By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: November 26, 2019
Sat Maharaj is dead!
I was in Maryland on Saturday morning when Jerome Lewis called at about 6 a.m. to tell me that my dear friend, Sat Maharaj, had died. Last Thursday I went to Washington D.C. to deliver a lecture on my book, The Slave Master of Trinidad, to the Wellesley Washington Club, having spoken at Providence College, Rhode Island, and Trinity College in Connecticut the previous Monday and Thursday respectively. I was tired and wanted to get back to Wellesley to take a rest. But Sat Maharaj was dead and I knew I had to return to Trinidad to honor the life of this great patriot.
I flew back to Boston on Sunday afternoon and by four a.m. on Monday I was on a plane to Trinidad.
Sat Maharaj was dead and I had to be home to pay my respects to this great educator.
I met Sat Maharaj when the Hon. Patrick Manning set up his Committee on Race Relations to allow representative parties to talk about race relations in the country. Sat and I had our perceptions of each other even though we had never met previously. We had exchanged insults in the newspapers but we were only chasing after shadows.
Being in the same room together meant that we had to face each other as persons and face the substance of what we had to say to and about each other. At first we were hostile with each other. We had to overcome the stereotypes of each other that we had in our minds.
After a while we discovered we had one thing in common: each of us was concerned about the welfare of his group and determined to advance its interest.
The problem remained: how to do this in an amicable way. Each was vulnerable but Mr. Manning’s Committee created a safe space where we could contest each other’s ideas but respect the humanity of each other and the aspirations of the various communities in our twin island.
Sat was always prepared for these sessions. He made demands on behalf of his group but never forgot the interests of the other groups. Once when the government gave him a million dollars to repair his mandirs, he came back to me and said, “I got mine, you go and get yours.” That was the spirit of the man.
When folks attacked his patriotism, he would say to me, “I am Trini to de bone. When I die I want my ashes to be scattered over the Gulf of Paria. I don’t want them spread over the Ganges.” No one was going to compromise his patriotism.
Sat Maharaj is dead.
Many will talk about his contributions to education, religion and culture and his fights for the rights of his people. But Sat will feel most honored if each citizen of this multi-racial society recognizes that he was “Trini to de bone.”
Sat served this country by serving his people well. In so doing, he helped all of us to develop our national identity by recognizing that our Trinbagonianess comes in different forms and different shades, in different ideological formulations, and in varying religious alignments.
Most importantly, Sat understood that service to others in all of its manifold ways is the primary obligation each citizen has to this country. He did that by constantly demanding that we rise out of our darkness and see what we have in common.
Sat Maharaj is dead. In the words of St. John I can attest: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends [and his country.]” No man or woman in this twin island nation loved this island better than he did. And he loved it with a rare devotion and pride.
Sat Maharaj is dead. Some have likened him to Mahatma Gandhi. I prefer to liken Sat Maharaj to Martin Luther King whose major contribution was to make the United States a more perfect union. Martin Luther King found a fragmented nation when he started his struggle for the civil rights of African Americans.
Trinidad and Tobago was also a broken nation in the 1950s. It was prone to leaving Indo-Trinbagonians out of the nation’s discussion which became a major point of conflict between Dr. Eric Williams and Dr. Rudranath Capildeo during our Independence discussion at Malboro House in 1960.
Dr. Williams did his part by inscribing minority rights into our constitution. However, it was left to Sat Maharaj and others of his persuasion to keep up the fight for minority rights even though that minority is now a majority. Like Dr. King, Sat Maharaj will go down in our history as one of the major architects in helping to perfect our union and to make it a fairer society.
Sat Maharaj is dead. Let us honor the contributions he made to this island. In so doing, we will honor the best in ourselves and what we, as a people, can achieve if we love and respect one another in all of our multifarious beauty in this hummingbird society.
I may be wrong, but one day Sat will come to represent the soul of our people, one of those giants who stood for all that is best in us, and someone who realized there can be no progress without struggle and a righteous devotion to cause.
Sat Maharaj is dead. Let us celebrate his achievements and honor his memory.