India High Commissioner Dey Celebrates Trinidad Elders
The High Commission of India to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago celebrated elders of Indian origin at a special function (banquet reception and awards ceremony) held in late September at the Hilton hotel in Port of Spain. The event was hosted by the High Commissioner (HC) His Excellency Bishwadip Dey. There was a brief documentary of the High Commissioner (HC) visiting several elderly at their homes, some in far off rural communities. Some 38 "elderlies" were honored. Several distinguished religious leaders joined the HC at the reception in presenting the awards to the elderly. The media was present. The function was emceed by the ever popular Surujdeo Mangaroo.
The HC gave a very impressive speech and began with a jovial remark. He stated that a story was told about Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was at a crowded Indian airport and in the distance saw someone carrying the national flag of Trinidad and Tobago. The PM dashed towards the man enquiring about friends he had made during his trip to the West Indian island in 1999. Ever since he became the Prime Minister of India in May 2014, Modi-ji has pulled out all stops to engage the Indian diaspora spread out in all parts of the world. Modi has visited Indian diasporas globally. However, he is yet to visit the Caribbean. A trip has been planned for early November. But it has been postponed. PM Modi met with Dr. Keith Rowley recently at the Commonwealth summit in London. As High Commissioner Dey pointed out, acknowledging the India diaspora’s contributions to the globe, Prime Minister Modi during a recent foreign trip has described overseas Indians (everyone of Indian ancestry) as Ambassadors who have made a mark all over the world.
The below has been extracted from a prepared report.
India’s Prime Minister thinks as much about India as he does about the India’s diaspora. During a recent London trip, a parallel was drawn between the ObamaCare and ModiCare to highlight the progress of healthcare in India at the ‘Bharat ki Baat, Sabkey Saath’ programme. In response to it, Prime Minister Modi outlined three priorities of the government: “Children must be educated”, ‘Youth must have jobs” and “the elderly must have access to medicines.” His concern for the elderly is also evident in the planning of the current government to increase the jail term for those who abandon or abuse their elderly parents, to six months from the existing three months.
Similar to the PM, External Affairs Minister of India Shrimati Sushma Swaraj has made a name for herself by swiftly attending to people’s problem and using Twitter to expedite response of her Ministry. In one recent incident, one senior citizen approaching 70 years appealed to her that he and his wife has been put in two different batches for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, the arduous pilgrimage undertaken by many Indians and for which her Ministry makes the arrangements. Her response ‘The computer is guilty of separating you. But don't worry. We will send you both in the same batch.’ was widely reported by the media as it showed her benevolent nature as well as for her sense of humour. It is this responsiveness of India’s popular Foreign Minister that has endeared her to the general public.
High Commissioner Bishwadip Dey is following in the footsteps of India’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to engage with the diaspora with special concern for the elderly. His Excellency is pulling all stops to cement ties with the diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago. He has taken the High Commission to the villages. Since diplomatic ties were established 56 years ago, never has the official vehicle of the Indian High Commissioner seen traversing the villages of Trinidad as much as it has done in recent months. Upon assuming office two years ago His Excellency Bishwadip Dey expressed a desire to visit the villages of Trinidad and Tobago and meet the People of Indian Origin. His desire to identify elders who had achieved the milestone age of 90 and beyond and venerate them by visiting them at their homes took him to 60 such elderlies to an overwhelming response from the PIO population in Trinidad. How he listened to their stories and shared meal with them at their homes have become public knowledge. Thus far the High Commission has identified close to 110 persons in the 90 plus age category and Mr Dey is planning to felicitate all of them over the next few months.
Several elders High Commissioner Dey met were 105 years old. He said they were born in 1913
four years before the formal end to indentureship. Some were born in the barracks which were
built previously for the slaves while others were born in hovels on the outskirts of the plantations .
Human conditions were no different.
The High Commissioner was told of the early life and struggles in spite of which they were
endowed with a deep faith that Rama or Allah will lead them to a better life not for themselves
but for their children. They understood the need for their children to receive a proper education so
that they would not have to experience the indignity of the estate life.
High Commissioner Dey was intrigued to learn of the transition from barracks to worker
settlements established without starter loans with the most basic of shelter. Indian culture and
traditions intervened. In a far off land without family or benefactors these peasants drew on the
skills within for builders who could access the forest woods and various grasses for cover,
uncertificated medicine men and herbalists, midwives, undertakers and various other functionaries
as obtained in their ancestral villages. Along with singers and musicians as well as pundits and
Imams. A key and respected role was reserved for the Bhandari who cooked for the entire village
on wedding and other auspicious occasions.
High Commissioner Dey was amazed that in spite of the hard life there was no
bitterness as they told their stories. They were building a foundation for their offsprings
and many of them could boast professionals in medicine, law, education, financial services
and business ownership in their family.
One of the most fascinating encounters was with the 92 year old Kenneth Lalla whose
father came from Bihar. As a young boy poverty crippled the family. Boys in his village
were graduating from high school when a well-wisher enrolled him at primary school.
He was already 16 years old. He applied himself well and in short time had achieved the admission requirements to law school in the United Kingdom. He would later become a Member of Parliament, is a Senior Counsel and has headed many statutory bodies of the government. His four children are
Our first President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago of Indian Origin was Noor
Mohammed Hassanali who was the grandson of an indentured labourer. High Commissioner
Dey knows former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday whose grandparents were indentured
labourers and whose parents were peasant farmers. He first wore shoes to school when he
was eleven years old. Former Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar with Bihari roots assisted
her peasant parents bundling produce from their garden for sale in the market.
As I was preparing to tell these stories the news came that the Nobel laureate Vidia Naipaul
had passed on at 85. He was born in Chaguanas in central Trinidad. His Gorakpuri grandfather
Capildeo was indentured to the Woodford Lodge estate. At the completion of his indentureship
he opted to remain in Trinidad and built a house of north Indian architecture that still stands
today and is known as Hanuman House. Two of Pundit Capildeo's sons and one daughter , Simbhoonath, Rudranath and Kalawatee served in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.
Rudranath, a renowned mathematician was Leader of the Opposition and considered a Father
of the Nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
It is noteworthy that the grandson of the Bhojpuri speaking labourer from Uttar Pradesh
will become one of the most outstanding writers in the English language.
Soon after Sir Vidia's demise came the news of the passing of the former Prime Minister,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee under whose leadership the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was created
and the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Samaan was initiated. Sir Vidia, born in the plantation diaspora
was among the first to be honoured. Those whom High Commissioner Dey visited may not
have qualified for Pravasi recognition but they by their approach to life's challenges, their deep
faith and their unrelenting commitment to family embodied the true spirit of the Indian mind.
High Commissioner Dey's visits appearing to spend unlimited time with the elders and sharing
in their evening meals transcended diplomatic initiatives. In a real sense these were healing occasions
that will live on with succeeding generations of those who were venerated.
Hans Hanoomansingh is the longest serving broadcaster in Trinidad and Tobago
and has received the prestigious Media in Excellence Award as well as an honorary
Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the West Indies.
He is a former Member of Parliament and Honorary Life President of the National Council
Of Indian Cultural.