Old Friends

By Raffique Shah
April 03, 2023

Raffique ShahAs we mature in life, reaching what most people consider their mid-years, we may occasionally pause and consider what older folks have been preaching for as far back as we remember: you lose so many friends in your latter life, it’s not funny. I am seventy-seven, and I often consider that in my tiny community, there are only two other men, no women, of similar age who can reflect on events that occurred when we were, say, forty.

There is a crisis of sorts among geriatrics, one demographic that grows almost daily, faster than even young men who have become gun-and-bandit-fodder in this crime-ridden era: the few adults with whom we can hold conversations are becoming fewer. Unless you are among those who gravitate to sitcoms of a million years ago—Cosby, Sanford—or, like me, you have read most of the good, stimulating books that have been written, what does an old man do?

My friend David Brizan, who is mere months ahead of me, has, like thousands others, made golf his second life. I know that besides costing you some of your retirement benefits, it does provide exercise value. But that is for people who are fully mobile, not victims of Parkinson’s, like me. Still, David and I would converse for near hours on a range of topics that we both enjoy, from history to health and most of all poking fun at public figures. I shall linger a little on the relation between David and me: I first met him in 1965 when he joined us at Sandhurst, an enthusiastic spit-and-polish officer cadet who like us before him had no idea what he would face over that grueling two-year course.

I having endured the experience saw the need to advise him on ways and means of making it easier for him. Sandhurst is hell. The young officer-cadet must understand the treatment that will be meted-out to him, and to psychologically and physically keep himself in shape to graduate from that hell-hole that in the 1960s was tougher on non-Whites than others.

Anyway, time flies and so does the Sandhurst experience— the good, the bad and the uglier side of that elite military academy. By the time David returned to T&T in 1966-1967, Trinidad and Tobago was boiling in revolutionary spill-over from North America and Europe as well as liberation wars in Vietnam, Mozambique what was then Rhodesia, and other colonies of imperial Europe. While at Sandhurst, we had read extensively from the works of Castro and Che, Stokely and Fanon, and others. We had a great interest in what was happening across the world. David returned alongside Lennox ‘Sqingy’ Gordon and the men’s barracks were also boiling with revolutionary talk and literature.

I shan’t go into the details and events of 1970 here: another time, another place. I must however indicate, that David and I, ‘Sqingy’, Rex Lassalle, Mike Bazie were among the bright, young officers who mixed with our men in discussing global revolutionary developments. It was as if our thirst for knowledge was insatiable. Outside of the barracks, the young people of the country were also rising up, criticising the neo-colonial society that we inherited from the British. Everything will overflow or maybe more applicable, explode on April 21st. And, the rest as they say, is history.

Rex and I, and Mike Bazie to an extent led the charge for change in the military. David was by then on a military course in Canada. A letter he wrote to Rex from his training location landed him before a court-martial which sentenced him to imprisonment. We officers and many of the soldiers faced similar fates. But Rex and I, working with our lawyers had the courts set us free after 27 months in prison. As the post-prison years rolled by, we followed different paths. All these streams kept us exercising our intellects, using our brains, our skills and our training at Sandhurst to advance in a post-revolutionary environment in which others may have buckled. Mostly, we fought back in different ways. One thing, we never gave up on our country and we never stopped discussing its options for change. What is striking about us is that our race differences (I was the only Indian officer at that time) did not exist or impede our bonding from those who stayed on and rose to high command ranks to us on the outside, we lived the only way we knew it, as patriotic Trinis and Tobagonians ought to live.

David and I, even now, continue to build on that bond from fifty-odd years ago. He came from Trou Macaque Laventille, I from Beaucarro, Freeport and Mike from La Brea joins in. Three old Sandhurst graduates, schooled on the streets of this country, still trying to hold it together as one country in which race has no place.

5 thoughts on “Old Friends”

  1. “While at Sandhurst, we had read extensively from the works of Castro and Che, Stokely and Fanon, and others. We had a great interest in what was happening across the world”.

    Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is India foreign minister. When ask about India purchasing Russian oil, Jaishankar response “ “Somewhere Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems. That if it is you, it’s yours, if it is me it is ours. I see reflections of that,” Jaishankar quipped.

    We live in an era of tremendous global geopolitical shift such as never seen before for the last 50 years. The Western media has shied away from the political realities of the world. Recently China and Russia met. Out of that meeting the Russians agreed to trade in Chinese currency. Before that the US dollar was the standard. African nations are now economically tied to China with one African leader telling his citizens to get rid of their U.S. dollars in the next few weeks. Another African leader standing next to US Vice President Kamala Devi Harris and telling her that their nation trust China a strong rebuke to the U.S. VP. He went on to talk about China coming and building highways, hospitals, schools and sporting centers. The dragon signed a deal with 70 nations, Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory of the “Belt and Road” initiative.

