Trinidad:- India’s High Commissioner (HC) to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency Bishwadip Dey, honored Indo-Trinidadian elders at a reception in late September. They were honored for their longevity and for promoting Indian culture in their homeland. They are viewed as Ambassadors of India. A packed gathering of over 400 witnessed the honor ceremony.
The Indian envoy told the elderly: “I BOW A MILLION TIMES BEFORE YOU TO OFFER MY RESPECT AND SEEK BLESSINGS”. And he added: “TO ALL OTHERS PRESENT HERE, I BOW IN HUMILITY TO OFFER YOU MY GREETINGS”.
It was a gala affair -- first for an Indian representative outside of India to honor people of Indian descent with a banquet reception and awards ceremony. Some 38 elderly Indo-Trinis were honored. They and their families and other guests from all over Trinidad were invited. The High Commissioner honored "elderlies" in their 90s and 100s. The event was held at the Hilton Trinidad. Leaders of major organizations and religious groups were invited to witness the awards ceremony. Similar ceremonies to honor other elderlies will occur later in the year and early next. There are over 100 elderlies in their 90s and 100s. But only 38 were honored at this event. The HC plans to honor the remainder at subsequent receptions. The HC has been visiting the elderly at their homes in recent months. He is the first HC to do so not only in Trinidad but internationally. Guests at the reception showered accolades on the HC not only for the program but his friendliness and accessibility and for going to the community rather than the community coming to him. He recognizes the value of service. And the Indo-Trinitobagonian population appreciates it.
The High Commissioner’s remarks appear below:
“I would like to start with expressing my deep and sincere gratitude to you all for coming today. I warmly welcome you TO AN UNIQUE FUNCTION WHERE WE CELEBRATE THE ELDERS, ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR MANY SACRIFICES AND SHOW OUR RESPECT AND GRATITUDE TO ALL THAT THEY HAVE DONE FOR US.
- This initiative is inspired by my Ho’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji’s dynamic outreach to the Indian diaspora along with respect shown to the elders. I dedicate today's function to his leadership and in his honor.
- The Foreign Minister of India Shrimati Sushma Swaraj ji’s affection and bond towards people of Indian origin especially of Girmitiya countries is very special and strong. It was with her support and belief that this initiative was undertaken.
- A question I have been asked very frequently during the last few months is why this affinity towards the elders and how did this journey begin? To me , Indianness is not demonstrated only through food and attire but it is the values which define who we are. One of the most important value of Indian culture is family bonding and respect for the elders.
- This journey to meet the elders is very emotional and close to my heart as each living legend that I met is part of history in their own right.
- The blessings, affection and love the elders have showered on me and my team as we visited and spent time with them is beyond what words can express. As I got to know of their struggles and journey, a very different aspect of Trinidad and Tobago revealed itself. At times the car journey was long, Trinidad suddenly became a big country and we experienced nature’s bounty as we drove to remote areas. This journey offered me an opportunity to visit almost 30 villages throughout the country.
- The one belief I hold dearly to my heart is to celebrate our elders while they are living. In my experience and interaction, the elders here are living long because they have zest for living. They have a loving family and abiding faith in God. The sense of bonding not just amongst the immediate family members but many times the social bonding within the village irrespective of ethnicity was strong. Our visit to the elders became a visit to the village. The interactions were very enriching and covered various topics.
- One common feature amongst most of the elderly is that most of them are in good health minus age-related ailments, they are positive towards life, have loving family and have worked very hard in their life. Most despite being cane field workers, deprived of education due to poverty have ensured their children and grandchildren receive education and have proper values in their upbringing. There is pride and no complaints for what they have sacrificed yesterday for the today to be pleasant.
- Today when I see their children and grandchildren as doctors, engineers, successful ministers, political figures, statesmen it is due to the hard work, sacrifices and leading by example of our elders.
- One of the most important lesson that I learnt was when I met Ms. Phooljharia Rampersad a very hardworking and active lady aged 102 years. When I expressed concern over her daily work schedule. She looked at me in surprise and said – I quote - “boy hard work kills nobody but not working does”. The simplicity of the statement mirrors the simple way of life lived and the simplicity of their nature.
- Most of the elderly have conversed with me in bhojpuri which they have learnt from their parents. Listening to it was a surprise and delight. I was also privileged to listen to melodious songs & Bhajans sung by them.
- The elders of Trinidad and Tobago are the true custodians of Indian culture in terms of belief, faith, culture, custom, religion, cuisine, attire & values. I would like to express my gratitude and seek blessings from them.
In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to:
- The elders for attending today’s function and their family members for bringing them,
- All those who provided us with the names of the elderly people and their families.
- to the family members for receiving us and facilitating our meeting with the Elders ,
- all the organizations and dignitaries who are here to felicitate the elders despite their busy schedules,
- all the audiences for without you the function would be incomplete
- I would also sincerely thank our partners for their contributions,
- Our event manager for making today’s function possible,
- Members media for covering our initiative and we expect them to focus on the contributions of the elders,
- the team of High Commission of India led by Dr.Deepak Pandey and Mr. Ashok Jajoria and other officers,
- a special thanks to Dr. Deepak Pandey who has put his heart and soul in this initiative,
- the young and enthusiastic Trinidadians working for the High Commission who have worked tirelessly to establish and maintain relationship with the families of the elderly. They are committed to doing so in future thereby continue to broaden and deepen our bonding.
- A very special thanks to my Foreign Minister Shrimati Sushma Swaraj ji for reposing faith in me to take forward this unique initiative. We are very appreciative of the fact that she has written individually to all of the elders.
- Last but definitely not the least I want to thank my wife and kids who sacrificed several weekends and evenings so that I could be out in various places - meeting people, establishing relationship and get blessed.
I bow again in all humbleness to all the East Indians who have strived hard and successfully maintained the Indian culture and values here. They have demonstrated that there is no contradiction in being a proud loyal Trinitobagonian citizen and maintaining their Indian heritage and identity.
I wish you all a blessed evening !