Naipaul’s birthplace on verge of collapse

Monday, March 18, 2019 - 07:45

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