    The geopolitical shift and waning of US global influence is occurring at a rapid pace. In 2021, China owns $1.095 trillion of the total $28 trillion U.S. national debt. Will Beijing make a power move in the US and sell off their Treasury Bonds. Former US President Donald Trump saw the danger of trade imbalances with China and sought to correct it. Along came Covid 19 and things changed. Since then business has resumed as usual.

    African leaders are waking up to the changing global dynamics and have seen the US, CIA attempts to disembowel Africa economy. When Muammar Gaddafi rule, Libya had one of the highest standards of living in Africa. Now, the war economy has sent costs skyrocketing, and there are widespread problems with medicine shortages and power cuts. Civilians are in danger of getting caught in the unpredictable fighting – and kidnappings for ransom by militias are common.

    More than 200,000 people are internally displaced and 1.3 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN. Casualty numbers are highly politicised and hard to verify, with estimates ranging from 2,500 to 25,000 during the 2011 uprising alone.

    African leaders are fully aware what the US did in Libya. Muammar was talking about replacing the US dollar with the gold dinar. Once that happened NATO entered and savagely bombed Libya. African leaders are turning to China and Russia. The Opposition Leader in South Africa boldly telling the Americans that they are not welcomed in South Africa, and that no one should attempt to arrest Putin, he is welcome in South Africa.

    US foreign policy is at work in Africa with Uganda being told to decriminalize gay unions or face a drop in US Aid. That is how far the US has gone to the left. Putin has in the past repeatedly expressed his disdain of western “liberal” values, comparing cancel culture with the coronavirus. When asked last year by a Russian journalist about Rowling, Putin said he “adhered to the traditional approach – a woman is a woman, a man is a man, a mother is a mother, a father is a father” He has stated categorically that west want to impose their values on the rest of the world, forcing priest to perform same sex marriages. Africans prefer to adhere to Putin view of human civilization instead of the Western insanity.

    I predict in the next five years we will be living in a totally different world than the one we grew up in!!!

    1. What’s amazing is the disappearance of the huge gold bullion that were held in Libya prior to the rebellion. No reports of this in international media including RT.

  2. The Three Blind Mice. You three Colonial Mis-educated mercenaries, did Trinidad wrong. Yes, we were on the Streets in 1970, not knowing the political reverberations of anything, the bottom line is, that we were mis-led by the ones more intelligent than us at the time. Should we ever forgive Njac for keeping us in the Darkness of ignorance? their actions with Kamla, and the Peoples partnership in general, allowed their deviousness to be visible. You and your Boys are today living in oblivion, while enjoying the pastimes of your colonial masters. The very young Trinidad coming out of Slavery/Indentureship/Colonialism/ into negotiated Independence, was Plunge into Chaotic Darkness less than 7yrs after an arranged Independence. Had Dr Williams been a despot, U and your boys would not have been around today reminiscing on the ILLS that you, and many others have failed to RECTIFY. In Retrospect, your Actions of 1970 is very accurate today. Extra-judicial killings by the Police post 1970 to present can be rightly said to be directly related to U and your Boy’s Cowardly Actions. Cowardly is the only word that can justify your Failures of that Era, what seems to have been right in the eyes of some in a yesteryear, is totally wrong Today. You have continue to write about Crime-Infested Trinidad, Yes, the Seed was planted 7yrs post Self Political Rule. 1970 Changed “Tuute Bhagai”. One question Bro Shah? Were the doctrines of Our Freedom Fighters part of your KILLING school’s curriculum? or part of extra readings. Sandhurst still holds an indeligible place and space in your Matter it seems, this Diminished school of Neo-Colonialism, have continue to leave its mark, as it leads most into perpetual Darkness.

  3. There are some Trinis who I know have been out done by the political system over the years but remain loyal to their heritage, roots and country. This occurs in their homeland and for some Trinis living abroad as well. However, I would have concurred with you ‘that race has no place’ and that is true for some cultured individuals but unfortunately even in the corridors of power and the layman at his work place it is amazing how the ugly head of race do find a place. It some times take a flood to reveal such.

  4. The names of some of the ‘brothers’ you mentioned: Michael Barzey and Mr.Gordon (former CQMS of A Company- of whose Sandhurst affiliation, up to this point, I was kept in the dark) bring back memories for a fellow septuagenarian. Well do I remember my first Camp experience at Gasparillo- surviving in foetid mud for two weeks. But for other opportunities, I might have joined you at Sandhurst- it was that close. But, Jah guides.

    It would be interesting to hear more and perhaps share, via this medium.

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