I still remember that sunny morning, almost a month back, when I got the intimation about my participation required in an event in Trinidad and Tobago. The event was called upon by CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) to showcase India´s rising business capabilities to the community in Trinidad and Tobago.
Even after having worked in Latin America for more than 4 years now, the Caribbean region was still, and even more now, an unknown territory for me. I looked upon the World Map and it took literally couple of minutes to locate this tiny island country at the northern most tip of South American continent. Gazing at the map, I wondered who on earth would have inhabited this island for the first time. Little did I know that those 2 days that I would spend there would put more questions than answers in me.
To put some statistics on the table, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is a miniscule island with a population of 1.3 million. With Port of Spain as its capital, it is one of the Caribbean countries that form a part of so called West Indies with countries like Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Suriname, Guyana, Antigua etc constituting other part. Port of Spain (POS) has a good connectivity with United States with many major airlines providing daily services. There is no visa requirement for Indians to enter T&T. In this world, it is hard to imagine that there still are countries out there where we Indians do not need a Visa. Had it not been for my beautiful Maharastrian wife, looks like, specially being from UP, I would have needed a visa to go to even ´Aamchi Mumbai´ one day… I am serious!
I boarded a 5 hour non-stop Continental flight from Houston. Having started early morning from Guadalajara, I had in fact fallen asleep almost immediately (something strange as I rarely sleep in-flight) the flight took off from Houston to POS. Having slept for almost 2 hours, I asked the air hostess for a cup of water (my sleep had already costed me my so -called free lunch) and just opened the window shade. A bright sky with patches of white clouds and beneath…Water with all possible shades of blue surrounding small un-inhabited archipelagos…Absolutely no sign of life (exclude aquatic) what so ever for hundreds and hundreds of miles…difficult to say whether it was a breath-taking view in a beautiful or a scary sense..After a while, putting down the window shade was the only way to put an end to that debate in my mind.
Port of Spain turned out to be a much smaller than expected airport. Immigration/Customs did not take more than 15 minutes. It was a 30 minutes drive to reach Hyatt…On the way, I listened to English version of Om Jai Jagdish Hare…Quite Innovative…Hyatt, in contrast, turned out to be a very good place…Situated on shore (sadly…not on the beach), it is one of the premium hotels in T&T. In fact, had I stayed just a day longer, the whole Indian cricket team currently on tour of West-Indies would have got a chance to meet me…Better luck next time guys…
The next 2 days were quite hectic with lots and lots of business presentations…The GOPIO (Global Organization of People of Indian Origin) chapter of Caribbean hosted this event and had called every VIP in T&T( including the Prime Minister). CII had also invited India´s Minister of Overseas Affairs and Civil Aviation. I was given the responsibility to present India´s capabilities in IT/ITES sector and how T&T can take advantage of that. Standing on a big dais in front of hundreds with at least 10 cameras recording me, I swear those 10 minutes were one of the toughest I ever had…I will never undermine Baba Ramdev´s presentation capabilities now on…
During the next days, I spoke with multiple people of Indian origin and was amazed as well as ashamed as to how less do I know about the history of my own people. T&T was inhabited primarily by Amerindians before 14th Century. Spaniards came thereafter and took control. They brought hundreds and thousands of African slaves along with them to work on Cocoa and Sugar-cane plantations. At the end of 18th century, British came here when they were at the peak of their world-influence. Spaniards ceded the country to them without any resistance just requesting to retain the names/languages etc. That’s why even till now, Spanish is the 2nd official Language after English here and Port of Spain, the capital.
When Slavery was officially abolished during 1800-1845, British started bringing Indians on deputation. No kidding. Indians, generally the poorer ones, were given option to come here for a period of 5 years during which they would be paid about 25 cents per day along with transportation and food. After 5 years, they would be offered some land in case they did not want to go back. Almost 150,000 Indians came to T&T between 1845 to 1917 by sea. No one knows how many died during transit. Majority of them came from…Believe it or not, Uttar Pradesh…Lot of local people with whom I spoke here mentioned their ancestors belonged to Meerut, Rai Bareilly, Faizabad etc…I hope Mayawati does not know this otherwise she will use even this data for her next election campaign showcasing UP´s global expat influence.
However, none of these people now have any contacts, what so ever, with anyone in India. They do not know any of their relatives, do not speak Hindi, never been to India…All the ties were cut when their ancestors started their journey. But still, in their sub consciousness, they seem to have that unsaid connection to India even till today. Seems, the clock just stopped for them in 19th century. Most of them listen to Hindi songs (very old ones) although no one knows Hindi. In fact, I had not heard most of the songs that I listened in cabs, restaurants etc during those 2 days. I jokingly told one of the other participants that if my son ever visits here after 20-25 year, they may have advanced to Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan…Can you believe that there are more than 4 FM channels dedicated to Hindi oldies? One of the ladies even sang a song: ´Meri dosti mera pyar in typical firangi accent. I was literally on the verge of crying… Some people told that they want to go to India to participate in Ram-Lila. They in fact contacted some Ram-Lila organizers in Delhi and may be coming in October 2011.
Now the actual punch… During one of the lunch sessions with the people of Indian origin, one of the ladies asked me to recommend some boys from India who can marry their girls. She mentioned that the boys in their community are not being serious towards education, job, marriage etc. Before I could respond, she asked: Are you married by the way? Seems she had not seen my Delhi Belly. I just nodded with a sad face. She said: Not a problem for us! I could not respond back but just kept staring at her… I could see my mom-in-law´s hands grasping her neck with full force supported by my mom…
The 2 days that I spent in Trinidad were full of eye-openers. The whole stay reminded me of M Night Shyalam´s ´The Village´. When my flight finally took off back to Mexico, I could see from my window, the country, slowly, getting left behind, leaving me with mixed emotions. I really do not know whether I will ever go back there again… Sometimes, we never even think that the decisions that our ancestors took can so drastically change the future generations. I just thought, had my forefathers accepted British offer (assuming they were offered) to come here 150 years ago, I would have cheered for Brian Lara instead of Sachin.
Strange World after all!