Trinidad Arrival Day

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Trinidadians celebrate Arrival Day to celebrate the arrival of the first batch of farm immigrants from India to land on the British colony of Trinidad on May 30, 1845 to work in the sugarcane plantations. Now, each year the island celebrates Arrival Day on May 30. Juggernaut celebrates his own arrival day on October 10 each year, the day he landed at Port of Spain airport in 1973 as a graduate student. The Indian farm labor came to work on sugarcane soils and Juggernaut came to work on Trinidad soils as well for his Ph.D.,

Submitted: May 27, 2014

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Submitted: May 27, 2014

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Arrival Day

Juggernaut celebrates October 10 as arrival day, the day he landed in Trinidad in 1973.  It was a long journey started in his home town Pineappleville, a town known for pineapples on southern seaboard of India.

On completing postgraduate degree, Juggernaut was all excited to take up his first job as teaching instructor at the same college he was a former undergrad.  Teaching is a very fulfilling experience particularly if the students are enthusiastic. In the chemistry lab demonstrating analytical techniques to the students was inspiring. As a student Juggernaut was at the receiving end from the teachers, now he was grading the student’s test papers. The first semester zip through very fast with the excitement of teaching a new lesson every week. At the middle of the second semester, some of the excitement started to wear off since he was repeating the same material to a new set of students. Sitting at the bottom of seniority among the teaching staff, juggernaut had a sinking feeling that he had to teach the same course for a long time to come. The only way out was to pursue a doctoral program or change course altogether into a different field. At the end he decided to pursue doctoral program in countries in South America or Africa. From National Geographic magazines, he read so much about exotic cultures in those countries; he thought that living in that culture while pursuing graduate studies would be exciting and rewarding.

Juggernaut went to the library at the local university to gather addresses of universities in countries like Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Trinidad and countries in Africa for admission into graduate programs.  Juggernaut received many responses for his inquiries abroad but was mostly disappointing. Some professors mentioned lack of funding and others mentioned language barrier. But then he received a letter; a letter of life time.  It was from a professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. In the letter, the professor offered a job position as a full-time demonstrator to conduct labs to undergrads in return the tuition fee was waived to pursue doctoral program.  The admission letter was conditional until the receipt of the recommendation letter from Juggernaut’s professor in India. Juggernaut kissed the letter so many times but delicately not to wet the letter too much.

Juggernaut has no idea how to travel to Trinidad or what travel documents besides passport were necessary. He understood that the countries in the Caribbean were represented by High Commissioner’s office of United Kingdom in Madras. Juggernaut decided to travel to Madras to find if he needs a special visa to travel to Trinidad as a student but he was afraid that the original admission letter to the university may get stolen or lost during the travel, and he has only one original document to submit to various agencies as part of travel arrangements. Then it occurred to him that if he can get copies of the original letter, he can submit the copies to the agencies. The idea of photocopying the original did not occur since he was not aware of the existence of photocopying  technology or machines to do it in early 70’s, at least not in his home town.  After a serious thought, it occurred to him that if a picture of the original document was taken at a photo studio, from the negative, many positive prints can be made.  With this novel idea, he went to one of the oldest and well established photo studios in town.  The owner and the master photographer was a gruffly old man.  Juggernaut explained his idea to the photographer.

“You mean to take a picture of a document?’ the photographer did not understand at the first instance.

“Yes, the original letter is placed on a white background to take a close-up shot of the letter; from the negative you can print very clear and legible original size copies,”  Juggernaut explained  in detail placing the original letter on the wall in the studio while the photographer was looking curiously.

The photographer was fascinated and thought it was a brilliant idea and preceded with the idea to generate several very clear prints of the original admission letter.  The photographer was curious beyond making copies; he started was asking Juggernaut for details on how he got in touch with the professor in Trinidad to get a job and admission to Ph.D., program, and travel plans. He wants to gather as much information he could about Trinidad; its economy and value of Trinidad dollar.  Juggernaut was polite at first in answering his questions and left the studio with copies in a hurry to get away from the pestering questions of the old photographer.

With several photo print copies of the college letter of admission, Juggernaut headed for the port doctor’s office to make inquiries on vaccinations required to travel to Trinidad.

