Tuesday, February 20, 2018

T&T’s oldest laid to rest at 110


last rites: Relatives of Sogaree Jattan carry her casket at the Siewdass Sadhu Temple in Waterloo yesterday during her funeral.

Mark Fraser

SOGAREE JATTAN, the indentured labourer who died a day after the Indian Arrival holiday on May 30 at age 110, lived a full and exciting life, her family said at her funeral yesterday

Jattan, believed to be the country’s oldest citizen at the time, died at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.

Her funeral service was held at her Standford Street, California, home. 

To the country, Jattan was seen solely in a historical light but to her grandchildren, she was most adventurous and generous.

Five people spoke  at Jattan’s funeral service yesterday: genealogist Shamshu Deen, who has investigated the ancestry of many descendants of immigrants, Member of Parliament for Couva South Rudranath Indarsingh, neighbour Bhola Maharaj and two grandchildren—Julie and Rachelle Soogree— who reside in Canada.

Julie Soogree said: “I remember my grandmother as a very active person and an adventurer. Every time we come here (to Trinidad) we would go get her daughter, Dolcina, and we go around the island and have fun, parties, travel and explore and my grandmother loved to go around and meet people.” 

She gave a story about the first time she came to Trinidad at age 23. She said for three consecutive days she visited Jattan, fondly known as “Ma”, at home hoping to meet her and it was only on the third day she did.

Soogree, 44, said: “We asked her, ‘Where were you?’ She said to our father, she looked at him and said, ‘Sonnyboy, I have other things to do than wait around for you. I have places to go, people to meet and things to do. I am a busy woman’.”

She said: “Whenever we go as children, she would always give us money to travel so we could always come back and see her, but she was always very generous, whenever we came to visit with us or anybody else who ever came to visit.”

For the eight months before she died, Jattan was taken care of by Soogree’s cousins, Esther and Natasha Boyd, who met her only a few years ago.

Born in Uttar Pradesh, India, Jattan arrived in Trinidad in 1907 aboard the ship Indus with her mother, Ramdai. She was three years old then. No one knew the exact day she was born and her birthday was usually celebrated on Indian Arrival Day.

Her parents both died when she was ten and she began working on sugar estates in California, clearing para grass  which was detrimental to sugarcane crops.

She never went to school or learned to read or write but all her children did. Jattan never married. Her last child, Dhanraj Soogree. is a medical doctor specialising in emergency medicine in Toronto, Canada. 

Her greatest joy was her children. She had five children, 19 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.

When the Express visited her in 2012, she said she had no regrets in life and she was “ready to die”.

She was presented with the National Republic Day Award in 2008 for her long-standing contribution to national development to the country.

There is now only one surviving Indian indentured labourer—Samoondari Doon, who was born in 1912 and lives in St Charles, Princes Town, according to Deen.

On August 28, 2013, Satnarine Deen Persad, another indentured labourer, died at age 101 as a result of respiratory failure.

His son, Sieudath Samoondar, said Jattan and his father were good friends who came to Trinidad on the same ship, but at different times.