Vagrants have moved into Lion House, the childhood home of late Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul, which is in an advanced state of dilapidation and could collapse at any time.
The once majestic white structure made famous in Naipaul’s book, A House for Mr Biswas, in which he transforms the representations of lions carved on the front of the building into the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman.
However, although it has undergone extensive restoration works in the past, Lion House was left abandoned following the death of attorney Surendranath Capildeo, grandson of Pundit Capildeo, the indentured labourer who built the house.
Regarded as one of the architectural treasures, the building is listed by the National Trust and is considered to be of major historical significance in central Trinidad.
Chaguanas Mayor Gopaul Boodhan and Tabaquite MP Suruj Rambachan, who visited the building yesterday, came upon Suruj Samuel, a homeless man who sleeps in front of the dilapidated doors of the structure. Samuel is one of several vagrants now occupying the structure. He stores his few possessions in cardboard boxes and sleeps under a rotted wooden beam that could collapse at any time.
Rambachan, a resident of Chaguanas, said he was very disheartened at the state of Lion House. He estimates that it will collapse within two years unless urgent repairs are done.
He peered through a groove in the wooden front doors held together by a rusty padlock at the interior of the building where the floors have caved in and there are signs of major water damage.
“I am very, very disturbed, disheartened and depressed at what I am seeing happening to Lion House here in Chaguanas,” he said.
“This is one of the most tragic things I am seeing in my country at this point in time. The deterioration of this building says something about our value for our history and our ancestry.”
Rambachan said he hopes the relevant authorities will see it fit to conduct immediate repairs.
“If you cannot appreciate where you came from, you would never be able to build the kind of future that would be one our children can be proud of,” he said.
He recommended that the building be acquired by Government and “restored with the same enthusiasm that was placed in the restoration of Stollmeyers Castle.”
Boodhan said since the property is privately owned there is very little the Chaguanas Borough Corporation apart from getting the vagrants to relocate.
Lion House was last restored in the early 1990s by Surendranath Capildeo who retained architect Colin Laird to advise on and supervise the project, awarded to EWAC & Co. Ltd with Glen Espinet in charge.
Work was halted for a view years during which the building was vandalised, so the project had to start all over again. The restoration was eventually completed in 2001 with all the costs borne by Capildeo.
In 2013, then tourism minister Stephen Cadiz announced that a master plan was being developed to transform Brechin Castle, Couva, into an East Indian heritage site. That plan included restoration of the Lion House. He said a budget had already been formulated for the restoration work and discussions would be held with Capildeo.
However, since Capildeo’s death in 2016, Lion House has been left abandoned.
The Lion House has been many things to many people in its early history. It was the meeting place for many travellers from all over Trinidad who were passing through Chaguanas.
It was also an early community centre for the residents of Chaguanas and surrounding areas. It was the natural home for Hindu Pilgrims wherever they may have resided in Trinidad. At some point in their lives, they gathered for comfort under the awnings of the Lion House on the Main Road, Chaguanas. Ganja was sold at the Lion House and it was consumed there, by the public without any discomfort to anyone.
- by Shashtri Boodan