SPOKE AT NAPS: Dr Eric Williams
Naps’ many famous faces
Last August 30, citizens heard a televised Independence Day address to the nation by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. Rowley’s speech was pre-recorded before an audience of People’s National Movement (PNM) supporters at the auditorium of Naparima College, San Fernando. It was considered by some as an unlikely venue for such an event. However, it turns out that Naparima College was the site from which Queen’s Royal College rival Dr Eric Williams (1911-1981) began a series of lectures in the 1950s that eventually led to the emergence of the PNM ahead of the country becoming an independent nation in 1962. This historical information was researched and recorded by Stanley Algoo, who attended Naparima College between the years 1954 and 1961, and won an Island Scholarship that took him, as so many schoolmates, to leadership positions here and abroad. This is part of Algoo’s story:
Politically the school had an historical role, deserving of a commemorative plaque, in the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago. According to Dr Winston Mahabir, the school was the site of the first of Dr Eric Williams’s famous lectures that eventually led to the formation of the People’s National Movement (PNM) and his 25-year political leadership of the country.
Dr Williams was a QRC alumnus and an island scholar whose academic credentials elevated both the prestige of the island scholar and the intellectual quality of Trinidad politics. This made him more popular with the electorate. The Opposition party was forced to recruit another island scholar, Dr Rudranath Capildeo, to offset Dr Williams’s appeal which led to the period of “Doctah politics”in Trinidad.
Dr Williams was influenced by the Pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey, George Padmore who lived in Russia for a while, and CLR James. He lectured at Naps under the auspices of the “Old Boys Association, among whom were Dr Winston Mahabir and Dr Ibbit Mosaheb, both of whom Dr Williams had courted in their university years.
Both became founding members of the PNM and facilitated Dr Williams’s lecture at Naps when many establishment groups refused to give him a forum. Dr Samaroo, who was a dorm student at the time, surreptitiously audited Dr Williams’s evening lecture and remembered him saying “We must decolonise the minds of Trinidadians”. This illuminating sentence spurred him to become an historian himself.
Unfortunately not only party politics was introduced by Dr Williams but an undercurrent of race politics crept into the nation. Naps students were mainly East Indians with smaller numbers of black and mixed ethnicities. The black students were the school’s best athletes and had a hero following. The Indians were more academic achievers. Nonetheless there was an entente cordiale among the groups as tends to be the case with teenage boys whose main concerns are popularity and peer approval.
After the PNM’s first victory in 1956, a black student who used to share a brown student’s lunch boasted: “We win”to which his colleague replied: “Who win”? The answer, “Black people win, all yuh lose”drew the immediate response, “Oh ho, is so? Gimme back me roti.Despite the politics of division “Naps men”continue to work and achieve together, bonded by their shared school experiences and the precepts of their alma mater song: “No matter where we roam, If near or far from home, Let us be always one, Naparima.”
My stay at Naps saw many outstanding students graduate. Dr. Brinsley Samaroo became History professor Emeritus at UWI, St. Augustine and the acknowledged expert on the Caribbean Indian Diaspora as well as a government minister. Dr. Kenneth Ramchand wrote the definitive criticism of the West Indian novel: The West Indian Novel and its Background and was appointed a Senator. Ian Angus Ali became popular on Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) for his children’s programming Rikki Tikki. Rabindranath “Robin" Maharaj won a National Medal of Merit for outstanding contribution to meteorology and TV weather forecasting. Harold Hosein would enjoy similar meteorological success at Toronto’s City TV and simultaneously promote the changing multicultural face of media in Canada’s dominant metropolis.
