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Chalo Trinidad. A Historical Novel
by Jang B. Bhagirathee. J.B. Publications. Debe, Trinidad & Tobago. 2003. 223 pages. Illustrated.

Reviewed by Gary Girdhari

History is not always written or read in academic tomes and in a vacuum. In more ways than one the oral tradition of history is often compelling and is the only way in many cultures. Thus it was that Jang Bahadur Bhagirathee received his earliest lessons at about age 5 in history from his grandparents who were indentured immigrants destined to the village of Debe in Southern Trinidad. His ajie especially would ensure that he got a daily body rub and have his regular meals, at the same time enthralling him with her stories of India. His thinking and philosophy began to be constructed even then, and later through the teachings and example of his father who was educated in Hindi and Sanskrit and held strong Hindu religious beliefs.

Jang Bhagirathee could not break out of that mold and, as he got older, he also, studied Hindi (GCE) and became fluent in the language as a writer, speaker and translator. His fondness of Hindi films imported from India was another contributing factor.

His hometown of Debe (which had mostly Hindus) was secure ground for young Jang’s fertile imagination. In the early 1970’s he would write, produce and direct plays for Diwali and he became thickly involved in the Krishna leela, especially after the older heads were gone and also because of the intransigence of western acculturated Indians.

Jang Bhagirathee’s burning desire to do a film on the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean started in earnest in 1998. His script, which was ready since 2000, is a salutary undertaking; still he yearns to achieve this goal. Essentially, Chalo Trinidad captures the essence of his script.

To the probing reader, Chalo Trinidad sustains a veiled agenda – reaffirming the presence of Indians in the diaspora and, in several ways, putting into context the reality of their obvious presence in Trinidad & Tobago.

The Indians, who arrived in Debe, went on to build their own communities (a consequence of residential segregation by the sugar plantation system) with their religious and cultural practices (and rum drinking as with Pyarelall) that continued till today (as is also seen in other independent nations such as Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, Mauritius, Fiji, etc.). The harshness of the plantation system, draining the cultural breath of the people, runs seamlessly throughout the historical novel. Earlier, the author misguidedly romanticized the recruitment of the indentured prospect in India by the ‘caring and generous’ arkati, Bihari, while at the same time lamented the excessiveness of the zamindari system portrayed by the obnoxious Chaudhari.

Guyanese will find that the sentiments and lifestyle, and nuances in Chalo Trinidad are strikingly similar to those in Guyana.

Jang Bhagirathee, who is Trinidadian and an observant Indian, has written not only (what is apparent to me) a personal history, but also is attempting to address the identity crisis of Indians in the Caribbean milieu. He tries to point out the fragile reassertion of a beleaguered people’s identity in this frustrating post-modern era. No attempt is made to suggest the maintenance of any continuum necessarily, nor to present any diasporic polarizing estrangement, nor to suggest any sobriquet for ethno-cultural collision – although there are episodic snapshots and suggestive elisions of the rift between the parent country as well as inter-ethnically in the new sojourn.

Time and space undoubtedly and inevitably dilute the link between the diaspora and the mother country in measurable degrees though conscious overt attempts are made to hold on to the cherished cultural past. The book also effectively points to the hypocrisy within the caste system (as, for example, in a match-making wedding arrangement) which was at the time a matter of fact and routine practice. Though there was parental attempt to protect ethnic honor and cultural ideals, towards the end, the author shows reconciliation in regards to some assimilation, in allowing for inter-ethnic marriage – because of love.

I have observed that many self-published books (and I stress, not all) are not passing the rigorous rigid editorial scrutiny and, for those who love the Language, this may be a distraction from the central objective of the writer. Chalo Trinidad is no exception. However, the author’s goals are clear. He has told his story – a his-story.

In many respects, Chalo Trinidad, following in the path of other books by Indo Caribbean writers, is yet another striving to search for roots and identity, and to re-enforce ethnic identity, which (according to the author in private conversation) is being diminished in the Caribbean. Another goal of the author is simply to write a book. Jang Bhagirathee has accomplished both goals through discipline and dedication. A sense of joy, pride and accomplishment is almost palpable in his presence. His admonition: “When… people see what their grandparents had to undergo, they will think back, and hard, about what they are doing now to dilute and bastardize their culture.”

Contact the author: 718-849-6022
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