Featured Piece: My Father – By Shekhar Mahabir

4 01 2016

Another feature piece by my father, Shekhar Mahabir. Enjoy

my-father

One of my earliest memories of my father is when I was in my final year at Avocat Vedic School. I was required to choose which secondary school I wished to be considered for in order of preference. I chose Iere High School as my first option since all my friends is class were doing so. When I showed the form to my Dad, without hesitation, he promptly rearranged my options and entered Naparima College as my first choice. My next clear memory is on the morning of the common entrance results when he woke me up early around 6 am to go to the my grandfather’s parlour to check the newspaper for the publication of the successful students and their chosen schools. When we saw that I had passed for Naparima College, he did not say anything to me but I knew he was happy with the result and I was hugely relieved that I had made it.

The pungent whiff of tobacco smoke curling from a cigarette is one of the earliest memories I have of my father. I started secondary school in the same month that we moved into our newly built house down from the junction. Before that we used to rent an old wooden house in Siparia old road from my uncle Keese, my father’s cousin. Every morning as we got in the small Austin A40, the wafting smoke became an integral part of the start of the drive to secondary school in San Fernando, some twelve miles away. Then he would proceed to Penal Vedic School in Penal some fifteen miles away to his work as a primary school headteacher. He used to leave home promptly at 7 am and proceed at a steady, comfortable pace. He did not drive fast nor was he slow. On evenings on the way back home he would pass to pick me up from the bench on Broadway exactly at 3.30 every day after school. He was never late. On most evenings I would stretch out across the entire back seat of the car and fall gently asleep to the slow rhythm of his sure and steady hand at the wheel.

Half an hour later he would turn into the driveway of our home and I would wake on the sound of the hand brake being pulled out. Emerging from the car I would walk into the warm smell of curry as I approach my mother rocking on her hammock and address her with the same combined greeting, “Namaste, ah want meh food please”.

I don’t remember if I used to change from my school clothes first or after, but I really appreciated that hot cooked meal. My father was partial to curry so it would be some variation of one curry dish or another.

We didn’t talk much to each other, not because of any antagonism or argument. It’s just that we did not have anything to discuss. Most of the interaction between us was understood. When we returned home I went about my pursuits and he his. I never thought about or observed what he did. Most times in the early evening as the dusk was settling he would take a walk a few hundred yards up the road towards Avocat junction where the Fyzabad road forked into the Siparia old road. There on the pavement I would see him standing with Azam (Tembo) or another of his friends chatting and enjoying a relaxing evening watching the traffic go by. We barely ever encountered each other on the road and by the time it grew dark he would be home in front the television watching the 7 o’clock news. Perhaps he would catch another show until around 9 or 10 and go off to sleep.

While I was on the block liming I learnt a little about my father from some of the older fellas who were hanging out there. Once I was told of how he was a legend at draughts at an early age and that when he was eleven or twelve years old he was such a prodigy that there was no player, young or old, for miles around who could beat him at the board game. Tales were told of how he used to be proudly hoisted on the shoulder of the men from the village and taken to other communities east, west, north and south and used to demolish the opposition players with consummate ease. How much of this was true and how much exaggerated I will never know. But his reputation was widely acknowledged and confirmed by all who were in a position to be consulted in conversation.

Another story I was told about my father was about his struggles as a student at Naparima College during secondary school. I heard that he used climb coconut trees, pick and sell fresh coconuts early on mornings and late on evenings when he was a young man in order to make enough money to look after his needs. At that time he used ride a bicycle the twelve miles to and from San Fernando. At that time I suppose he lived at Avocat junction where my grandfather had his little parlour, where one of the unique specialities was freshly made nuts and channa in wrapped up packets which his sister Didia used to make. I can still smell the aroma emanating from those packets.

Yet another anecdote that I recall is how he came to wear spectacles. It was said that my father was a keen cricketer in his youth and his special fielding place was as a wicket keeper. One day while behind the wicket a ball passed the batsman and struck him in the face. As a consequence his vision was affected and he was forced to have his eyesight tested and was persuaded to wear spectacles.

Another aspect of my father was the times he was at his desk studying. I know for sure he used to study hindi and Sanskrit and when my sisters used to go to hindi classes in San Fernando he was also studying preparing for a qualification in Sanskrit. In fact I learnt later on that he was the first student in Trinidad and Tobago who ever passed the Advanced Levels Sanskrit examinations.

But his aptitude for study did not end there. My father was an avid racing fan and he used to play the racing pools regularly. In fact every Saturday he would head for the Betting shops by the market in San Fernando and spend most of the day there. Whether he won or lost I never knew but this was an integral part of his weekly custom. And this is what he studied at his desk as well. There would be a pile of different racing books with detailed information about the horses and the conditions and the jockeys and he would spend long hours poring over these study materials in preparation for his Saturday morning pastime.

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