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Author Kris Rampersad speaks out

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There are enough writers too, more of them erupting into voice year after year, and a nascent publishing industry in the Caribbean moving into its own in spite of direct competition from American TV, videos, the internet and other high tech threats to literacy.

The rosiness of my immediate response to all this is tempered somewhat by the fact that "bookishness" is largely a middle-class phenomenon and that many many Caribbean folk, especially the youth (who are our future practitioners and artists) were not present in large numbers, save for those who were brought in by the schools.

A number of writers live and work in this city - in fact Toronto has been described as the city with the largest concentration of Caribbean writers globally. But the bounty of their presence is not really evident in the life of the Caribbean community except on rare occasions such as that of Book fair week. A pity.

I say "week" because the build up to the Book fair as well as the aftermath increased the overall intensity of the cultural assertion that was taking place. On Thursday, June 26, the Ontario Steelpan Association (OSA) honoured one of the foremost innovators of the Steelpan, Dr. Ellie Mannette, at a function at the Scarborough Civic Centre. And on June 27, at the Monarch Park Collegiate, Ellie Mannette was also featured at a concert including such accomplished steelpan artists as Mark Mosca and Talib Reid-Robinson.This event also showcased rising stars such as Aaron Seunarine and Gareth Burgess, and performances by the Bruce Skerritt Trio, building to a climactic finish by the youth of the Afropan Steel Orchestra.

On Sunday June 22 at the Grand Baccus Banquet Hall in Scarborough, nationals of Trinidad and Tobago gathered to welcome to Toronto their new high commissioner in Ottawa, Mr. Arnold Piggott. Mr. Piggott spoke of the continued economic progress of T&T and its goal of reaching developed country status by the year 2020. He exclaimed too at the capacity crowd that had gathered, their accomplishments, their energy and their "rainbow" appearance.

Other Caribbean territories (14 altogether) also staged their own country events in the lead up to the festival and afterwards. Informal gatherings of writers with friends and family, dinners, ordinary liming, media talks and author interviews added to the buzz. One such interview was done by this writer with Kris Rampersad, whose recent work, Finding a Place: IndoTrinidadian Literature, was launched at a reception at the T&T consulate on June 17. Krisís introduction states that this work "is about the growth and development of literature and a literary consciousness among Indo Trinidadians between 1850 and 1950, and more significantly, how they came to English and what they brought to it over the 100-year period."

Here are some excerpts from this interview:

Ramabai Espinet: What prompted you to write this book?.

Kris Rampersad: Well, there is much in the book thatís descriptive because the material was disappearing, so I thought that I needed to record what existed.

RE: How will this material be made accessible? Are you thinking of a reader, something like From Trinidad, maybe?

KR: Iíve thought of that. Iím hoping that someone will come up with the funding or the resources to reproduce the magazines and the journals that form the raw material of the book because most of what we have in the Archives are the only copies that exist and theyíre in pretty bad stages of disrepair. In fact, some of them canít even be touched.

RE: What is the real value of this work to you?

KR: It is a very valuable social record. One of the reasons why people have been so receptive to it - not just people interested in literature - is that the raw material is so rich in terms of anthropology, sociology and social and political development. It maps a process in the society that people are unaware of. Much research has been done of the 50s but this crop of journals that Iíve unearthed fills a kind of black hole. There has been a general impression that Indians were not writing at all until probably the 1940s. Also, one of the gaps in the socio-political history is the belief that in all thatís been happening in the development of Trinidad and Tobago, Indians werenít participating. But what these records show is that they were very, very active and that there was so much collaboration among the groups that somehow the social analysis was ignored. Maybe this was not done deliberately, because they probably werenít aware that the material existed, but I think it can present us with a more holistic view of the society.

RE: What do you think of V.S. Naipaulís work?

KR: I think his work is brilliant but its impact probably suffers because of his personality...I donít think anyone can question what he has achieved. I do think that the role of his father in his work has been largely underplayed.

RE: I agree with that. But what about Letters from Father to Son? Surely the publication of that book paid homage to Seepersadís role in his writing?

KR: Yes, it paid homage but I wonder what is lost in the editing.

RE: You think itís too sanitized?

KR: Yes...there is evidence of a wish-fulfillment on the part of his father but the rest is pretty tame.

RE: What about your personal view of Naipaul?

KR: Well, I donít know him personally but I think that artists ought to be allowed their little eccentricities because I believe that itís out of that they create - itís an essential part of the whole creative process. But in a place like Trinidad, with all of the divisions, itís easy to focus on the negatives instead of the positives.

RE: The disdain for Naipaul is enormous.

KR: I think itís partly because there has been little understanding of the situations from which he writes...I take real issue with what the film of The Mystic Masseur has done to the book...the characterís evolution from Ganesh Ramsumair into G. Ramsay Muir is watered down...they try to make him into some kind of national hero.

RE: Instead of a mock national hero?

KR: Yes. Because itís what Naipaul was suggesting - that all these people we create as national heroes are really mock heroes. There is a difference between who the artist is, what heís trying to do, and what people are seeing of him.

Finding a Place is available at "A Different Booklist" (416) 538-0889.

Charity begins at the Kissoons

Toronto ó For the 4th consecutive year, the Kissoonís Annual Charity Golf Tournament took place last Wednesday to raise funds for the Pickering Devi Mandir.

This yearís effort would yield somewhere between $15,000-20,000 when the final tally is taken, according to prominent Toronto lawyer Dhaman Kissoon, the patron of this charitable event. Named after the Kissoons, the Tournament is in honour of the family patriarch, the late Mr. Sugrim Kissoon who passed away in 1979. Dhaman stated that his late father was very charitably inclined and would have given this activity his fullest blessings.

After the dayís play, the 110 golfers joined with another 50 supporters in the evening for a banquet and the presentations at the Elite Banquet Hall.

Among those in attendance were several lawyers, and judges from the legal fraternity, businessmen, policemen, Devi Mandir officials including President Amar Binda and Chairman Vishnu Sookar who is also a key member of the Tournament Committee. Matriarch of the Kissoon family , Mrs Latchmin Kissoon was also there with all her other children.

According to Dhaman, the Tournament has been growing every year since it started and in addition to golfers, there are now about 30 sponsors. Individuals or businesses interested in being a part of this worthy cause may contact Mr. Dhaman Kissoon at 416-234-1446.

 

Piggott new T&T HC

Toronto ó About 1000 guests were in attendance at the Grand Baccus Hall in Scarborough on June 22 to meet with the new High Commissioner (HC) of T&T, His Excellency Arnold Piggott. Mr. Piggott arrived in Canada on February 28 and shortly after presented his credentials to the Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson.

Master of Ceremonies, T&T born Carol Charles of CFTO T.V, joined The T&T Consul General Mrs Vernetta Calvin Smith in welcoming Mr. Piggott to Toronto and to Canada. The new HC said he was pleased to witness the reflective "rainbow colours" in the gathering.

Mr. Piggott is being charged with the responsibility to increase bilateral trade and industrial development with Canada and to expand tourism. He said that T&T is interested in preserving its environment and this is a requirement for industrial development. He urged the audience to send money home, to establish businesses, and leave money in fixed deposits as T&T offers higher interest rates on deposits than either Canada or the United States.

 

 

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