By Raffique Shah
August 15, 2023
A wave of emotions almost overwhelmed me. Yesterday Saturday she will have marked her seventy-sixth year on Earth. There are signs of aging, of course, but not too many that they will have diminished her beauty. Age has also come with some of the infirmities that accompany it, but none as crippling as Parkinson’s Disease that has lodged itself in me. Not that she needs reassuring, but I often profess my love to her. We smile at and with each other. Being my wife, she has been through what few women, especially the wives of public figures, endure.
We had known each other for just about three years when I, a soldier by profession, plunged into politics eyes-wide-open. I led the now infamous mutiny during the 1970 Black Power Revolution while Rosina, whom I had known from her high school days, was aware that I held strong revolutionary and left-wing ideals, she had no idea that I would attempt to transform words into action, risk my life and my relationship with her, convinced that I was doing the right thing.
I was only age 24 at the time and youthful exuberance did not quite measure up to each-other. Long story short, I ended up in jail charged with about fifty different actions against the state. The prospect of me and my soldier colleagues being sentenced to death or to long terms of imprisonment loomed large: the Dr. Eric Williams led government which saw its foundations rocked by a tidal wave of young Trinidadians and Tobagonians, not only survived but came after us with vengeance. That put severe strain on relationships between the men behind bars as in variably happens and the families- parents, siblings, wives, girlfriends, and many more people who loved us. Also, the moment a man is thrown into a cell and a steel gate locks him out of normal interaction with his dear ones a wide range of issues arise, foremost among them being fidelity and loyalty.
Being one of the leaders of the mutiny and expecting that I may be in jail for a very long time, I offered Rosina her freedom from commitments to me- we had been engaged for two years and expected to be married sometime soon. She took umbrage to my suggestion and insisted that we continue as we had done for several years. The terms ‘loyalty’ and being faithful to each other never entered the discussion we had. This woman, I had fallen love with, who physically was small in stature and whose beauty was astounding, turned out to have a heart so big it amazed me and others- friends and family- as she showed strength, commitment and determination that was unbelievable. Over the twenty-seven months I would remain behind bars and the several trials I faced, she became increasingly involved in the trials and never wavered in her belief that against all the humongous odds the mutinous soldiers faced, we would be out of jail much sooner than anybody thought. She faithfully visited me in prison twice a week except on rare occasions when she had something else to do, always walking with properly laundered shirts and shorts for me as well as other essentials.
Needless to say, I grew to love her even more. On the legal front, Rex Lassalle and I had found an unusual piece of military legislation that offered us an outside chance of winning the matters or the cases that nobody thought was possible. Our lawyers, Allan Alexander, Desmond Allum, Lennox Pierre, Algernon ‘The Pope’ Wharton, Clive Phelps and others, took the risky legal path in which we insisted we had committed mutiny but our actions were condoned by our then commanding officer, Colonel Joffre Serrette. That legal offensive which stunned the profession and the courts actually won us our freedom and, as I noted earlier in 27 months we walked out of the Port-of-Spain prison, free men.
Rosina was among the hundreds who had gathered at the prison entrance earlier on that historic day, and we embraced each other in a manner that anyone who looked on could tell that we were overwhelmingly happy. She had been to hell and back as they say, but stood by her man long before we committed with ‘for better or worse’: little did she and I know that our lives had changed radically as I went on at age thirty to lead a cane farmers union, rally an array of interest groups country-wide that in turn emerged as the United Labour Front [ULF] which became the official opposition in 1976.
During that period we had two children, Camilo and Leila, never wealthy but always happy in a love story that stood the test of time, fifty years legally and a few more before that. On her birthday, I say to her: Let us do it all over again, ‘Samson’.
Happy birthday, babe.