“Indians have hookworms in their brains”

“Indians have hookworms in their brains”
Photo : Dool Hanomansingh

When Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) addressed the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, USA, he told the story of a frog who was living in a small pond and was visited by another frog from the ocean. “Where are you from? asked the pond frog? The ocean frog responded: “I am from the ocean.” How big is your ocean?” asked the pond frog. The ocean frog replied: “very big.” The pond frog reacted: “As big as my pond?” and made one huge leap. The ocean frog laughed. He was in a quagmire. “How can I explain the ocean to you! “

It is this ‘frog in pond’ mentality that is destroying our society today. Too many individuals were made to believe that they were smart and others were stupid. This was prevalent in the 1940s until the 1970s. An overseers or shopkeeper would prevent his children from playing and mingling with the children of the village. The shop keeper would not send his children to the village school. He usually hired a taxi to take his children to a school in the town and return them on afternoons.

It is only when these children step out of these rural settings that they discover their incompetence. Sadly, they never accept that those that they despised had the potential to move up and this has been the nightmare of many. To see youths from families that were despised excelling is a bitter pill for the rural gentry class to swallow. The parents provided these children with the false notion that they were smart and others were stupid. Now these individuals are discovering that others are equally smart or smarter than they.

Ramsingh had three daughters attending primary school. Working as a labourer in the field, the overseer would have him working at his home. On weekends and whenever there was a social event at the overseer’s residence Ramsingh was at hand to labour. Dutifully, Ramsingh performed his task without complaint. His children continued with their education. All three went on to win open scholarships and today all of them are professionals-two are doctors and one a professor at  a university in the USA. As for the overseer’s children they did not pass their exams. The court has become a battle ground for them to contest for properties. Many of the descendants of the overseer are drug addicts and living in the margin of the society.

The oil and gas boom has revolutionised Trinidad’s society. Many who were once servants are the leaders today. Not surprisingly, many felt that the Indians should not take power in this country. The Indians were field labourers and the least qualified to lead in the eyes of the educated elites and if at all Indians have to be placed in positions of authority they should be drafted from the Christian Indian community.  Winston Mahabir was one  such Indian. He joined the PNM in 1956 and had contempt for Indians. He made the infamous statement that “Indians have hookworms in their brains.” Hookworm was a parasite that plagued the Indian population.

The early leaders of the Indian community were all Christian-Indians: George Fitzpatrick, FEM Hosein, Sarran Teelucksingh, Timothy Roodal, etc. Not surprisingly, most Christian-Indians felt that the leadership of Bhadase Sagan Maraj and Basdeo Panday was pagan, gross and rural for them to endorse and opted to work with the PNM.  But this is now history. However, this false sense of greatness continues to linker on and contributes to serious psychological traumas.

The rural gentry culture is still difficult to overcome in the minds of many. It is time for them to wake up and embrace reality and accept the changes. A father and mother’s dreams for their children are not reality. It is for the children to work hard to make their dreams realities. Unfortunately, too many fail their parents’ dreams. Instead of working hard they venture into a culture of “head chopping,” that is, removing anyone perceived to be a potential threat to their leadership. Not surprisingly our organizations have so few people with competence to do anything because self-appointed leaders want no one with knowledge and abilities to challenge their absolute authority, thus limiting the pool of talents within institutions. This is most visible in our politics and is best exemplified in the quality of senior officials of the government and the State. In fact, officials of our State apparatus exclude competent individuals from more than 40% of our population.

Mahatma Gandhi was a leader that built people. He had around him some of the finest minds. The sole aim of Gandhi had always been to lift the self-esteem of individuals. He believed that when Indians have pride in themselves the British would leave India. He argued that the British were ruling India because the Indians wanted them to do so.

It is essential that this culture of ‘false identity’ be shunned. We must shed our ‘manufactured feathers’ lent to us by the colonial churches and start growing our natural feathers and wings. It is only when our wings are strong that we are going to soar the sky and enjoy its vastness. If not, we will continue to be gaged in this culture of hate and false ego, a culture of servitude, complaining and in-fighting.