Genetically Modified Indo-Trinis
Photo : Dool Hanomansingh
T&T economy is adrift. Hopelessness is lurking all around. This desperation is manifesting in rising criminal activities including robbery and murders. Who would stem this recession and turn around the tide and return prosperity to this land? Would Indians be called upon once again to rescue the economy of Trinidad and Tobago?
In 1845 the Indians recued the sugar industry after emancipation and returned prosperity to the economy. The ex-slaves refused to work for low wages. Recruits from the islands of Barbados, St Vincent and Grenada worked for a few years and left. With no available labour planters turned to Portugal, China and Syria. They proved to be unfit for the rigours of field work that sugar-cane plantation demanded. It was now left to the Indians to salvage the economy and they did.
The Indians of 1845 had at their disposal cultural capital that included vast knowledge of agriculture which they put to work in their new homeland. They also had an inner strength and a deep philosophy of life which placed tremendous emphasis on self-sacrifice, family and duty.
With their knowledge of irrigation the Indians drained the swamplands and built settlements. Penal, Debe, Fyzabad and other settlements were developed along the fringes of the Oropouche Lagoon. In central Trinidad villages such as Felicity, Charlieville and Bejucal rose out of the Caroni Swamp.
The Indians applied their knowledge of agriculture to the cultivation of rice and vegetable crops. They also reared livestock for meat, eggs and milk. Products extracted from the swamps- lumber, oysters, crabs and fish-were used within the household and also marketed.
The panchayat system was employed to regulate the community. Though isolated and shunned by the Creole society, Indians never felt inferior. They lived harmoniously in the barracks and later in the villages. They had a vision… a world view that directed their actions.
Pride in their cultural values was the foundation of their being. It provided immunity from the virus of proselytization. They were proud of their names, their rituals and customs, their foods and clothing, their literature and festivals and their gods. However, the education which they sought for their children very subtly and clandestinely denigrated and misappropriated those cherished values. The education system alienated those who subscribed to it from their cultural moorings. The Hindu leadership understood well the diabolic harm it can do to the psyche of the community and postponed sending their children to school. But those who embraced the education wholeheartedly became the Frankensteins-aliens in their community.
Indians have failed to question the content of the curriculum in any meaningfully way. This failure to determine the content of curriculum has impacted most negatively on our educated minds. Only recently two individuals with doctorate in English Literature revealed that they were now reading the Mahabharata and Ramayana for the first time. One said that had he read the Mahabharat earlier he would have been a different writer.
Today our graduates have professional qualifications to earn a livelihood but not necessarily to live. Culture is an inbuilt immune system that helps the individual to screen what is entering his mind. When that radar is removed, alien values that are threatening the individual are allowed to enter, wrecking the individual in the process.
Today the average professional is a cultural drifter. We no longer determine our recreational packages. We no longer read, engage in drama, music or sports. We drift from bar to bar and our biggest hurrah is J’ouvert and Carnival. T 20 cricket is the latest craze in our lives. We do not wish to aspire to be players; we are contented as spectators with coolers and a few females friends dressed in ‘pum pum’ shorts. The malfunctioning of the radar system is being manifested in the growing LGBT culture that has now invaded our homes.
The Indians today is not the Indian of 1845. If today they are called upon to play a winning innings they would not take us to victory as their ancestors have done. They lack the sinew and fortitude of a Shivnarine Chanderpaul, an Alvin Kalicharan or a Rohan Kanhai. Despite our plethora of certificates, diplomas and degrees our communities have failed to own banks, insurance companies and play key roles in decision making at the political level. Could you imagine that Terrence Deyalsingh, the current Minister of Health in the PNM administration, is accusing the previous government of building the Couva Children’s Hospital for its supporters! This is the level of self-hate that is flourishing in our community today.
Where are the Doon Pandits in our community? Who is doing social programmes to reach out to the poor and marginalized? Doon Pandit reached out to the lepers, the most unfortunate group in the society. Isolated on Chacachacare, he reached out to them. He prepared meals, eat, prayed and mingled with them. He pioneered breakfast sheds and a school building programme that was later adopted by the Maha Sabha.
Who is reaching out to the widowed mother with her seven children, no income and living in a rundown shack infested with rats and cockroaches? Today our leaders indulge in telling the story of Sri Rama of Ayodha and the sacrifices and selflessness of Hanuman while they live in luxury like Ravana. Interestingly, there is not one organised seva programme in the country to empower people. You would be fortunate to be rendered a meal or a hamper when you are homeless and living on the streets or when the next flood hits Debe!
The Indians of today are not the Indians of 1845. The Indians of 1845 were producers, not consumers. They understood sustainable development, the value of family life and community spirit. They understood that wealth was land and children, not tinsels and trinkets and boastful rhetoric.
Today ex-Caroni workers are selling their leases of two-acre plots to buy luxury vehicles for their children to go clubbing. Selling land was alien to the people of 1845. If they were to return and learned that their descendants were selling land, they would be in pain and shock. And the fast food outlets! We are more or less losing the culture of eating home cooked meals! Not surprisingly we are sick and riddled with diseases-high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney failure, cancer and the list goes on and on. We are genetically modified…alienated from our cultural moorings…drifters!