I remember, Ishmael, how we raced bark
jockeys down rainswollen St James canals, the Western Main Road our open
free range, all the hot, bright mornings of our boy years. The Aquis,
Aches, Johnsons and Traboulays we took for granted as we did the stars.
Every Fort George Hill track we traversed like so many neighbours'
How once egged on by the Coronation
Street boys we put on boxing gloves to engage our early teenage pugilist
phase: a quick, sharp exchange of blows and done. We done with that.
Your shy smiles every Ramadan when you brought us whole warm jugs of
your family sweet sawine.
The Galamsingh and Ali family tadjahs we
followed every Hosay dancing behind swirling blue moons and red suns to
the throbbing beat of tassa drums. It wasn't until a wedding years
afterwards it struck me how Muslims prayed with their hands cusped
unlike Christian hands clasped in supplication.
Now I wonder, Ishmael, what you'd think
of men who preach Allah at the point of a gun, whose simple-minded cause
appeared no more than bloody revenge for years of imagined persecution.
So far removed, Ishmael, from our original sense of Eden.
—by Raoul Pantin (for Ishmael Ali)
Now that he’s gone, I feel the heaviness
in my heart and a weight on my back that he carried for the country
since 1990. Remembering. Reminding. He would have written a fiery column
about Abu Bakr’s questioning over Dana Seetahal’s assassination.
He would have reminded us. He was part
of the eternal flame. Tomorrow, the 25th anniversary of the
attempted coup by the Jamaat al Muslimeen, he will not be here to remind
us of the six days of terror when 114 insurgents held parliamentarians
(including the late prime minister ANR Robinson) and journalists hostage
at the Red House and TTT, the lone TV station.
I can hear him saying to me as I get
overwhelmed writing this, “Be a professional Mathur, write the column
and don’t forget to tell them to buy a copy of my book The Days of
Wrath. It’s all there.”
Raoul knew the details like pins in his
sharp mind. Total dead: 24. The injured included 133 looters; 28
bystanders; 12 police and army personnel; two Muslimeen insurgents; 17
civilians and 39 ‘unknown’ people.
After six days of negotiation, the
Muslimeen surrendered and were taken into custody on August 1, 1990.
They were tried for treason, but the Court of Appeal upheld the amnesty
offered to secure their surrender, and they were released.
Six months after his death this January,
I recognise how devastated Raoul must have been last year at the 24th
anniversary of the 1990 coup attempt, that the wreath laying for the
dead and injured was so sparsely attended (six people); as if the event
that over six days didn’t create a deep wounded crevice in this country.
What Raoul reminded us as the years
passed, as we climbed towards being among the top ten murderous
countries worldwide, as the embassy advisories from countries worldwide
warned their citizens about visiting us at their own risk, through the
years when businessmen feared kidnappers, and women saw blood dripping
from the ceiling, was that lawlessness, the profusion of guns, the
takeover of our land by the lawless began with 1990. There was never any
closure. Abu Bakr is a charismatic celebrity, revered, feared,
interviewed, somewhat celebrated, now calling for love, peace, law in
He is charming, all right. But, Raoul
reminded us that lawlessness began when 114 insurgents were set free. A
view shared by many. An online article quoted Inspector Roger Alexander,
the head of a special police task force, as saying that “the coup
affected the nation, the society on a whole physically,
Hal Greaves, a community activist who
works on anti-violence programmes, attributed the rise of violence in
the country to a precedent that Bakr set by going after the government.
“It taught gun diplomacy.”
Over lunch my colleague, friend and head
of the Matt, Francesca Hawkins and I had a moment when we simultaneously
felt the serious blow of the loss of Raoul’s clear, sharp, unafraid, wry
voice. There are a slew of intrepid investigative reporters out there
yes, but no one can walk his walk, talk his talk. He lived on poetry,
the curve of the Northern Range, literature, fresh air, a penetrating
mind, cigarettes, and the truth. He had no money, but his voice and pen
was his shrapnel. He had his years of wandering on burning sand, on hot
beaches, rage fuelled, emptied out, crazed with memories of those six
days of wrath, guilt of the survivor, memory of the murdered, the
injustice of the amnesty.
Towards the end, Raoul’s pen saved him.
His work enjoyed a renaissance. His screenplay for the film Bim starring
Ralph Maraj rose to cult fame; his play Hatuey is alive in local
theatre. I hear his voice, “Pressure! But I am ready for them you know.”
He was. His revenge was to live well
with joy. He called me one day and said, “Ira, I just said f*** you to
the cigarettes.” As he did to alcohol. He quit, cold turkey. Raoul was
the lonely hero. His love for literature, poetry, journalism and
Trinidad is part of it.
His gritty courage is
his legacy. That eternal flame that is Raoul Pantin. Raoul in your
memory, and all those who suffered and died then, and because of it, we
will remember 1990.