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Mutiny without the bounty
My name is Raffique Shah and I led a mutiny in Trinidad. I was 24 years young in 1970, brash, daring— and maybe stupid! Why else would my colleagues and I seize control of the people’s army and not liquidate the inept excuse for a high command? I’m glad we didn’t, though. No blood on our hands.
I come from a working class/peasant background. Freeport was a cosmopolitan cradle, a really mixed population, living mostly in harmony. With a background like that, with close friends from every race and religion, how could I even think race? In our house, we dared not use the A, B, C or F-word. Which is probably why I eventually secured a PhD in obscene language! Call it conquering suppression of expression.
I have two brothers and two sisters, all good Muslims. In this regard, I’m a good-for-nothing. I didn’t so much fall from belief as rise to enlightenment, which came while I was at Sandhurst and read many works of the great philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment.
I was influenced, too, by the generational upheaval of the 1960s: the music, iconic freedom fighters. Bertrand Russell and Sartre were alive and kicking a**. So I questioned belief, but remained a Muslim. Until I returned home in 1967 and discovered an imam [I knew] was a common crook. I left the mosque and never returned to that one or any other.
In 1970, I declared before a shocked court martial that I was agnostic. The president, Col Danjuma, had to consult the judge advocate to find out what that meant. I don’t worry about hell, reincarnation and all that crap. In any event, I’ve been a good soul, so if indeed there is heaven and hell, I’m going to heaven.
I attended more primary schools than the law allowed, the last being Carapichaima EC. At 12, I entered what, the following year (1959), would become Pres Chaguanas. I shame to admit that [current National Security Minister] Jack Warner attended the same college, but he was in the “carat shed” (C form) and I was in Special.
The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst was the only tertiary institution I attended. There, they taught boys how to kill people using a range of weapons. Luckily for Trinidad, I was a pacifist at heart. I read voraciously. I’ve owned a Kindle for two years. I read lots of fiction for relief from the real s*** that threatens to suffocate us.
I must have read a few thousand books in my life. At any given time, I’m reading two books, an epic that puts me in a mellow mood (right now it’s Ken Follet’s Winter of the World, second of a trilogy), and a fast-paced thriller.
It gives me great satisfaction knowing I played a pivotal role in 1983 in conceptualising and organising the first mass marathon. My initiative spawned lots of 10Ks, 5Ks, half-marathons, road relays, clubs, triathlons, not only in T&T, but up the Caribbean.
Road running gives ordinary keep-fit enthusiasts a chance to be in the same event with elite athletes. You can’t just get onto a track and line up next to Usain Bolt. But you could be in the same half-marathon with Geoffrey Mutai or Ronnie Holassie or Tonya Nero (watch that girl, eh, she’s our new star).
[Fellow rebel] Rex Lassalle and I had agreed there would be no bloodshed, once we could avoid it. When the Coast Guard opened fire on our convoy, we did not return fire. Hundreds would have died. As stupid as this may sound, we were prepared to die for the revolution, but we could not kill for it.
I experienced fear on the morning of the mutiny when, having made our decision and deployed our men, Rex and I, rifles in hand, set out to arrest the commanding officer. I was entering unknown and very dangerous territory. But once I fired the first shot and the action got under way, I was never afraid again.
When I realised our action had not succeeded, I knew we would pay a heavy price. I was more concerned for the men I had led into the mutiny. That was why I accepted full responsibility for their actions, for having given them orders. Being Trini is having the capacity to tolerate s***: to laugh, not cry, and to chip or wine in the face of adversity. T&T is my oyster, my world. In spite of all the s*** that happens here.
Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com
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