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Recollections of a Communicator: PM of 'Little India' of Caribbean chief guest at Pravasi Bharatiya

New Delhi, Fri, 06 Jan 2012 ANI

New Delhi, Jan 6 (ANI): India has the honor of celebrating the Pravasi Bharatiya event in Jaipur this week with Kamla Persad Bissessar, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, known as Little India of the Caribbean, as the Chief Guest.


Kamla Persad Bissessar has been the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago since May 20, 2010.


None of the 148, 000 Indians, who had embarked on a 36,000 kilometer long journey on boats to work as labourers in the sugarcane plantations of Trinidad and Tobago between 1845 and 1917, would have ever imagined that a day would come when one of their descendants, and that too a lady, would become the Prime Minister of the island nation, and would be honored in India.


Indian labourers, mostly from the present day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were taken there to replace the Africans when African slavery was abolished.


Trinidad and Tobago has a population of 1.3 million, and over 40 percent of them are of Indian origin and an equal percentage African.


Kamla Bissessar is the second Indo-Trinidadian to become the Prime Minister of the country. The first Indo-Trinidadian to achieve this distinction was Basdeo Pandey, who was Prime Minister from 1995 to 2001.


The British had taken Indians, as labourers to different parts of the world, like Fiji, Mauritius and Guyana. Unlike in many other locations, Indians who went to Trinidad held on to their religion and traditions.


What helped them in effort to retain their traditions were the copies of the Tulsidas Ramayana and Hanuman Chalisa, which were taken in boats to keep them in good humor during the months-long journey.


The Muslim labourers had Urdu copies of the Quran


I had the opportunity of spending nearly two years in the island nation in 1997 and 1998 and study how the Indo- Trinidadians have maintained their traditions inspite of efforts by many missionary organizations to convert them.


I had been entrusted with the task of establishing the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Cultural Cooperation in Trinidad, the decision to establish the Centre was announced by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she visited the island nation in 1968 and its implementation was pending for nearly three decades When Basdeo Pandey,who became the first ethnic Prime Minister of the country pressed the Government of India to fulfil the promise.


When I arrived in Port of Spain, Prime Minister Basdeo Pandey offered one of the bungalows in Caroni, in the midst of earlier cane plantations to house the Cultural Centre. It was near the Indian settlements, and adjacent to the University area.


With the active assistance of the local government, I was able to renovate the bungalow, and established a library, and rooms for teaching dancing, tabla and music. Indo-Trinidadians were keen to learn Indian music and dancing, particularly Kathak.


Parts of Trinidad was like a "Little India". Each village had a temple and a mosque. According to estimates, there were 150 temples and 100-odd mosques. Almost every week, as head of the Cultural Centre, I used to get invitations to attend 'services' at temples and the mosques .


The Indo-Trinidadians had imbibed part of the Christian traditions, in that every temple had a 'Sunday Service'. They would gather at the temples, recite either a chapter of the Tulsidas Ramayana or of the Bhagavad Gita. At the end of the discourse, participants would share a common lunch.


Most of the activities were coordinated by organizations like the National Council of Indian Culture, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and the Hindi Prachar Sabha.


In the centre of the island was located the 'Diwali Nagar', where Indo-Trinidadians gathered to celebrate Diwali, Dussehra and other festivals every year.


They had their own brand of Indian music, which used to be called 'Chutney' and 'Pichkari'. The local theatres would screen Indian movies every week, and the television stations had entertainment programmes, which borrowed heavily from Indian films.


Trinidad and Tobago today is a rich country, with oil resources. One of the well-known Indians in Trinidad was Laxmi Mittal, who owned ISPAT, which was an ailing steel plant taken over by him turned into an industrial complex. He is a leading industrialist of international stature today.


Over the years, Indo-Trinidadians have earned a name for themselves, the foremost being V.S. Naipaul. Many Indo-Trinidadians became doctors and engineers and migrated to the United States and Canada The University of Trinidad has an active collaboration with Indian educational institutions.


The markets in Trinidad stock Indian dress material, spices and items required for worship. There is immense goodwill for India, and it could become a center for promoting trade with Latin America, particularly countries like Brazil.


Besides participating in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and holding bilateral meetings in Delhi to strengthen relations with India, Kamla Persad Bissessar, is visiting Buxar in Bihar to have a look at her ancestral village. People of Bihar, nay all Indians, are proud to see her and take pride in her becoming the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. By I. Ramamohan Rao (ANI)mail:


Read More: Mahabub Nagar | Bhaga | Persa

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