Desis in Trinidad

The NYT on desis in Trinidad:

When slavery was abolished on the island in the 1830′s, the planters looked to India for workers, and the first ship, bearing more than 200 Indian indentured servants, arrived in May 1845. Over the next 75 years, some 143,000 Indians came to Trinidad, mostly from Calcutta, and mostly Hindu.

On one man’s struggles in the name of religion:

The Waterloo Temple was first built near the coast in 1947 by a devout laborer named Seedas Sadhu. Problem was, he didn’t own the land, so the bulldozers rolled in to level his creation. Undaunted, he commenced a 25-year project of hauling rocks and concrete several dozen yards offshore at low tide; there he single-mindedly set about constructing his own island where a new temple could stand unmolested… the Trinidad government commissioned a more permanent artificial island, connecting it to the mainland by a pedestrian causeway.

Seeda-sadhu is an ideal name for a priest. But since his artificial island was constantly eroding, maybe it should’ve been Sisyphus. Another devotee built a supersized statue of the monkey-king to rival the Bamiyan Buddhas:

… the Hanuman murti, a striking statue of the Hindu monkey deity that towers about eight stories over the surrounding cane fields… it’s said to be the largest such statue outside India…

Everyone’s a critic, not least the least-favored scion V.S. Naipaul:

Trinidadians appear to regard him with a mixture of disguised reverence and open disdain… Naipaul has never been forgiven for eagerly abandoning the island for England… then making a career of dourly criticizing West Indian provincialism. When Naipaul had nothing nice to say, he evidently sat down at his typewriter and started pecking away.

7 thoughts on “Desis in Trinidad

  1. Interesting article manish.. I read Naipauls novels some based on life in trinidad ( bend in the river,mimic men) written in first person point of view which makes it sound autobiographical and also life as a student in england written in first person point of view (engima of arrival,half a life). He wrote books on india like area of darkness, house of mr. biswas which seem like travelogues.He also wrote kind of history objective book like “India a wounded civilization” and a lot of indians feel the same way about naipaul too , a mixture of reverence and dislike depending on how patriotic people are .. But after reading some six to eight books of naipual I think he is a writer who belongs to no country or place and views every country as a outsider or a foreigner and is sensitive and critical both about the life and people of that country. That is what probably fetched him a nobel prize. He looks at countries,people, lifestyles with detachment and narrates like a traveller who is trying to fit into that culture, which I think is unique and gives a unique perspective to every situation and place.

  2. As an Indian desi married to a Trinidadian desi for 33 years, I have a little domain knowledge of Trinidad and Naipaul etc. I think Naipaul was a genius when he wrote Mark Twainish style novels about the simple villagers of Trinidad – a la Suffrage of Elvira, The Mystic Masseur, Miguel Street. These are not the books, however, that Naipaul is known for. Naipaul became renowned when he anointed himself the great observer of various cultures and received the same respect from the slightly guilty-feeling white world that many mediocre African American writers did in the Seventies and Eighties.

    I cannot believe how a wonderfully warm writer, writing richly about the greatest subject of all – common people and common human traits – could turn into such a dull narrator of useless observations in his later years. No, I have never been offended by An Area of Darkness, Among the Believers and the rest. I have been bored silly by them! Frankly, I don’t get Naipaul. Incidentally, one of my master’s is in English Literature (thesis on Elizabethan Drama).

    The prizes conferred on him by various august bodies, and the respect accorded to him in the cocktail circuit, all occurred in an era when there were very few Indians of note writing in English, and more importantly, writing outside of India. The Indian diaspora did not have a writer of his output. Today, with the likes of Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Seth, Mistry etc writing in English, someone of Mr. Naipaul’s sensibility would not be able to claim the spotlight with the drivel he passes off as insight.

    As for Trinidad, I wish this country would feature more in Indian blogs. I marvel at the integrity and self-preservation of its Hindu and Muslim cultures brought from India ages ago. I have come to believe, thanks to Trinidad, that it is possible for a culture to survive without its native language but not without its rituals. (There is hope for us NRI’s after all.) I have hundreds of Trinidadian relatives and friends. Not one speaks Hindi. Not one is any less Indian for that!

  3. It’s a Good blog but not all Indo-Trinidadians came from Calcutta that was just a point of embarkation, alot of the Indians that came to Trinidad came from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

    The man who built the temple in the sea was Siewdass Sadhu with the help of a temple builder Ramdeo Gosine who helped Siewdass build the temple in the sea and also built the first Dattatreya Temple in Orangefield,Trinidad in the vicinity of the new Dattatreya Temple and the Hanuman Statue.

    Naipaul is a critic but with good reason because he found the culture of the peoples of Trinidad backward,( at that time in the 20th century),Since the African decendants lacked family and social structure and are still suffering from social ineptitude.The Indian decendants with it’s cultures and social structure not budging from the 19th century thinking and equally socially inept in Trinidadian society and would not have been palatable to someone like Naipaul with high ideals of western origin.

    In this 21st Century Hinduism has changed,the caste system in Trinidad is non existant but exists in a subtle form for those who want it, the younger generation of Indian descendants becoming educated and sophisticated still hold Hinduism in high esteem but refuse to accept outmoded irrelevant beliefs that are propagated by some Hindu Pundits that bear no relevance to their daily lives.

    The younger generation of Indian-Trinidadian descendants do really care to keep Hindu culture in Trinidad intact as it is still possible to find someone who can recite the Hanuman Chalisa in hindi although we may speak english as our native tongue, and young Pundits as well as lay people as young as 16yrs are well versed in the Vedas,Bhagvad Gita, Mahabharat, Ramayan and performing Puja rituals. So essentially we are using the Internet to rediscover Hinduism and educate ourselves.

    Indians in Trinidad have progressed to being the dominant Business class and are also regarded similarly throughout the Caribbean Islands and South American Mainland.

  4. Just maybe someone can answer this…

    Is there any more information about this temple builder Ramdeo Gosine? Is his contribution recorded somewhere?