becoming a writer. He then set his sights upon having his own name on titles to be placed similarly on the library shelves.
The shy boy battled to take his place in the world. On the ship while travelling, he tells us that he sang a song to add to the evening’s entertainment and continued his love for singing by entering a song contest to place second and often thereafter joined friends at the pubs to sing before live audiences. He reasoned, “If you scrape the bottom of the barrel early in life, there is no place to go but up.” It gave him fortitude to keep on fighting as he changed six accommodations in six months in a London experiencing the ‘Swingin Sixties’ which all contributed in helping him to find his feet sufficiently to allow London to grow on him, to become his new home.
He takes us on a journey as he discovered a passion for learning at the library. He then began taking steps to qualify for a degree program to continue an educational journey that ended with a doctorate in Literature.
His first book “From Chattel Slave to Wage Earner” was published in 1982 and was followed by “The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain,” “The Other Middle Passage,””Reimaging Britain” and several other books including novels (Rama’s Voyage and Griot’s Tale) and biographies.
Over the years when he switched jobs and became a part of the British Museum Library staff, Ramdin became a friendly face when called upon to assist visiting Trinidadians and to speak at public functions organized by the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London. He spoke at an Indian Arrival Day celebration in 2003 crediting former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday with bringing the races together. He caught my attention. We became friends. Later when I visited the Museum, he handed me a manuscript of his first novel “Rama’s Voyage” which I read while travelling back to India and which was later published by local based “Chakra” in 2005.
Turning Pages provides a comprehensive look at a life well lived despite the humble beginnings and the constant need to climb hurdles. Essentially, it seemed as if the little boy running errands to make life easier for his overburdened mother cultivated the mindset of a hard life that called for a great deal of sacrifice and discipline to become tools for life.
Ramdin’s autobiography gains its “extraordinary” qualities in today’s world where opportunities abound and children are given a better start with a good education as a foundation to success.
In person, Ramdin is great company laughing at himself in a booming voice that echoes on the walls of his soul invitingly. I look forward to his visits when as we drive around the country roads revisiting landmarks, he sips a Carib Lager Beer and continues easily an unending conversation that brings all things Trinidadian together with humor, a deep appreciation for history and a greater sense of belonging. Having read Turning Pages, there is so much more to talk about as Ramdin continues to write from his home in London.
His visits to the Sand Road house reopen memories even as it now stands partially empty with parents, grandparents and all but one sibling to keep the fireplace warm.
Turning Pages is available at Paper Based Bookshop located at Hotel Normandie along with copies of “Respect for Differences”, an original essay. Ramdin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Paper Based Bookshop.