The port doctor was a Bengali, looked eccentric and spoke like one. “Why you want to travel to Trinidad?” The doctor sat on a stool in his small dispensary in a trailer facing the harbor at the busy shipping port in town.

“I just got a letter of admission to pursue my postgraduate studies in Trinidad,” Juggernaut gave a print of the letter to the doctor.

The doctor, a heavy set man with long grey hair looked like a Bengali film director than a medical doctor. “First time I heard a student travelling to Trinidad for studies, I heard about famous Trinidad carnival and steel band music from the seamen travelled to the South America,” the doctor took a quick look at the letter. “Well, generally I give vaccination against Yellow Fever to the seamen travelling to South America, if you want to take it I will give to you free of charge,” the doctor slowly got up to get a vial.

Juggernaut was happy to receive the shot as a precaution not knowing much about Yellow fever except reading in Encyclopedia Britannica. The next important step was to travel to his university where he just finished his postgraduate degree to meet with his former professor to make sure he sent his recommendation letter.  The university was located in the neighboring state around 300 miles away, an overnight journey in train. He boarded the train early hours of the morning with the original admission letter securely concealed at the bottom of the suit case and two print copies in the hand bag just as safe side.  The train arrived just after 4 pm at the destination. Juggernaut took a rickshaw to reach the campus few miles away, he wants to meet the professor before he leaves his office for the evening.

Juggernaut reached the department at the nick of the moment; the professor was getting ready to leave when Juggernaut caught up with him.

“Good evening sir,” Juggernaut greeted his professor; the last time he met him was several month ago before he left the campus for good to take up employment at his old college in his state.

The professor was pleasantly surprised “Well, what brought you here suddenly?” the professor greeted Juggernaut with a kind look.

“Sir, I received a letter of admission to pursue Ph.D., at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and they were still waiting to get your recommendation letter, so I travelled hurriedly to meet with you on this matter,” Juggernaut spoke hurriedly as if he was running out of time.

The professor looked at his desk for a minute and said “Yes, yes, I do remember receiving a letter from the professor in Trinidad requesting my recommendation letter.” He started searching his desk with piles of letters and files. Then he pulled the top drawer and removed an envelope with foreign stamps on it. “Of all the places in the world why you want to go to Trinidad?”

“I thought it is an exotic place and I was familiar with the cricketer players from Trinidad visiting India to play cricket,” Juggernaut’s reply sounded naïve.

The professor, a fair skinned man always in good mood was very good to Juggernaut while he was a graduate student. “Let me tell you, I did my Ph.D. in the United States several years ago and still make a small salary as a professor here. How much is the airfare to Trinidad?”

“I am not sure; could be around 15000 rupees.”

“I withheld my recommendation letter, hoping you will come and see me on this. I am glad you came to meet me. Now, fifteen thousand rupees is a lot of money, with the amount you open a small shop near your home; I guarantee you make more money and will be happy staying at home than going to Trinidad to do a Ph.D. PhDs., don’t make much money. My brother owns a small pharmacy in town makes ten times more than I  make; take my word,” the professor sounded real and earnest.

“Yes sir but I want to travel to other countries not just for Ph.D., but to experience living in different cultures,” Juggernaut wants to steer the conversation towards the recommendation letter.

“OK, I will write the letter tomorrow and get it mailed for you,” the professor was getting ready to leave.

“Sir, I would be grateful if you can write it now so that I can mail it myself before I leave town tonight,” begged Juggernaut.

“Well, the clerical staff was already left for the day and I want letter to be typed on my letterhead to make it official.”

“I can type, I learned typing few years ago,” Juggernaut was persistent.

“Ok, let’s go the office room,” the professor started walking towards the office room where his office staff does typing and documentation etc.

Juggernaut placed a blank department letterhead and two more s with blank carbon papers in between on the type writer to make total 2 carbon copies and one original. The professor looked impressed.

The professor started dictating slowly holding the admission letter in his hand.  He was very detailed in giving strong positive opinions of Juggernaut using impressive words like fastidious, tenacity, relentless, dedicated etc., in describing Juggernaut’s work ethics as graduate student under his guidance.  At the end, he recommended Juggernaut highly for admission to the Ph.D., program.

