Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.
My name is Sunity Maharaj
and the new normal is also my old normal.
I’ve been working from home for years. I have the “virtual” life down pat.
The seamless existence suits me. I don’t like putting off joy, so I’ve mastered the art of writing in a hammock, turning a pot, staying in touch with my networks and jumping to whatever exciting thing comes along. All at the same time. There are not enough hours in the day, so I squeeze them out of the night as well.
My parents brought up 11 children on a cane farmer’s earnings, all encouraged to go far with formal education. Remarkably, all 11 of us are still here, although our parents have passed on.
As the last girl and tenth child, I was spared almost all of the juggling my siblings, farmer’s children, had to do, like managing a day’s work at home before heading to school. For me, [agriculture] was all adventure, bumping along on my father’s tractor-trailer from our Spring Village, Balmain, home to the Calcutta Settlement fields to plant rice in the lagoon or “salt” cane with my little paint pan full of fertiliser.
In 40-something years, I’ve worked in and out of newsrooms at four newspapers and four TV stations, TTT (briefly), the Guardian (notoriously). I have enjoyed every moment and left when I didn’t. I’ve met five or six generations of journalists.
Whatever else I was doing in the last 30 years, I was also working on the Trinidad and Tobago Review. A whole other story in a precious part of my life that embraced love and the birth of my two daughters, the living expression of that love.
I first met my late husband, Lloyd Best, the day T&T woke to the news Dr Eric Williams had died and again six years later, on the 100th day of the NAR government. Lloyd, Selwyn Ryan and Trevor Farrell were invited to evaluate the NAR performance at an editors’ breakfast meeting Owen Baptiste put on at the Hilton. I was struck by how precisely Lloyd’s worldview mirrored my own.
I refuse to go down the rabbit hole of “missing Lloyd”. His work has assured that death has not quelled the living force that he is. Lloyd’s work on the Caribbean condition will find its place. He is waiting for us in the future.
I was born into a very Hindu home but I enjoy all religions — not as politics, but as culture. I'm as comfortable in an Orisha shrine as in a Hindu temple or Islamic mosque or Christian church. I see them all as remarkably similar expressions of communities trying to make sense of the mysteries of the universe, when boiled down to such essential values as "do unto others".
I love Tunapuna. There’s something very settled-yet-open about a place given its name by the area’s indigenous people. Tunapuna has a sense of community built up over generations and its rich confluence of cultures: rural/urban, agricultural/commercial, Afro/Indo — and possibly every religion, including Rastafarianism and Sikhism. Covid disruption aside, on any given day you might hear the sounds of a Maticoor night tassa heralding a Hindu wedding, or Exodus playing pan, or Orisha drumming, or the strains of gospel or dancehall or calypso or soca, or pop, or country & western in the air. Tunapuna has its challenges but I find great peace here.
Given a choice between Goodness without Godliness and Godliness without Goodness, I'll take Goodness every time.
There has been enough magic in my life for me to accept that forces outside myself have made a huge difference in my life. Lloyd called it “accidents”. Most people call it “God". And I say "magic". I don't know if there's an afterlife but, if there is, it will take me as I am; if not, well, I would've lived the life I wanted to, anyway. And that will be good enough for me.
I don't know if we were created in the image of God but I recognise that each of us creates God in our own image. The God of insecure, vengeful people brings down wrath, pestilence and punishment. The God of caring, compassionate people is always merciful, wise and loving. Show me your God and I'll show you who you are.
I credit my interest in current affairs to my family environment and Preysal Government School teachers. I was about six when, arriving in class one morning, Mrs Dass, said, “Here’s Sunity, she would know: who is the Opposition Leader?” I promptly replied “Dr Rudranath Capildeo”. Sonny Nanan, a Preysal teaching legend, would go through the newspapers before the entire school assembly. I don’t know how many others paid attention but I distinctly recall being fired up by the dreaded Industrial Stabilisation Act.
I can’t remember ever being bored.
At around age eight, my mother took me to the doctor because I would just sit in the sun for hours.
I wasn’t ill; I was just thinking. Most likely about something sparked by a book.
In my childhood, storybooks were a luxury most families couldn’t afford, so I feasted on my elder siblings’ literature texts. And a collection including Shakespeare, Dickens and many other classic English writers.
My cherished Preysal Village memories are of school and school friends, Balmain of childhood and temple friends. Bhajans and pujas, Sunday morning sandhyas, full moon kathas and yaghs in the old Spring Village mandir.
I have the warmest memories of singing the Ramayan by lamplight in rural places.
St Augustine High School came as a disruption to my blissful village life. Transport being what it was, I had to move to my sister’s home, closer to school. The SAGHS emphasis on all-round development under principal Anna Mahase was good for me. I had incredible teachers: Joy Moore in literature, Vera Warner in history, the Naipaul sisters - Sati Bissoondath and Kamla Tewarie in geography and literature, respectively. Cheryl Henry, a wonderful drill-mistress of a P.E. teacher, kept me on the hockey team notwithstanding my limited stamina.
Seeing me hustle to some wrong answer, my geography teacher, Sati Bissondath said, “You know what your problem is? You think too fast!”
I found my way into journalism completely by accident. To do an extra-mural course[requiring] experience before heading on university, I found my way to the Express in Penitence Street. Zorina Shah, one of the most knowledgeable, passionate journalists ever to have graced the profession suggested [the main office]. My father went with me, because I had no experience of travelling to Port of Spain. The gentleman editor, Leslie Brunton, probably asked three questions before [hiring me]. I took to reporting under just the right news editor, Jerome Tang Lee, like a duck to water. I couldn’t believe I was being paid all of $565 a month to enjoy myself so much. I ended up saving thousands of dollars because I had no time for spending. Skye Hernandez remains my closest friend after over 40 years.
In one of his famous newsroom overhauls, Express editor-in-chief, Owen Baptiste, made me news editor with just four years’ reporting experience under my belt. It was either sink or swim. I was saved by an incredible night desk headed by Mervyn Wells. Eight years would pass before I did that degree at UWI in Mona, Jamaica.
In Jamaica I became the Caribbean citizen that I am today.
If I’m ever asked to account for my life, I’d like to have a half-decent answer. I imagine it going: Me: “The world was not yet perfect and I wanted to help, but I had so much work and there was so much crime, and …” Voice [interrupts]: “Yes, but you were there…” Me: “But there was so much traffic… and the government…” Voice [interrupts]: “Yes, but you were there.” Me: “But the politics…. and Covid-19…” Voice: “Yes, but you were there.” So here I am, just trying to account for myself.
I consume all sports, everywhere, as a reader, but don’t have a favourite team. But, because I believe in redemption, I keep faith with the Windies.
I'm pretty eclectic when it comes to books, music, and the arts generally. No accounting for my taste. But VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street is special to me because I had read nothing like it before I read it. Same with Earl Lovelace’s The Wine of Astonishment.
To me, a Trini is… molecules of possibility.
To me, Trinidad & Tobago means an idea really worth really fighting for. As for me, I’m Trini to the bone and Caribbean to the core.