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Ken Ramchand

Wesley Gibbings

For over 10 years—between 1987 and 1998—Professor Emeritus Kenneth Ramchand’s T&T Guardian column, ‘Matters Arising’, was required reading for anyone with an interest in national and global public affairs, literature, scholastic discourse and clever ole-talk and humour.

During that period, Ramchand also served as an independent senator, university lecturer, and resident expert on anything to do with Caribbean literature—a function he still performs, by the way.

Through ‘Matters Arising’, he was able to capture the essence of the people and issues he encountered as a public intellectual, a literary mentor, a storyteller, and as someone with a deep interest in the future of T&T and the Caribbean.

Today, and in time for the gift-giving season, a collection of these columns, published by Royards Publishing, is now available at selected bookstores and soon, via online platforms.

In the Author’s Preface to the collection of these columns, Ramchand confesses to having written “instinctively” on an extensive range of subjects.

Such concerns include climate change, alternative energy, “the pernicious nature of the political party”, economism, materialism and greed, the threats to racial harmony, the oppression of women, the abuse of Parliament and democracy, education, cultural expression, selfhood, equity, empathy, “the geniuses we have produced”, the University, seeking haven, being a fisherman, and “in every breath, the sustaining environment.”

Reading the columns in this collection years later, the author’s interests are recognisable in measures of different voices speaking from a variety of vantage points. Yet, there is a common, universalistic thread of concern that hovers over the human condition.

“Going over these writings now, I find they were not separate from my work or my daily living. The things that were worrisome and exciting then are still worrisome and exciting,” Ramchand concedes.

Close followers of the column have been known to cite ‘Matters Arising’ on many issues. For instance, ‘Let them call it Buss-Up Shut’ was published on November 30, 1989.

In that column, Ramchand argued against linguistic degradation of “paratha” to something called “buss-up shut.” To conduct such messaging, the writer cast himself as a roti vendor who said he had been “christen as a Hindu.”

Through the voice of the nameless vendor, a full-scale assault is also launched on growing reference to the term “dhall-purie skin.” Many years later, Ramchand finds his name being called in absentia during arguments about this, almost as frequently as his dogged observations about a grammatical error in the national anthem.

For some strange reason, the ill-fated footballing Strike Squad of 1989 is drawn into the “buss-up shut” discourse for good measure. All in support of an assertion that Trinis appear preoccupied with “jumbieing ourselves with sounding words and extravagant slogans.”

Through most of it, there are voices reminiscent of early VS Naipaul, especially in the storytelling pieces. This is not surprising. “Instant readability,” was how Ramchand described the late Nobel Laureate’s great skill. Indeed, such can be said of the expected credentials of accomplished newspaper columnists.

For sure, there are characters like Angwoo in The Wife’s Lament published on January 6, 1988. The roti guy of “buss-up shut” fame and the writer’s tale of ‘Her Own House.” But there are also the professorial voices exploring VS Naipaul (via Seepersad Naipaul), Derek Walcott (If Loving these Islands must be my Load) and Ernest Hemingway (The Fish Who brought in a Man).

Of Walcott on the occasion of his 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature, Ramchand surmises: “I cannot think of a writer more deserving of the Nobel prize than Derek Walcott. If Vidia Naipaul had got the nod, I would have said “I cannot think of a writer more deserving of the Nobel prize than Vidia Naipaul.”

But it was to Naipaul’s ‘Mimic Men’ the columnist turned for an understanding of the shattered politics that signalled the end of his own enchantment. It was in 1987, following the success of the ill-fated National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) administration ‘Matters Arising’ occupied fixed space on the pages of the T&T Guardian. There was Ramchand, “hopeful of racial harmony, rationality and fairness, when the National Alliance for Reconstruction swept into power in 1986.”

Successive columns reflected a broken heart sustained only by defiant hopefulness. “The theme I discovered in what I wrote is how the common man feels about what is going on around him, his memories of the dangers he has passed, his struggles with the present, and his preparation for what is to come,” Ramchand explains.

‘Matters Arising’ mourns as much as it celebrates. It is thus much more than holiday reading. It deserves space on every Caribbean bookshelf and everywhere else the collection’s universal themes of love, loss and triumph belong.