A former acting prime minister, a Calypso queen and the doctor who diagnosed the first case of AIDS in the English-speaking Caribbean have this year been awarded the country's highest award.
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Far from the Mountain—an uphill task
Broadcaster Jai Parasram’s contribution to the political records of T&T—Far from the Mountain—is an unapologetically sympathetic chronicle of the travels and travails of the United National Congress (UNC), both in and out of power between 1981, when it subsisted as the United Labour Front (ULF), and in 2010 as part of the victorious People’s Partnership (PP) coalition.
Ajay Parasram’s introduction to the 442-page volume concedes “this collection of editorial commentaries does not lay claim to being an objective account of history…”
It is recommended that the rest of the introduction, curiously entitled, The long road to de-colonisation: Understanding our political present, be promptly ignored. Skip quickly to Section One.
There you would find little to suggest that Parasram (Jai) is keen on the journalistic compulsion to pursue a variety of leads and perspectives regarding the developments that took the UNC into and out of office and then back again as the dominant party within the PP coalition.
Neither are there the investigative instincts of the historian interested in verifiable, deterministic features of recorded events.
In fact, much of it is rather casual insider insight complete with the drama and emotion of developments that led to personal hurt, anger, satisfaction and elation.
The book comprises the hopeful accounts of the challenges and achievements of a political organisation that began a journey in single-minded pursuit of political office, culminating in the PP victory of May 24, 2010, described by Parasram as “the day the nation of T&T took charge of its destiny and proclaimed with a single voice, We are one people!”
It can however be valuable as part of a more wholesome excursion into the political headlines of the period 2007-2010.
It is not useful as a tool to assess the strengths and weaknesses of either the 1981 experiment with the National Alliance of Trinidad and Tobago (NATT), in which the ULF was a leading member, or the developments leading to the 1986 launch and subsequent dismantling of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR).
It also does not offer a useful pathway to unraveling the difficulties of the NAR administration beyond the author’s assertion that “(Basdeo) Panday handed the leadership of the NAR to Robinson, but that failed because the opposition became a single party with no room for dissent and discussion among its different components.”
Later on, when the question of the Movement for Social Justice’s (MSJ) tumultuous relations within the PP arises, the author declares MSJ leader, David Abdulah a victim of “dissociative identity disorder (DID) and pretty much open to sanction by UNC/PP leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar” (referred to throughout the book as Kamla) who “has been nice so far but…can also be brutal and surgical in dealing with cancers that threaten to hurt the body politic.”
This collection of columns and other reminiscences can be heavy going at times and newcomers to the T&T political scene may have to sit near a computer bookmarked at Google, but its pleasant prose and readability demonstrate the author’s credentials as a seasoned public communicator.
Eight well-arranged sections read like a series of political tracts, rendered as “notes and commentaries” by the editors. Historian Gerard Besson is much more charitable in the publisher’s note.
“Jai, ever the master storyteller, weaves facts of the past that are easily forgotten in the urgency of the present into an overall narrative that makes them memorable and logical,” Besson writes. “And the savvy political strategist also shimmers through these pages.
“Jai takes position and does not spare with ammunition, so reader, be ready for numerous volleys,” he adds.
The foreword written by Dr Hamid Ghany describes the author as “a patriot” who has “reported and analysed the news.”
“But there is a side to his amazing life that has not recorded the extent to which he has, in fact, helped make the news,” Dr Ghany says. Readers of ‘Far from the Mountain’ would be minded to await such a published account.
In the meantime, have a read of this book. It’s an uphill task at times, but worth the effort if you take it for what it is.