Juggernaut profusely thanked his professor for giving such a strong favorable letter. “Well, good luck with your studies, I am fully confident you will be successful in your endeavors,” the professor signed his original recommendation letter and the two carbon copies. The professor kept a copy and was generous to give the original and the other carbon copy to Juggernaut; not many professors reveal the content of their recommendation letters to the students, but this professor was generous and kind.

Juggernaut bade farewell and took a rickshaw to the night post office in town that closes late around 8 pm.  Juggernaut made sure, he wrote the correct address and checked again and again before mailing it by registered mail to make sure the recipient gets the letter of recommendation.  He securely kept the signed carbon recommendation carbon copy in his bag. Then he headed for the railway station to catch the night train back home.

The evening was pleasant and Juggernaut reached the railway station few hours before the train arrival time. Though exhausted he felt energized for accomplishing what he set forth in sending the recommendation letter. There was not much of a choice when it comes to menu at the eateries on the rail- station; practically every stall sold deep fried unsweetened doughnuts called bora with hot chutney and tea.Juggernaut got himself two warm boras with chutney poured all over it and a hot sweet milky tea served in a clay dish. He found an unoccupied concrete bench outside the covered area for cool breeze to sit and enjoy his dinner.

Suddenly from nowhere an old man carrying a small bundle wrapped in a grey wool blanket appeared to sit next to Juggernaut. The man looked impoverished in traditional clothing. At first Juggernaut did not pay any attention to the old man sitting next to him. The old man started gazing and pointing his hand towards the clear sky as if he was looking for a particular star.

“Can you show chamak Tara or shining star on the sky?” he pointed his hand towards the clear sky in the bright moon.

“I don’t know,” replied Juggernaut reluctantly still eating his dinner.

“You look like a college educated man and you don’t know the location of the star,” the old man accent sounded very local.

“No I don’t,” Juggernaut didn’t look at the sky or at the man.

“In old British days we were taught everything in the class; about stars, moon, sun and what not.’  The present day Indian education is no good at all,” the old man continued his monologue.

Juggernaut was getting ready to get up and leave the man but then he saw a faint headlight at a distance getting brighter and brighter from the incoming train. Juggernaut was relieved to see his train was coming and left the grumpy old man to himself looking at the sky.

Then next step was to get a valid passport.  In early seventies getting a passport was a hassle. The government made it difficult to it citizens to leave the country. The paper work requirements was a nightmare; from date of birth certificate to no objection certificate from the place of employment and a letter of job offer or school admission letter among several other documents.  With time running out to take up the admission, Juggernaut tried several travel agents to procure passport for him but it was taking too long, so he decided to travel to the passport office In Madras. Madras is not a different city but a different country in many respects. With no knowledge of local language it was difficult to communicate and move around.  With help of a broker, somehow Juggernaut managed to get a valid passport with an exorbitant fee.

The British High Commissioner’s office was located in Madras. Juggernaut visited the office armed with the letter of admission and newly acquired passport to inquire if a special visa is required to travel to Trinidad.  The receptionist, an English woman was very helpful, after consulting with her superiors she came back informed Juggernaut “Since you are as a citizen of Commonwealth country, you can travel to Trinidad without a visa and also you can land in London without a visa during transit on the way to Trinidad.”  She informed that British Airways from Bombay flies to Trinidad via London on a regular basis.

The travel from Maras to Trinidad was an experience of life time for Juggernaut. Travelling on the air for the very first time was an exhilarating experience particularly when the plane was taking off and landing. The first leg of trip from Madras to Bombay and then to London on Boeing Jumbo jet was full of anticipation and excitement.  Prior to this air travel, Juggernaut never travelled on air; the only experience with airplanes was watching its landings and takeoff at the airport near the college campus. Now it was real, sitting in a huge Jumbo jet heading to a foreign land.

The plane landed in Heathrow airport in London. The airport was chaotic with passengers and airport workers. The airline arranged for overnight stay in a hotel in London.  Juggernaut followed other passengers to make his way out of the airport to the curbside to get into a courtesy van arranged by the hotel.  During a short ride from the airport to the nearby hotel Juggernaut practically glued his face to the van window to watch the bright lights and tall buildings. He pinched himself to believe that that he was in London for real.

