“It was a privilege being in India”

Mr Jerry Narace, a former health minister of Trinidad belonging to the PNM Party, visited India around the Maha Kumbh. During that trip he made visits to Allahabad, his native village in Pratapgarh, Mumbai, and Agra. He spoke to India Empire recently

On his forebears…
It does seem that my paternal grandmother was tricked into coming to Trinidad. Although exact details of the case are not known, it seems that she was tricked by a maid into selling all her jewels. It does seem she was a victim of a network of schemers. They were also capable of kidnapping people. Somehow she landed in Calcutta where she was made to sign some documents before sailing to Trinidad and Tobago in the early parts of the 20th century. My father was only a year-and-a-half old when he arrived in Trinidad and Tobago. My grandmother at the time was about 28 years old. Her husband, my paternal grandfather, I’m told, owned plenty of land, was quite wealthy and the family had enough jewellery. We had no means to verify all that had happened, this is the version that I have from my father who got his from his mother. We never really pursued our Indian ancestry, my father kept totally busy with his business and we too never thought of digging up the past. Last year, though, while I and my wife were in Barbados, we came across a book that had profiled some east Indian immigrants, and some of their stories seemed similar to the one that my grandmother had told my father. That was when we decided to look at our ancestry and where we came from.

On the findings about his ancestry…
After piecing together what two gentleman could find, one Mr Shamshuddin at our end, and another Mr M. Tiwari in India, it appears we belong to Pratapgarh near Allahabad. My grandfather belonged to the Brahmin Ramadin family. It was while the findings and tracings were on that my wife wanted to come to the Kumbh Mela. We arrived at the Kumbh and were treated regally. Naresh (a variation of the surname Narace) means king, and I was treated likewise. We were able to go our village at Pitapur. Hundreds turned out to greet us, meet with us. I was completely moved by the reception I received. It was the first time I had come to India in my entire life, and this was something else. I was moved by the warmth of India and its people.

On his impressions on his visit to the ancestral village…
I noticed that the village which is largely agricultural was extremely clean. I saw children with blazers and ties going to school, people briskly going about their work. I hardly noticed any kind of behaviour that could be described as less-than-desirable. The way the horses, for instance, were kept, it made me feel good. It was not modern, but things were clean, and there was energy about everything. I was impressed. I did feel that at some point I’d like to return and make some contribution, may be set up a small school. There was a feeling of fulfilment from the visit to my ancestral land that I had never contemplated. I was so happy to be in Allahabad which has such a rich history and tradition, tourism and culture, and has given some of the most outstanding political leaders to India. I’m also told that the University of Allahabad has produced some of the finest talent in the country.

On his family and background…
I started out as an accountant in a New York bank and then joined the family business in construction for which my father had laid a very strong base through toil and great work ethic. We built a chain of supermarkets, and I branched out into insurance and other investments. Even though I joined the PNM Government and became a minister, even today I do not see myself as a politician, rather more of a private person that wants to build opportunities.
My father was a very sturdy man, good looking who knew how to look after himself. He passed away in 2006, he was past 90. He was a phenomenal man. He left India under dubious circumstances with his mother, and I came back as Naresh.


May 2013

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