I salute you Raoul

 

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Category: Profiles 18 Jan 15
 

“Understand, warriors do not bend their knees before victors in battle. No. They nurse their wounds, go back to camp, study the campaign, walk for miles across green savannahs, up steep hillsides, bathe in the ocean’s roaring breakers, absorb nature’s gift until face set against a  rising sun, they take up the burning spear and shield, clothe in the angry lionskin to do battle again. And again. And again!”

—Raoul Pantin

Dear Raoul,

This is one column you won’t read but it doesn’t matter, because you knew me—You interwove me into this country. Passed on the baton. A journalist is a mirror to the society. You had a broad back but Roaul, it was your vast mind, panoramic world view which you expressed fearlessly with inexhaustible vocabulary.

Now you’ve left us our tiny islands feel strangulated by lack of air. You pushed your being to the furthest reaches of the world through books—literature, poetry, politics, biography. You inhaled literature as deeply as you took drags of your cigarettes. From Hemmingway to Omeros, from EM Foster to Tolstoy, from the metaphysical poets to Churchill.

The world was in your grasp, but you gave your heart to your islands. How you managed with your gravelly Marlborough self to write poetry that was as ephemeral, as esoteric, as exquisite as the swish of the bamboo cathedral, I don’t know. I once found in your lovely handwriting, calligraphy, a scrap of a poem in your office. I was reading Walcott’s Bounty at the time. I was struck 15 years ago with a panic. What if all this is lost? Walcott saved himself. Who will save Raoul?

Our first encounter when you came in to the newly created TV6 newsroom as editor in chief was waspish. Wap, as you said, you sent the first salvo. “Mathur, are you a Brahmin or something?”

I, fresh out of university, in London, gave you back good. “No, India abolished that caste system a long time ago. Why do you ask?” “You don’t say “good morning,” you said. “I sulkily replied I was here to do work not to socialise. You said I better get off my high horse, make saying hello a priority over work or my a** was grass.

Week after week, you challenged me. I thought you hated me. I wanted to go to plum Cabinet press briefings. You sent me to the Caroni Swamp with overhanging pythons. I wanted to interview the Central Bank governor.

You sent me to the Beetham, to see the prostitutes and children with distended bellies. I wanted to go to President’s House to see Prince Andrew. You sent my tail to Laventille, Oilfields Trade Union, Caroni 1975 Ltd amidst cane, the unemployed and rum. You made me walk downstairs to the car park without railings, trailing the cameraman with the heavy tripod in the boiling heat and did my interviews, and waited to edit my pieces and did my ‘stand ups’ in the sun. I soon saw your vision.

You pushed Renee Cummings to be the first female sports anchor, and Francesca Hawkins to interview people on set, Mike Gonzales to train his camera to horror and beauty. I’ve named a few out of dozens and dozens.

You wanted media workers to be fearless. Not some sycophantic sanitised PR propaganda types fearing the wrath of the powerful and ruthless. You shoved the mirror in our faces. See the beauty, see the grit, see the s***, see the brutality. You had this quality which I fear has vanished almost entirely with your passing.

You saw a spark in people. Instead of being threatened and stamping it out, you nourished it, you didn’t care if the flame shot ahead of you. You just wanted the flame of excellence and stark truth. You wanted light from everywhere.

You are interlaced indelibly with our islands. You were watchdog to the power crazed and corrupt. You defended free speech, democracy, protected the voiceless. You wrestled with the country’s demons let out like Pandora’s box after 1990. You said the murders started after the amnesty. The juggernaut of bullets, untried brute force, untried murders crushed you for a while.

You wandered the north coast, your red skin roasting on the white hot sand, a Carib in hand, cursing craven politicans. You remained courteous. Old worldly. Ready for a fist fight, man-to-man, if a woman was insulted in front of you.

Once in a burning sunset you asked the cameraman to stop the car. I was spellbound. You said Omeros was the West Indian answer to Shakespeare. You said “Like Derek Walcott I love people, salt, sweat, Rampanalgas, seraphins of clouds.” You said “I grew up under a roaring waterfall of words, language, style, theatre and drama, and that waterfall was Walcott. You said “Thank God there are a few people among us still who are withdrawn from the rat race of a new car, a big house, things people spend their whole lives on, which go up in smoke when they are dying. You shared Derek’s frustration over our “inefficient society, bad politics, this emphasis on being Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrian, when in fact what we are is a New World people.”

You said there were some Indian and African fascists out there. With your usual bravado in your small frame, you said you were ready for them. I think your spirit was stronger than any heavyweight boxer. You observed that our people are interested only in thinking from the waist down, partying, Carnival. You got lost again. You saw great art in our landscape, Gaugin in the curve of a woman’s cheek.

Yours was an endless personality, crackling wit, a self destructive streak, a rebel who set off the newsroom fire alarm with a cigarette and had a hundred of us evacuated. You had endless stories about prime ministers and the homeless man who hailed out on the street. You remembered him when he was prosperous.

But you nodded at one another like nothing changed. The dignity you gave him was worth much more than a few dollars you could have thrown his way. You were explosive, Raoul. All that rage, still pent up. No one knew when it would blow up. So yes, some of us, including me, towards the end, avoided your mania. Remember, Raoul, you didn’t do anything by halves. Yet

you cried when you heard the national anthem. You loved Ave Maria, Celine Dion. You dedicated songs to all the women you respected. Your girls. I was looking over my emails. I couldn’t believe I had not opened this one. You wrote it for me. I rededicate it to you my friend.

PORTRAIT:

I’ve turned to see you standing under a familiar doorway

framed gentle as rain-eclipsed evenings

mellow as Autumnal light fades early from trees and

loved you then as once I loved shushing silent leaves on dewwet mornings

softer than the rustle of a silken sea tender as

this portrait crafts its distant memory.

 

I salute you, Raoul Pantin. Sleep well, dear comrade. You are here always, in the “shushing silent leaves, on the silken sea, on dew wet mornings.”

 

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur