By SUNITY MAHARAJ
A Cherished Domain: Preysal
In an age of galloping urbanization, every community should be like Preysal, and each should have a Zahir Baksh.
In “A Cherished Domain, Preysal”, Baksh sets out to record the story of his community, Preysal Village, for future generations. What he achieves is an informative documentary that can be read with ease, punctuated by bellyfuls of laughter.
“I wanted to provide the people of Preysal with an account of their history; I wanted to leave the legacy of the village to which I dedicated my life’s work so that the future inhabitants of Preysal would always be connected to their relatives who have long gone to the great beyond,” explains Baksh in his opening statement.
What follows is a human history of the birth and development of one of the tightest-knit communities of Trinidad-one which also enjoys a national reputation for producing more national cricketers per square mile than most. Baksh notes that to time of writing, Preysal had produced two national captains, four West Indies cricket players and several representatives at the national level. “It has also produced women cricketers of international stature,” he adds.
For the uninitiated, Preysal Village is in Central Trinidad. Heading south on the Solomon Hochoy Highway, it is the community on the left at the flyover to Point Lisas.
There could hardly be a more qualified chronicler of the story of Preysal than Baksh. He was born in Preysal, has lived his entire life there, spent his teaching career at the Preysal Government School, married a Preysal girl, Eleanor Lalla, and brought up three children with her.
His father , Elahie, was the first teacher from Preysal, remembered in the book as a man who organized classes for the little ones under a small shed. Teaching would become a family tradition with Elahie’s sons becoming a cornerstone of the education of Preysal’s sons and daughters who, over the twentieth century, transformed their village from a small settlement of indentured Indian labourers into a thriving community of mainly business people, professionals and public servants.
“A Cherished Domain” combines painstaking and pioneering historical research using original sources, community anecdotes and the lived, personal memories of the author to produce a work that is as entertaining as it is informative. Above all, it has the ring of authenticity.
The author’s palpable love and fascination for the place and its people feed into the reader’s imagination, bringing to life such immortal characters as Heera who, in the 1940s, would heat and beat his nagaara drums in the middle of the road; Cheelum Kotiah, the snake charmer who also knew how to jharay the sick; Vush-Vash-Crix-Crax, the local Flash Gordon; Mento who could repair broken shoes as fast as a zwill; Bronkz who, overnight, ended a life-time of heavy smoking after the indignity of being refused a cigarette by a fellow smoker, and the physically challenged but amazing Tan Tan Sadhoo, who “fitted himself in a half car tyre” to which he tied himself, to work his way down the road to give Hindi classes.
Any of these characters could live comfortably on V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street or find space on Brackley’s bed in Sam Selvon’s roomful of characters.
“Cherished Domain” presents an invaluable collection of old photos of Preysal families as well as reproductions of priceless records that offer an insight into the early life of the village: the completion certificate for an indentured immigrant’s term of service at Camden Estate on 12 Sept, 1918 and a receipt for the swap of a “Black Mule valued thirty five dollars for a Tiger Colour Cow” of the same value.
And then there is the story of Preysal’s rise in the world of cricket, so lovingly told by Baksh as he takes a roll call of Preysal’s finest, topped off by the legendary Inshan Ali. His account of “How Inshan Started to Bowl Chinaman and Googlies” presents a priceless piece of cricket history.
The publication of ‘A Cherished Domain: Preysal” raises the question of just how many incredible stories might be lying unknown and untold in the dark cupboards of our history and our lives. This is the literature of the salt of the earth, presented without pretentiousness and with an integrity all of its own.
By its presence, this book is an invitation for all communities throughout the Caribbean to turn inward and discover themselves as the cherished domains that they indeed are.
Appropriately, “A Cherished Domain: Preysal” was launched at the Preysal Community Centre on October 15th before the people and friends of Preysal. A review of the book was presented by this writer, a Balmain girl who went to school in Preysal and now cherishes her own memories of the Preysal domain.