VETERAN communications and media consultant Jai Parasram’s book Beyond Survival - Indians in Trinidad and Tobago 1845-2017, is a visually compelling, personal narrative which seems destined to take its place as a historical record of the triumph of indentured labourers in TT.
Published by Hansib Publications, the book is 248 pages long and contains some 470 photographs, some of which were taken by the author himself. Parasram also took the book’s cover photo of a young Indian girl sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor of her home while doing her homework by the light of a flickering oil flambeau (Molotov cocktail).
“I took that picture in 1994 in Rochard Douglas Road, Barrackpore. I was just driving through the area and I was struck by the shack, it was one of these old ones where you have to catch water in a barrel off the carat roof and that was your drinking water, your cooking water, washing, everything.
“So I stopped and went over to the family and I said, ‘Can I get some pictures of your house?’ and they were very accommodating, and this child was there and she volunteered to show me what she was doing, and I went into the room and took the picture,” Parasram said during an interview at his Couva home recently.
He said the photo had created such an impression that he had insisted it be used by the publisher on the front cover despite having already chosen a different cover design.
Parasram said the book was a tribute to people such as that little girl and her family, as well as the hundreds of indentured labourers who had travelled to TT in search of a better life, and also their descendants.
“But it is also my personal journey, one that began in our home and the village that nurtured me. That is the story of Beyond Survival –a celebration of our people – a people who fought against the worst odds to live and work in a hostile western environment in which they were nothing more than beasts of burden, cogs in the wheels of production to enrich the British Empire. It was a brutal life,” he said.
“There is nothing kind about the brutality and hardships they faced. Having seen dreams turn to nightmares, they worked like animals for a shilling a day, and looked forward to a day when their children would be free from the drudgery that characterised their lives on the plantations.”
Another photograph which speaks of resilience is of a woman named Rosalind, taken in 1999 in the cane fields.
Parasram writes: “Rosalind was up long before dawn and walked several kilometres to get to the field to begin her harvesting task. In the darkness she had to rely on the light of a flambeau. The field was burnt the day before and the ground where she was working was still parched and hot.”
Rosalind worked this early shift so that she could return home to get her children ready for school, and is testimony to how Indian women combined wage-earning and care for their families.
But the book does not simply focus on the struggles in the cane fields, it shows the children of the indentured moving on and up and features photos of TT’s first Indian prime minister, Basdeo Panday, and first female prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The book begins with the story of victimhood and ends with a narrative of hope for the future.
Parasram’s has had a long career in media and researching Indian culture. His began at the now defunct Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) in 1972 where he worked as a reporter, editor, producer, interviewer, news anchor and executive producer.
He has also produced several documentaries and holds a Master of Journalism degree (MJ) from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. After migrating to Canada, he worked for the online service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where he was a member of the team that inaugurated Newsworld, the CBC’s 24-hour cable news service.
He left Newsworld in 1998 and established Jyoti Communication where he is involved in the training of journalists, programme development for radio and television, corporate imaging, event management and media projects for clients in the Caribbean, Canada and the United States.
Beyond Survival is available at all Nigel Khan bookstores.