Who were the 50 "greatest" Trinidadians of the first 50 years of Independence—1962-2002? That, of course, depends on how one defines "great".
Does "great" also mean "good"? It need not. Jesus was "good" as well as great—at least so the Bible tells us.
Nazis believe, or once believed, that Hitler was great, but most people, except those who bought into Hitler's agendas for world domination, would deem him evil.
Yet, at a certain point in time, he was deemed a secular god by those who believed in his "struggle" to make Germany great.
Both Jesus and Hitler would make the greatness "cut", but for entirely different reasons.
The British essayist Thomas Carlyle, like Plato, the iconic Greek philosopher, argued that all heroes have flaws.
"Their heroism lay in their creative energy in the face of difficulties, not in their moral perfection."
Plato also tells us that great men are neither all good nor all evil. "All great natures produce great vices as well as great virtues."
The passage of time also colours perceptions about greatness.
The perspectives of the times and the challenges which the society faces can also magnify a hero's reputation or devalue it. Generations invariably view things and leaders differently.
Who or what was great at one time need not be deemed so at another.
The point of all this comment is to explain some of my choices, some of whom would be seen as outrageous, and amplify my argument that some of the people who appear on my "Great Trinis" list would not be found on many other lists. Like Time magazine's "Man of the Year", I recognise people who made an enduring impact, for better or for worse.
My criteria is how large was the foot or handprint left by the hero or the legend. The choices are not ranked in any order of merit, or demerit or limited to people in public life. Crooks, cheaters and charlatans also qualify to take part in our home-grown Olympics.
Eric Williams appears at the top of my list. Whether one loved or hated Williams, most would concede that he was the most outstanding of our post-Independence heroes. He was a scholar, the philosopher of our nationalism and political nation-builder. Williams conceded that he was not to the manor born, and that he had the mantle of greatness thrust upon him. That perhaps explains why he wanted no monuments to his name after his death. One could however be cynical and say that he assumed that notwithstanding his refusal, his successors would defy his wishes and hero-worship him. Williams however hungered after greatness even as he rejected accolades. He also knew and often said that each generation rewrote its own history.
Also on my "greats" list were the Mighty Sparrow and the Lord Kitchener. Both men helped to magnify Williams. They were also the men who sang the songs to which we of the era danced, jumped and wined. In doing so, they helped to jell us into a people. They were trans-ethnic in their impact, and their "say-so" transcended the borders of the Trinidadian state. Most Trinidadians and West Indians generally could sing or hum many of the songs they sang, composed (or both).
Also on my list, for very different reasons, is Bhadase Maharaj. Bhadase built schools where there were once "cow sheds", and though we scoffed, many Hindus were helped to get onto the education escalator as a result. We see the results now, but could not see them then.
An objective list would also include Sat Maharaj. Many deplore some of what he says and does and disclaim him as a spokesman for Hindus. But he has been in the trenches using various mechanisms, the courts included, to fight cases on behalf of his constituents.
My "oddfellows" list would also include Ram Kirpalani, who changed the way we bought and sold merchandise and leveraged other people's savings. Kirpalani was seen as a fiscal magician. Many would remember Chalkie's advice to Eric Williams: If you can't run the country, call in Kirpalani. Many small businesses were wiped out because they could not compete with Mr Ram, who introduced us to cheap "seconds" on a buy one, get one free basis. Kirpalini was also a precursor of Lawrence Duprey and Harry Harnarine in the way he used people's savings.
My list would include Duprey, who was seen by many blacks as a hero, someone who had shattered the myth that blacks could not do multinational business. He was seen as the man who took over the baton from Cyril Duprey and ran with it further. Many were proud of what he did with Colonial Life and CLICO, generally. He built an energy empire, something the merchant class belonging to other groups did not.
He however came to believe the mantra that "greed is good" and dropped the baton as he supped at the trough.
Mention must also be made of Hasely Crawford, the first Trinidadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal.
The immensity of the achievement has become more evident in recent days.
His was no mean achievement.
Many of us remember where we were when Hasely accelerated and ran down Borzov, Glance, Quarrie, et al. In the field of sport, one must also celebrate Brian Lara's epic record-making achievements in the field of cricket.
Worthy of inclusion in my gallery is Prof Ken Julien.
Julien was the man who, together with Eric Williams who provided the will, made Point Lisas possible. Julien has many detractors, but his award of the Trinity Cross was deserving.
His contribution was seminal.
Mention also needs to be made of Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning. Panday was the first Hindu Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. He transformed the politics of Trinidad and Tobago and also helped many a poverty-stricken sugar worker to escape the abject poverty that estate work involved.
Manning has many detractors and is on my list, deservedly. Manning's role as an economic moderniser is generally ignored by those who are not aware of his contribution in this regard.
Together with Wendell Mottley and Julien, he did much to rebuild the economy in the '90s. We must also remember Manning for the role he played in modernising the exchange rate, the taxation system and in restructuring the welfare regime in Trinidad and Tobago. Some would also praise him for the role he played in rebuilding the People's National Movement (PNM) after it was smashed by Robinson et al in 1986.
There are many others who deserve to be included in our gallery of the "greats". We merely list some of them today and will say something about their contributions next week. Among them are Lloyd Best, Peter Minshall, Vidia Naipaul, Tony Sabga, Gerry Pantin, CLR James, Hugh Wooding, Ray Robinson and Bertie Marshall.
The last person on this week's list today is Yasin Abu Bakr, the man whom many people love to hate. Bakr however left huge footprints on political and gang land life in Trinidad and Tobago in dramatic ways and cannot be omitted.
• To be continued