Remembering Raoul Remembering 1990


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Category: Profiles 26 Jul 15

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' fruit-laden backyards.

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 gun-riddled areas.

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, psychologically.”

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.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur