Celebrating Ashram B. Maharaj
Mohess Road, Penal.
“If it is to be done, I will do it”
At eleven years of age Ashram was successful in getting a ‘letter to the editor’ published in a national newspaper requesting that more Western movies be shown on TTT Channel 2. He also wrote the Film Unit of the Indian High Commission and was successful in getting them to come to Mohess Road, Penal to show films on India.
Author of four books and numerous articles on the history, traditions and customs of peoples of the Indian Diaspora, Ashram’s publications included‘Indo-Trinidadian Folk Tales’ (Indian Review Press, 1990); ‘Pandits in Trinidad – a Study of a Hindu Institution’ (Indian Review Press, 1991); ‘Kahani Village’ (Indian review Press, 1994), ‘H.P. Singh: the Indian Struggle for Equality and Justice’ (Indian Review Press, 1998) which he co-edited with Kamal Persad and Green Card Dulahin and Other Stories (Indian Review Press, 2011).
‘Indo-Trinidadian Folk Tales,’ ‘Kahani Village’ and ‘Green Card Dulahin’ are collections of short stories in which the characters and settings are East Indian. ‘Pandits in Trinidad-A Study of a Hindu Institution’ was a Caribbean Studies thesis that was upgraded and published.
Born at Mohess Road, Penal in 1960, the third child in a family of five boys and one girl to PanditDeonarineGajrajMaharajand Shanti Maharaj, Ashram held a BA Degree (History) from the University of the West Indies and an M.A (Medieval Indian History and Studies in the Indian Diaspora) from the University of Hyderabad, India.
Ashram had published many articles in local and international newspapers and magazines. Some of his writings included the following: PanditNirmal; DeorajSiewnarine (Dr. Abracadabra-Magician); Lily Ramcharan (Singer); KaramchandMaharaj (Musician); William Balgobin (Dholak Player); SatrohanMaharaj (Singer); Sarwan Kumar Dance Drama (Folk Theatre); Hinduism in a Hostile Society; Mandirs in the 21st Century in Trinidad; Hindu View of Christ; Impact of Hindi Cinema in Trinidad and Kala Pani
Ashram researched and profiled more than forty(40) personalities in the book The Contributors: Profiling the Builders of Chaguanas,’ a 2006 publication of the Borough of Chaguanas
His research papers yet to be published are: Indian Folk Theatre in Trinidad; Bharat Desh: From Gujarat to Penal – A Study of an Indentured Family; A Study of Puja in Trinidad.
Ashram’s early interest in writing led him to work as a photo-journalist with Sandesh Newspaper between 1985 to1990. He also contributed articles regularly to New Horizon and Tribune and served as editor of Indian Review, SPIC Magazine (UWI) and the University of Hyderabad Magazine.
Always available to guide other writers with their research and writing, Ashram proof read ‘ChaloTrinidad,’ a novel by Jang BahadurBhagirathee and made invaluable recommendations. He also wrote the Foreword for D.H. Singh’s ‘Pandits and Politics: The Socio-Political Factors Leading to the Formation of the Divine life Society between1956-1962,’ (Indian Review Press 2004); proof- read ‘DoonPandit: his Life and Times,’ another publication by D.H.Singh (Indian Review Press 2006).
With one of the largest collections of newspaper clippings, Ashram is consulted by researchers, both local and foreign, and from distant places such as Japan and India. In more recent times Ashram was consulted by PrimnathGooptar who is pursuing a doctoral thesis on the ‘Impact of Hindi Cinema in Trinidad’ at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).Gooptar was high in praise of Ashram’s knowledge of Hindi films and was impressed with his thorough preparation prior to the interview.
Ashram’s research had taken him to Guyana, St Lucia, Grenada, Jamaica, Barbados, New York and India. With an eye for detail and a critical mind, Ashran had documented his experiences and observations of those communities. One of his more outstanding pieces is the one written on India while a student at Hyderabad University.
In 1994 the Mere Desh Indian Arrival Day Committee presented Ashram with a Literary and Media Award in recognition of his research and writings.
His love for research was inspired by his father, the late PanditDeoGajadharMaharaj, who was an ardent reader of local newspapers and a collector of clippings on major events in the country such as the trials of Boysie Singh and Dalip Singh, other prominent Indians, world leaders and Hinduism in Trinidad.
Others who inspired, influenced and developed his research and writing and to whom he felt a sense of gratitude are Kamal Persad, Professor BrinseleySamaroo, SoomarooSiewah, the late Dr. Fitzroy Baptiste and P.K. Mishra, a former visiting Professor of Indian Studies at the St Augustine Campus, University of the West Indies.
Ashram was a member of the Indian Museum Committee founded in 1985 by RajnieRamlakhan. Located at Frederick Street, Curepe, other members were SundraGooljar, MadhuriMootoor, SoomarooSiewah and SubahKalpoo. Its major objective was to establish a Museum of East Indian Artifacts.
The members of the Committee traveled to the far corners of Trinidad visiting homes to collect artifacts that the East Indian indentures brought from India. After much pleading and persuasion, families reluctantly parted with treasured pieces of their links to their ancestral land. Among the artifacts collected were a wooden cobra snake, a sarangi, a bulbul, pottery, kitchen utensils, a talwar (plough) and other agricultural tools. Ashram estimated that the collection had more than eighty (80) pieces.
