God alone knows why he made me an atheist

Lester Siddhartha Orie: “I am a full-time writer. And a part-time critic of bad English by media practitioners.” - Mark Lyndersay
Lester Siddhartha Orie: “I am a full-time writer. And a part-time critic of bad English by media practitioners.” - Mark Lyndersay


My name is L Siddharta Orie and I have recently published my book Conversations with an Atheist.

I am from South Trinidad. My navel string is buried at St Julien Village, where my mother gave birth to me at home.

I live now in Princes Town, three miles from my place of birth.

When gathered every evening, the once big happy family of Ories gave passersby the impression we partied daily and another party was under way.

Once, 15 persons, 12 children, our parents and one nephew, lived there but we are not all under one roof in one country any more. The family home now exists in a state of splendid isolation or solitary splendour.

My daughter Alia Amala lives in England, Renuka Vijaya is in PT and my son Shiva Valmiki lives in Chaguanas. My last son, Yudhistha Avishkar, is with me in PT.

Those were the days, like the singer Mary Hopkins sang, we thought would never end.

But sadly it has ended with migration, marriages and the passing of three children and our parents.

Basdeo Panday went a generation before, but it would have been an honour to have been at my primary school, New Grant Government, with him.

For a very, very short while, I attended St Stephen's College.

I went to UWI and was an external student with the American International University.

Since primary school, I had a fascination with the English language. My essays were sometimes circulated.

But school was my nemesis. I dropped out of St Stephen's in first year, aged 11.

An autodidact, I self-taught myself to write O- and A-levels at the same time.

While my peers at school were reading Dickens and Jane Austen, I was reading Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sankara, Ramanuja etc. I must have understood a tiny percentage, but it all helped develop my mind. I could read a GCE book like a novel and, after a day or two of studies, pass with flying colours.

One friend, with shambolic insouciance, called me “Brain.”

After a while, courtesy my narcissism, I thought there was nothing more I needed to learn about communication arts that was taught at UWI, so I moved on.

The American International University sent me political science books to read and review, which so suited my autodidactic nature, I (was cited) twice for outstanding performance.

I was born in a Hindu home but we were not fundamentalist, not bigoted.

I later became something of a philosophical, not a ritualistic, Hindu and wrote a book of Hindi names.

I now live two steps away from a mandir and have become a confirmed unbeliever. As I wrote my book Conversations with an Atheist, Mrs Orie was at the mandir praying for my soul.

The holy books are all deserving of the Nobel Literature Prize; they were obviously written by the best fiction writers of all times.

And what about the people who have no access to religion? Are they left to perish by God? (Because God did) not send unto them a saviour with a book of their own?

Ultimately, the saved are those possessed with wishful thinking and living on Fantasy Island.

In a masochistic response, believers say millions are suffering and dying all because of the sins of mankind.

But which T-Rex committed adultery and so vexed the gods that it led to their destruction?

Has anyone ever come back to confirm their reincarnation? Except in the National Enquirer?

From among the scores of writers I have found great pleasure reading I’d select: Hesse, Rushdie, Naipaul, Camus, Mailer.

My favourite book is Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, for this one expression: I can think, I can fast and I can wait.

The Time magazine reviewers Richard Schickel and Corliss are my style heroes.

I’m not into reading avariciously any more. Ancient copies of Time and Newsweek I relish like good dessert.

My brother and I considered forming a music band but my mother threw my brother's guitar out the window. And there, too, our dream.

Sergio Leone is my favourite director, for his revolutionising of the Western and making it into irresistible spaghetti.

In the Hollywood tradition, you waited 90 minutes for a shootout. When Clint appeared in the Dollars movies, you had to keep getting fresh stockpiles of ammo for him.

For recruiting Ennio Morricone as his music director alone, Leone stands way above the rest for me.

Early soca was rhythmic, now it's cacophonous. So I don't care for it.

I am a full-time writer. And a part-time critic of bad English by media practitioners.

When family and friends started looking helter-skelter for names for our children, I thought, “Why doesn't somebody produce a book of names? Why don't you do it yourself, Lester?”

And that's how I compiled books of Hindi, African and Muslim names.

And thus began my journey into the literary world as a protagonist of sorts and not just as a reader.

Lester Siddharta Orie - Mark Lyndersay

Although I am a full-time writer, I am never writing full-time.

Some writers make writing sound like trudging along in the mud – one word at a time, one page in a day – but I am usually really prolific. I get going in the morning, nine-ish, and my day ends about four.

I took six days to write Ananda. And had lunch and snacks as usual.

When my thoughts are flowing, I take just a few steps before I am overwhelmed by such a literary avalanche. A solo performance, I call upon no one to complete this one-piece orchestra. I usually try to do some kind of workout to relax me after the intensity of the day.

I think I have written ten books. Give or take one.

The best part of writing is to see your page filled with English so good that, when you read it back, you can't help (but) exclaim, "Which genius wrote that?"

The satisfaction you get from the feeling you got is transcendental.

(One writes) because one is essentially a perfectionist. When from among a list of synonyms in your thesaurus you could choose any word – but the one you zeroed in on eventually is the precise one you wanted – that makes your day.

When your book is completed and someone says, “Love it!” you win your Nobel Prize.

The worst part of the job is when you give a free autographed copy to someone and they never give you back a comment in a hundred years.

But I am narcissistic, so when those I know say nothing, I know it is because it is so good that the cat has taken their tongue. It is a bizarre way of complimenting me.

Friends who read Even the Gods felt that, to sell it for that price, I was robbing myself because the encyclopaedic knowledge in there was priceless.

However, the simple book of Hindi names turned out to be the one people actually use and keep for anybody with a newborn in search of a name for their child.

Those who have read it (at the risk of lightning striking them), have praised Conversations with an Atheist for the style, language and its overall literary excellence.

But the suggestion that I might be right about the ideas put forward is glossed over. People prefer to stay in their comfort zone, even though it’s uncomfortable there.

I have not been made to feel un-Trinidadian for being an atheist.

But it could happen after the Carnival.

Two traditional publishing houses were interested in Conversations, like, right away, when normally these things could take next to forever.

However, I settled for Amazon, knowing they would not interfere with what I considered perfection incarnate.

Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the world seeming helplessness to do anything about it is so bothering me that I am not watching TV.

(I also have) money worries, as most writers will admit, except EL James and JK Rowling.

A Trini is a human chameleon. Just passing outside the US Embassy, we get an American accent more acute than Biden’s. And going to a yoga class we come back speaking like Amitabh Bachchan.

Versatile too bad, eh?

In the words of the poet Milton, Trinidad and Tobago means, "Paradise Lost” to me! This is a country blessed with everything, coming close to Utopia – but, in the rustic proverb, “When birds too happy, they defecate in their nest.”

Well, we have just messed up a good thing. And, sadly, you don't know if it's going to be regained, so Milton could do his sequel.

Still, we are a happy-go lucky-people, and praise be unto us, because we are still making it work while under pressure.

Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com


"God alone knows why he made me an atheist"

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