Boodoosingh launches Kal Kahanis
GROWING up in the rural district of Penal in a humble home with a thatched roof of carat leaves, in a predominantly Indo-Trinidadian community rich with cultural traditions, were the factors that shaped Motilal Boodoosingh into the person he would eventually become: rooted and grateful.
He was told bedtime stories not from books which his family could ill afford, but rather from the memory and imagination of his grandmother Lakpatia Ragoonanan – stories told with such passion that his creative instincts were aroused from an early age.
In his quest to free his family from the bonds of poverty, however, he put this creative desire in his back pocket and chose the path of engineering to put food on his table, acquire some wealth, and later take care of his wife Savitree and their four children, Joanne, Javan, Diana and Anna.
But through his years as an engineer, the yearning to create never waned, and a few years ago, when he retired as an offshore production worker, Boodoosingh satisfied his passion by doing a BA in literature and communications and a certificate in teaching of reading from The University of the West Indies.
It was during his studies and presentation of creative writing pieces, which comically captured stories of yesteryear, that he was encouraged by one of his lecturers, Rabindranath Maharaj, to write the stories and put them together in a book.
With countless stories swirling in his head, Boodoosingh needed no more urging and two years ago he began the journey, capturing the history of the 1950s and 1960s, telling the hilarious stories of traditional East Indian customs. Traditions such as maticoor, the Friday-night celebration of an Indian wedding, when the older women would demonstrate with hip and waist movement to the virgin bride-to-be what she had to do on her honeymoon night.
In addition to the weddings, in his comical style, Boodoosingh also explored the panchayat, something resembling a council of elders, pronouncing on issues which affected village life. Fact wrapped into fiction, characters resembling some in the neighbourhood were created to explore the rumshop philosophers Nani and Nana, the village barber, the smartman carpenter, the religious festivals of Ramleela and Divali as well as what went on between men and women.
“I started to compile the stories, some of which were in my head and some which I had written before," said Boodoosingh. "I was not feeling very well and I wanted to get it out in an effort to tell young people how we used to live in the 50s and 60s, before anything happened to me.”
With the assistance of Shivanee Ramlochan, assistant editor at Caribbean Beat magazine, he brought to life Kal Kahanis, a compilation of 20 short stories.
On May 5, Boodoosingh launched his first book at the Debe library. He chose one of his former teachers, writer and author Al Ramsawack, to give an overview to the audience which included Tony Deyal and Rudolph Bissessarsingh, father of the late historian and writer Angelo Bissessarsingh.
Ramsawack said Boodoosingh, through his stories, had touched the pulse, the heartbeat of village life of yesteryear in his southern village of Penal/Debe and immortalised the embedded social culture which exists to this day.
Through the 209 pages which is dedicated to Boodoosingh’s wife, grandmother and children, Ramsawack said, “We experience the gossip, jealousy, pretence, love, remorse, social division, unity, emotions, humour and rural wisdom. Each story is in fact, a condensed novel, seemingly with the possibility of films in the making. The author’s vision and creativity, combined with his skill of weaving a good story out of simple events, lure his readers to the sometimes surprising and abrupt conclusion."
Ramsawack recalled his relationship with the author which had its genesis 55 years ago when Ramsawack taught Boodoosingh art at San Fernando Modern Secondary School, now known as San Fernando Central Government Secondary school, but then fondly referred to as "Mod Sec."
“That period in our national history was the bright dawn of Independence when our patriotic spirit was awakened to a renaissance in our thinking and planning. We ushered in our new flag of red white and black, our national anthem, state bird, flower and song. It was in that energy when a young, vibrant Motilal was inspired to writing poetry and prose including the natural biological environment including the young, attractive girl students around him,” Ramsawack reminisced.
“He spoke about the time when he first felt the chemistry of love and tenderness toward a special one he admired and adored (I wouldn’t call name). It was like a symphony as he wrote. There were rhyme, rhythm, emotions, harmony and sentiments. There was a conclusion.
"It was not the end but the beginning of endless stories of treasured memories; fact and fiction, now immortalised in this his most recent book, Kal Kahanis, stories of yesteryear.”
Remarking on the deep sense of humour which resonates throughout the book, Ramsawack said Boodoosingh recommended, “This book is not a collection of events but a treasured keepsake for generations to come. Each household should have a copy as a genuine reflection of our past and current times.”
Now that he's been bitten by the bug, Boodoosingh’s second book is already in the making. This one will again centre on stories of village days, but will also delve into his school life.
“On Tuesday we had a reunion of Mod Sec Class of 1963 and I got permission from some of the girls to go ahead and write about them," he said mischievously.
“Two-thirds of the book is already completed, but I will launch it next year, as I don’t want to burden the people who supported my book to buy a second one right now.”
While 110 copies of Kal Kahanis were originally printed, Boodoosingh said he has just a few copies left so people who are interested in buying one will have to wait for a reprint.
As a retiree who planned well for his future, Boodoosingh now spends his time following his other passions such as being an adult literacy tutor, head of the south chapter of Poetry and Prose (a group of local writers who encourage people to get involved in writing through workshops), and his involvement in the Penal Police Youth Club and the Penal Youth Group. He has also opened his home as a venue for young people to practise dance.
“I don’t want to get old, so I surround myself with young people,” he joked, adding: “Life has been good to me and I want to give back to my community now.”