Wednesday 17th May 2006

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The importance of Telling our stories

The name Doon Pandit still conjures up an image of a man of action, mystery, and respect that I had from my childhood. Somewhere in the distractions of the oil boom and an India drifting closer to Trinidad, bringing swamis and fashions and Bollywood to steal away our minds from our immediate jahaji past, his name receded, but it was never lost.

Recently I read the soon to be released work on Doon Pandit by Doolarchand Hanooman. Doolarchand’s research refreshes as much as confirms many of memories. He took the time to harvest important information on Doon Pandit. With great dedication, he has arranged, interpreted the information and made them available through this publication.

Now, my mind is flooded by his memories. It is my personal reflection for May – Indian History and Heritage Month.

My memories of Doon Pandit take me to people, places and events of which I had heard or seen in the community space in which I grew up. These people, places and events were, I recall, always spoken of with passion and even awe. From childhood I knew that somehow they were all important.

These memories were all carried, for all these years, dimly lit, in the periphery of my mind. In the midst of the clutter, informed by whispers and exclamations of the past and the few times I had seen him, Doon Pandit commanded a presence larger than life, active and mysterious.

The story of Doon Pandit (1900-1958) is at the same time the story of an important period which can help us appreciate the present. Many of our institutions and community dreams were seeded in this period. The story also demonstrates the confidence of Doon Pandit as he negotiated the colonial space on behalf of his contemporaries.

Doon Pandit was one of our early Trinidadians who took initiatives to erect community schools in T&T. In fact, the Maha Sabha which was formed in the early 50s and distinguished itself with its strong intervention in education, was bequeathed a foundation on which to begin its timely, dramatic and successful presence in education. Doon Pandit’s hand is clearly evident in that foundation.

Doolarchand’s work demonstrates that there are exciting stories in our community history awaiting the researcher. There are many stories of people and events buried in our community memories. The story of Doon Pandit demonstrates how important these stories are, in the critical exercise of imagining ourselves as a community. We can view our forebears—through Pandit erecting institutions, fasting for world peace during war-time, embracing social outcasts, erecting monuments and leading community imagination. We can only be enriched by Doon Pandit’s story as much as we are enriched by his actual service to the nation.

Through Doon Pandit we are made conscious of the role of an important group of people, the pandits. The pandit, in fact, is well-endowed by tradition to have easy access to the community. The role of the pandit as guru to individuals, as purohit at pujas in the homes; as vyasa presiding over week-long discourses in the community, facilitating direct access to and intimacy with the community. It positions this group with leadership possibilities.

I am amazed by the ease with which Doon Pandit negotiated the colonial space. I am inspired by the manner in which he dealt with race and gender issues. His boldness even led him to be ostracised for a short period but, he, through wit and generosity, regained in popular favour.

Doon Pandit actually even lived in a leper colony and built a mandir there. I, myself, have had the opportunity of early experience in community service there. This is why the mandir Doon Pandit built at Chakachakaaree is an important heritage site and a place of pilgrimage for many. It is an important physical landmark of this remarkable nation builder. The Pandit was active beyond the bedi and the jhandi.

Doolarchand is right when he says, “Doon Pandit’s life epitomises what may be described in modern times as a Hindu activist.”

The life of Doon Pandit is a story about Hindus’/Indians’ early steps discovering its place in a soon-to-be-independent.

The World War obviously rested on his mind, to the extent that he went on a 40-day fast for world peace. He was certainly watchful over his community by virtue of his responsibility as a Brahmin. He brought to his traditional role the blessing of his own disposition for social service and an elevating vision. All these factors helped him respond to his times as well as shape the period.

The pandit was particularly active from 1940 until he died in 1958. The scope of his influence would suggest he laid a foundation for the 1952 merging of Hindu orthodox groups from which Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha was born.

I have focused on Doon Pandit as a community-builder but clearly his role is much larger. He was an early patriot and nation-builder who gained the respect of even the colonial masters by whom he was honoured. His impact was such that, many people say, he influenced Sir Vidia’s

House for Mr Biswas.

The Hindu and Indian communities still lag behind in researching and telling their stories. The community needs to develop an appetite for its history – a culture of enthusiasm for self-discovery. I am hopeful that the soon-to-be-released work on Doon Pandit will inspire us to tell our stories.





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