importance of Telling our stories
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. Doolarchands 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 Pandits hand is clearly
evident in that foundation.
Doolarchands 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 forebearsthrough
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 Pandits 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
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 Pandits
life epitomises what may be described in modern times as a
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 Vidias
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.