In 1990 when Rajnie was migrating to London and there was no available place to house the museum, the members took a decision to hand over the artifacts to the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC). Unfortunately, a few years later the artifacts mysteriously disappeared. No one seems to know where they have disappeared. Ashram described the vanishing of the artifacts as the ‘looting of our history by those who have pledged to protect it.’
Indian Arrival Day
The State granted Indian Arrival Day, May 30 a public holiday in 1995 but this was only after more than a decade of mass public celebrations pioneered by the Indian Revival and Reform Association and sustained by Hindu SevaSangh and the Indian Review Committee. While the SevaSangh successfully mobilized the population through mass public rallies featuring cultural shows and the re-enactment of the arrival of the Fatal Rozack (the ship that brought the first group of Indian indentured laborers to the shores of Trinidad) the Indian Review Committee provided an ideological framework on the significance of the event through it many publications.
When a Joint Select Committee of Parliament was established after conclusion of debates in Parliament, Ashram was a member of a delegation of the Indian Review Committee that presented arguments for May 30 to be declared a public holiday. Copies of back issues of the Indian Review with relevant articles on the history of Indian Arrival Day were presented to the Committee.
A Public Servant with more than 26years service, Ashram is presently employed as a Supervisor at the Port of Spain City Corporation. His seniors are high in praise for his commitment and dedication to his work. A stickler for time, Ashram claims that he has never been once late for work.
As a youth Ashram represented his schools in cricket at both the primary and secondary levels and continued playing for many years in cricket leagues in the Penal/Siparia. His outstanding performances included scoring centuries which won him numerous awards.
A keen photographer, his interest in photography started as a teenager and never stopped. His large collection included photographs taken during his travels abroad and his many visits to various festivals and events associated with the Indian Diaspora.
Ashram enjoyed music and had a vast collection of cassettes, records and CDs. His collection included music in many languages-Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Sanskrit, Panjabi-from the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Diaspora: Suriname, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, New York, Toronto, London, Fiji, and Mauritius.
A film connoisseur, Ashram had an excellent knowledge of the Indian film industry. He has followed closely the origin, growth and development of the Hindi Film Industry and made the observation that while the Hindi Films Industry was the largest and most popular in India, there were other regional cinemas that produce excellent films.
Always ready to share his knowledge, Ashram had been invited to deliver lectures, tell stories from his writings and conduct workshops on creative writing. He also addressed students of the International School at Port of Spain on the significance of Indian Arrival Day and read to them stories from his collections. Ashram presented papers at Indian Diaspora Conferences, and read his short stories on All India Radio during his period of studies in India.
Ashram has a long association with the Hindu SevaSangh, a non-profit socio-cultural organization that has been working in the community for the past twenty five (25) years. Its programs include Youth Camps, Phagwa and Indian Arrival Day, distribution of food, repairs to houses, assisting needy families with the paper work and recommendations to access assistance from the Ministry of Social Development and other government departments.
In 1995 when the SevaSangh took the challenge to build a monument of Seedas Sadhu, Ashram researched and wrote a profile of the late Seedas Sadhu. This article was first published in the Hindu SevaSangh’s Indian Arrival Day Magazine (1995) and became a ‘template’ that other writers have used in their writings on the legendary Sadhu and his struggles to build the Temple in the Sea at Waterloo.
Ashram’s research paper on the ‘Volcano Puja’ held annually at the Columbia Estate, Cedros, was the first written and published on this religious activity that has been observed by devotees of the Fullerton Mandir for more than 120 years. Again, written pieces done on the event by others have been found to be lacking in primary research, with the content drawn mainly from Ashram’s initial writings on the puja.
An Executive Member of the Central Zone of the Hindu SevaSangh, Ashram represented the Sangh in the Sundar Popo Monument Committee. In his capacity as Research Officer, Ashram has researched and written a profile of the late Chutney King for inclusion in a promotional brochure. This projected was completed and the statue was installed in Debe on May 30, 2010.
An excellent host, Ashram’s readily made his home available for meetings, discussions and other social events. His graciousness as a host made everyone one felt at home. Many fruitful discussions on issues affecting the Indian diaspora were held, many decisions were taken and numerous plates of delicious meals were consumed
A strong advocate of punctuality and intolerant of mediocrity, Ashram despised those who were self-righteous and selfish. He honoredhis words and when he undertook a task he delivered without fail.
His favorite quote is: ‘If it is to be done, I will do it.’ This he demonstrated on a daily basis by his participation in the various programs sponsored by organizations and individuals. He never hesitated to accept responsibilities as they came his way. His personality rose above the insularity that plagued Hindu organizations and their leaders. He truly embodies a global personality, a reflection of the years he spent in New York and Hyderabad, India.
Ashram’s death on the November 06, 2011 from a cardiac arrest was a great loss not only to his family but to his many friends and colleagues.
Hundreds came out to pay their last respect to him. The funeral was held at the three venues-his home at New Settlement,Chaguanas; Mohess Road, Penal where he was born and Mosquito Creek where the body was cremated.
The Hindu Prachaar Kendra, along with family and friends of Ashram held a Memorial Service (Shranddhanjali) on Saturday November 19, 2011 at the Library, Divali Nagar, Chaguanas. Among the people paying tribute to Ashram were: GowtamMaharaj, Chairman of Sundar Popo Monument Committee; Wayne Lalchan, President of Hindu Seva Sangh; Professor BrinselySamaroo; Deepak Maharaj, nephew; Ramhit, a friend and Sat Balkaransingh.