Juggernaut checked into a luxury hotel Sheraton Skyline not too far from the airport. From the hotel room,  he spent lot of time watching  outside though foggy windows. For dinner, Juggernaut went to the lobby searching for the restaurant.  Most people were well dressed in jackets.  Juggernaut was wearing an old plaid grey woolen jacket his father purchased almost 30 years ago, kept in good condition.

Juggernaut exchanged few American dollars for English coins though he couldn’t figure it out the value of each coin. Next day morning, When he was leaving the hotel for the airport, Juggernaut  gave one coin to the bell boy as a tip, in return he asked Juggernaut repeatedly whether he was sure to give such an amount for tip, perhaps the tip was unusually large amount.  Juggernaut wondered whether he gave too much for a tip not knowing its value; perhaps half or quarter British pound.

At the airport waiting for connecting flight to Trinidad in BOAC flight, Juggernaut found that most of the passengers were of African descent. Most of them were tall and big, almost two or three times bigger than Juggernaut in size.  One of them asked Juggernaut “where you were heading?’

“West Indies” replied Juggernaut very politely.

“Where in the West Indies?”

“Port of Spain,” replied Juggernaut

“OK, you were going to Trinidad then,” smiled the big figure.

Juggernaut was under the impression that West Indies was one country with separate islands in the Caribbean Sea and Port Spain was one of the cities.  Apparently, each island in the West Indies was an independent republic.

The second and the last leg of trip were uneventful and Juggernaut already got an idea what to expect when it comes food and drinks served in the planes and use of toilet facilities.

The plane landed in Piarco International Airport in Trinidad. From the air, the island was small. The country side was green surrounded by bluish green sea.

At the airport, a fair skin Indian looking man came to receive Juggernaut.

“You must be Juggernaut,” the man gave a big smile.

“Yes,” replied Juggernaut timidly not knowing what to expect.

“I am Omar Khayum, your professor sent me to pick you up” the man gave a strong shake hand.

“Thank you for coming to the airport to pick me up, I was wondering how to get transportation to the campus,” Juggernaut wondered about his name Omar Khayum.

“I will take you to a Mrs. Lakhan’s home near the campus, she boards few university students. It is a nice place and I live not too far from her house,” Omar took the suitcase from Juggernaut and placed in his car trunk with one hand.

On the way from the airport, Juggernaut glued his face to the window to see the landscape outside.  For several miles, it was all sugarcane fields and then small towns.  The houses were built several feet above the ground with corrugated roofs.

“You know your namesake Omar Khayyam was a famous Persian poet and a philosopher?” Juggernaut looked at Omar driving at ease.

“Sure, every visitor I picked up at the airport said that,” replied with a smile.  His accent was different; certainly not British English or it has any American influence, it is unique to the Caribbean region.  Juggernaut has to take time to understand him; he used the expression down here at the beginning of every conversation as if it was his own style.

On reaching a residential district, he stopped the car at a large two-story blue house with a wrap around balcony at the corner of Jackson and Henry streets in Curepe, a small neighborhood near the university campus.  Mrs. Lakhan came out of the house to welcome Juggernaut with a big smile and a friendly hand shake. She was a middle aged brown skin Indian woman in a plaid frock. Juggernaut was introduced to the other student boarders at the house, a student from Jamaica and a short fair skin student named Belal wearing thick eye glasses recently arrived from Bangladesh. Juggernaut expressed his gratitude to Omar for arranging the boarding facilities on arrival close to the campus. Thus, a journey that began in South India on October 8, 1973 with lot of anticipation and excitement landed Juggernaut in Trinidad on October 10, 1973, but it was only the beginning to what to come later.

Four decades after landing in Trinidad, now living on Skyline Drive in Sioux City, Iowa, his thoughts once in a while goes back to his overnight stay at Skyline hotel near Heathrow airport in London, particularly the dilemma he faced in the hotel restaurant in selecting a desert from a collection of colorful deserts on several racks in a cart pulled close to him by a well-dressed waiter. The Caribbean Indians, descendants of Indian immigrants in Trinidad celebrates Arrival Day, an annual event to recognize the arrival of the first batch of immigrant farm labor from India on May 30, 1845; Juggernaut celebrates October 10 as his arrival day, the day he arrived in Trinidad in 1973.

Juggernaut celebrates arrival day every year by cooking curry goat, the famous Trinidad dish and drink cold Carib beer imported from Trinidad while listening to his favorite calypso.

 


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