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We have lost the village

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It’s that time again when we celebrate the arrival of our ancestors from India to provide cheap labour on the British plantations and eventually settle here as part of what has become an amazing national mosaic of harmony in diversity.

I’ve often said it is a celebration of Indian survival, rather than arrival.

The arrival of our ancestors marked the beginning of a period of extreme deprivation, of betrayal, bondage, and hardships that were more than enough to break the spirit of anyone. But not those pioneers; they struggled against the worst odds to carve a space for themselves—and us—through sheer determination and an extraordinary will to survive.

In the end they defeated colonialism and bigotry, and not just survived, but moved all the way to the centre of society, earning their space at every rung of the socio-economic ladder in our modern society.

This year is the 101st anniversary of the repeal of the indentureship law and 173 years since our first Indian ancestors set foot on Trinidad soil.

In my book, Beyond Survival: Indians in Trinidad and Tobago 1845-2017 I trace the origins of indentureship and take the reader on a visual narrative to tell the story of the cultural persistence that helped Indians preserve some of the richness of the motherland while embracing the best of their new home.

While it is a tribute to those who persevered to keep our culture alive, it is also a warning to my generation of the dark clouds ahead that threaten our way of life if we become complacent and fail to make the efforts to protect our culture.

Today, as a result of modernity and affluence, some vital components of that culture are disappearing. What I lament most is the loss of The Village—that space where we all grew up as one family, where the whole community nurtured every child, where family was everyone you meet, where events were celebrated together, where we managed our lives with a sou sou hand or the panchayat and everyone helped put up the walls and roofs of our humble dwellings. It was a community built on trust and faith in one another.

We have lost the village and are at risk of losing more because of our affluence and perhaps because we have become too busy to pay attention.

In The Village, everyone was family. We respected our elders; grandparents were the vital link that ensured some measure of spiritual and cultural continuity. Today they are relegated to geriatric homes or they are themselves too busy.

In The village a wedding meant a family gathering of everyone to contribute and to come together to sing and celebrate as they prepared a feast for the day of the nuptials. Today, we have ceded it to the caterer and the sterile environment of the buffet and the RSVP so your plate of food is carefully calculated and paid for. Today’s wedding is no longer the weeklong happy event in which everyone had a role; it is a highly selective and ostentatious event marked by economic or social class divisions that determine your suitability to be on the guest list at the lavish receptions at the Hyatt and other such symbols of affluence.

Western traditions are erasing the culture that our ancestors preserved.

That is but one example of how we are allowing ourselves to be swallowed up into the mainstream western culture.

Culture and society are dynamic and we expect some measure of change. But when we allow everything to be become secondary to economics and new social trends we are heralding the death of culture. Our ancestors fought off assimilation; we, it seems, are embracing it to the detriment of the whole society that risks losing the charm and beauty of Indian culture.

It is not too late to restore the village. But first we have to see the wide canvas of a society that has been enriched by our diversity and the distinct culture of all the people—ours included—that have contributed to creating this wonderful cultural quilt that is T&T.

Jai Parasram is a journalist, communications and media specialist and author. His latest book BEYOND SURVIVAL is a tribute to Indians in Trinidad and Tobago.


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