In 1960 a classmate, Errol Sitahal, won the Modern Studies runner-up scholarship. He was the stellar actor during our school years and went on to a career on stage, TV and in Hollywood movies including: A Little Princess and Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle. Errol and his co-opted classmates would improvise and act American western movie scenes, risking the wrath of the Dean of discipline for occupying the classroom during lunch hour. These scenes were replete with oral sound effects of ricocheting bullets, galloping hoofbeats and barroom brawls. They captured the imagination of their colleagues who were avid readers of American comic books and listeners of episodes of TheLone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy broadcast on WVDI radio based in Chaguaramas. Several others went on to local and foreign radio and TV careers among whom were Bobby Thomas, Ashton Chambers and Sir Trevor McDonald. Bobby had the most melodious deep throated voice, Ashton the most engaging and Trevor the most cultivated. Trevor became the first black popular TV broadcaster in England.He was the star of the BCN and frequently inveigled some dorm boys to go to the movies mainly to catch the British Pathe News that preceded the screening. On the way back he would mimic the phonetics of the announcers to his companions with the constant enquiry “How ah sound eh? How ah sound?” They would inevitably concede his superior Pathe News diction.
Winston Dookeran graduated with degrees in Economics and went on to become Governor of the Central Bank, a Minister of Finance, leader of the Congress of the People (COP) party and acting Prime Minister. He was instrumental in defusing the Jamaat al Muslimeen coup d’etat of Friday 27 July 1990 for which the country owes him an as yet unacknowledged debt of gratitude.By his intercession he saved the life of Prime Minister ANR Robinson and the lives of several Parliamentarians held hostage by the Muslimeen. He also saved Dr. Williams’ Republic of enlightened Athenian democracy (proclaimed at the “University of Woodford Square”), from the stygian night of a theocratic military dictatorship.
Ramesh L. Maharaj studied law and became the Attorney General in the UNC regime.Winston McKenzie joined the Diplomatic service and became Trinidad’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall, and his brother, Tony Hall, became popular comic and dramatic artists respectively. Ralph Maharaj gave impetus to the theatre arts and initiated local filmmaking. He also served as Minister of External Affairs. Dr. Stella Algoo-Baksh would publish the definitive biography of award winning Barbadian novelist, Austin C. Clarke.Dr. Kusha Harracksingh served as a Senator and became the first Dean of the Law Faculty at UWI, St. Augustine. Dr. Gerard Tikasingh authored: Trinidad During the 19th Century: The Indian Experience. Dr. Deo Poonwassie, Professor Emeritus at University of Manitoba, helped develop PhD studies for aboriginal scholars. Richard Kokaram would become Principal of Hillview when it had its most prolific scholarship successes. Barendra Sinanan studied law and became Speaker of the House of Representatives. Single-term sixth form alumnus, Hansley Hanoomansingh, would find a career in radio and TV broadcasting, become the youngest ever Member of Parliament, champion the cause of Divali Nagar and propagate Indian culture through his own Heritage Radio station. Ken Rajkumar-Maharaj, gifted in both science and humanities, would be intrigued by and succumb to the challenge of the new profession of software programming and create the Naps website in 1996, the first among the Trinidad schools. Lance Moore was an outstanding athlete in cricket, soccer, table tennis and track and field. He represented the country in soccer. Roy Jagroopsingh laid the sport infrastructure at Naps that enabled it to become a dominant soccer and cricket school through the years 1973-2010. Dr. Allen Sammy became a Director of The West Indies Cricket Board.
In 1978 many of the graduates of my years including myself, formed Naparima Alumni Association of Canada (NAAC) which is the longest serving overseas Trinidad alumni. Beside annual donations to the five Presbyterian High Schools they raised over $30,000.00 CAD towards the building of the Naps gym/auditorium and their work was recognized by the Trinidad Government with the National Medal of Merit in 2000. Interestingly Carroll Gajraj, the St. Mary’s Languages and Jerningham scholar of my year and a devout catholic, willingly nominated NAAC for the Medal. Such is the healing balm of time and the diasporic experience of living abroad.
NOTE – It writing this account, Algoo consulted Dr. Premchand Ratan, Dr. Allan McKenzie, Dr. Brinsley Samaroo, Ken Rajkumar-Maharaj, Henry Bissoon, Mulchan Boodhoo, James Lee Wah, Fred Thornhill Imogen Foster-Algoo, Dr. Winston Mahabir: In and Out of Politics. Inprint Caribbean, 1978, Sydney C. Hill: To Live Twice Over To Live Forever- Memoirs of Sir Lindsay Grant . n.p. 1988, and ETeck: History of Wallerfield, 2005.http://www.viddler.com/v/5c1a5bf0