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Rekindling the West Indian experience in New York
Romancing the twin island state of T&T was a short but enriching affair, befitting the onset of spring like conditions, after months of harsh weather. Scores of nationals showed up at the nation's consulate in downtown Manhattan to relive the glory years of West Indian cricket through the stories of novelist Ewart Rouse. Also on hand and equally captivating were the displays of renowned photographer Glenroy Chapman.
Both artists are Trinidadians who reside in New Jersey. Interestingly, they were also soft spoken but their message was amplified through their work.
Rouse's Sticky Wicket series is characterised as novels—but it's anything but fictional. His daughter, Karen, an accomplished journalist, called her father's love for cricket, voracious. “He would disappear for hours writing. We never really knew what it was but here it is,” pointing to the four volume set. She recalled growing up in a home enlivened and tailored by cricket. “Going out to watch games was a medium for Caribbean integration. The women would sit there watching and supportive. Everyone was like an extension of our family,” she recalled. A journalist for the Guardian decades ago, Rouse also worked for the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Associated Press. But to this day cricket remains his first love. As he told the attentive audience, “You write what you know about.”
Rouse breathes cricket. At 70, he is manager and founding member of Echelon Cricket Club in New Jersey. He was nostalgic, a product of West Indian cricket during the last throes of colonialism. For a moment he viewed the game through this defining prism of West Indian history. It was the era of the two prong pace attack of Hall and Griffith, the three Ws, Rohan Kanhai and Garfield Sobers. He did not see the likes of Brian Lara so he recoiled at comparing eras, stating only “that no one plays for honor and country any more,” and that the sport “may be no longer embraced as soccer and basketball.” But in as much as he relished the past, he was very much a social analyst that evening, studying and comparing trends in cricket.
The Sticky Wicket series was well received by critics and encapsulate the growing pains of the sport in the US. It showcases the collective experiences of immigrants from the former British colonies where cricket is defined as the national sport. “Cricket in the suburbs in New York and New Jersey is going through the same challenges that Carnival did. It is taking some time before we get full acceptance,” Rouse opined. In Sticky Wicket the truth is said in jest. “There is a lot of clean humour,” he added, “but the overriding theme of the books is about overcoming obstacles.” Minutes later, he spoke briefly about the clash of cultures and the resistance experienced by immigrants bent on enjoying their pastime. “We still have to fight with soccer moms and little league baseball for space on city owned grounds...and they outnumber us and have more political clout. But we have to fight back for recognition,” he said, upbeat about the future of the sport in the US.
As Rouse signed his collection, Chapman, a former US soldier and art graduate, was not to be outshone. His deeply rich and colourful photographs were everywhere, depicting the colonial and contemporary architecture of his native land, along with its pristine and natural features. “As a young man I can't remember walking without a camera,” he said. At 49, Chapman, who was raised in Port of Spain, is a single dad whose talents have also touched his son. “He does great work but seems more interested in soccer,” he said. At the moment, Chapman is anticipating greater exposure in his homeland, and is laying the ground work for an exhibit there. He described his work as “artistic photography,” where he fashions his craft “through the lens of a painter.”
Photography he said “captures and saves moments and places and things for a lifetime, and beyond,” recalling his photograph of the twin towers just before they were knocked down in 2001. Evoking bitter-sweet emotions, he also reminisced on “the gems” he captured in Haiti before the devastating earthquake. The evening was far from over but Rouse and Chapman had already made lasting impressions.
(Dr Glenville Ashby—Foreign correspondent)