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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Nicholas Stix
Bio: Nicholas Stix
Date:  January 8, 2006
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Topic category:  Other/General

Sundariah Ramrakha (1930-2006)

On Saturday, a heroic woman died who never saw a personal computer up close, never knew what the Internet was, or hip terms like “buzz,” and won’t be the subject of any television profiles or magazine stories, not here or in her native land. But she touched many lives for the better, and led an arduous yet wonderful life.

On Saturday, Sundariah Ramrakha died of renal failure at the age of 75 in Princes Town, Trinidad. Mrs. Ramrakha is survived by her husband of 55 years, Ramrakha Ramrakha, by one son, six daughters, twelve grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Although Mrs. Ramrakha’s husband and children traveled halfway around the world in variously seeking work and visiting relatives, she only left the island of Trinidad once, as a young woman, to visit the sister island, Tobago, of the two-island nation. (When three of their daughters moved variously to New York and London in search of fortune and husbands during the early 1990s, Mr. Ramrakha, who is at home in both cities, periodically traveled to them to look after his girls.)

During Mrs. Ramrakha’s life, Trinidadian culture and politics utterly changed. At the time of her birth, some East Indians had only recently been freed from indentured servitude by a 1917 British decree. The majority of East Indians (as opposed to black West Indians, who spoke English) still spoke only Hindi; that began to change, thanks to Presbyterian missionaries, who in the 1920s taught East Indians English … and converted more than a few to Christianity.

Mrs. Ramrakha and her husband wed in an arranged, Hindu marriage; conversely, only two of her seven daughters was wed by arrangement. When Mr. and Mrs. Ramrakha wed in 1950, Trinidad was still a colony of Great Britain; in 1962, the nation gained its independence from the Crown, and was renamed the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, which remains its name to this day. (Note that the Ramrakhas were devoted to each other, proof that an arranged marriage can be a most felicitous union.)

Amidst such social upheavals, the Ramrakhas managed, through backbreaking work, to rise from poverty to a relatively prosperous life. They had no luxuries, but were able to meet all of their needs, and to purchase and extend one house, and then sell that home and move into a second house that they had had built new. Mr. Ramrakha planted fruit and vegetable trees, bushes, and vines on their property, so that their children grew up with a cornucopia of mangoes, avocados, coconuts, oranges, tangerines ("pottigoll"), chestnuts, sugar cane, bananas ("figs"), cocoa, cherries, corn, peas, cassava, tomatoes and eggplant.

In a traditional East Indian household, in addition to having a house built for his family, it was the father’s job to arrange marriages for his daughters. Mr. Ramrakha, however, found himself caught betwixt and between changing customs, and failed to arrange marriages for his girls. (Two of his daughters ended up in arranged marriages, anyway.) Thus, some fifteen years ago, when he referred to one of his daughters as an “old maid,” Mrs. Ramrakha retorted, “And who she should marry -- woman?!” (In today’s Trinidad, that retort would still be understood as a joke, and not as a real possibility.)

Princes Town recently gained its first “hospital” (really a clinic). By contrast, when Mrs. Ramrakha gave birth to her first two children in the mid-1950s, she had not so much as a doctor or even a midwife to rely on. All alone, while her husband was off working in oil fields or driving a gravel delivery truck as a subcontractor, she delivered the babies herself.

But some things have not changed. In the rural, predominantly East Indian South, running water is still a sometime thing, and Mrs. Ramrakha and her family had to work their water use around the practice of the authorities often having it “locked off” during the day. Thus, she would have to fill (or have one of her children or grandchildren fill) buckets and bottles with cold water from her shower in the morning, for use for bathing and washing hands. And hot running water is still unheard of in Princes Town. But then, Princes Town is a model of progress compared to villages farther south, where there is no running water, and people get their water from government trucks that fill huge plastic water barrels.

And yet, apparent backwardness can have its virtues. The land that Trinidadian Nobel Laureate V.S. (or “Vidia,” as he is known to “educated” Trinidadians) Naipaul repudiated, is home to a substantial proportion of self-reliant people who can fix almost anything. (Naipaul is most famous for his Trinidad-set novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, which won him his Nobel Prize.) A proportion of those self-reliant “Trinis” are East Indians such as Mr. Ramrakha who are ardent, self-taught students of history and politics, who snort at the pretensions and misrepresentations of the black nationalist academics who hold court at the Trinidadian campus of the University of the West Indies (pronounced “you-wee”) and on TV. (Unlike pretentious East Indian school teachers, who are in awe of Mr. Naipaul, such “primitive” East Indians are unimpressed with him.) Trinidad, unlike the “progressive,” more socially stratified U.S., is also a land where one might grow up down the road from a future prime minister, as Mr. Ramrakha grew up near, and knew future Prime Minister (and current head of the United National Congress party) Basdeo Panday, and the rest of the Panday family.

Although Mrs. Ramrakha received a minimal education, she and her husband encouraged all of their children to gain an education. In a nation where few students went beyond primary school, all but one of the Ramrakhas’ children finished high school (“O” levels, which at the time in Trinidad, where less than ten percent of people attended college, had a status equivalent to at least two years of college in the States), with most of them entering various allied health professions, and one running her own business. The Ramrakhas’ son, Nanram, followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a subcontractor delivering truckloads of gravel to builders.

Mrs. Ramrakha outlived two of her children – a second son who was born the last of her nine children, and who died at six months of age of an undetermined illness; and a daughter, Tauti, who died of a brain tumor in 1998, at the age of 28. Although she only occasionally spoke of them, Mrs. Ramrakha mourned her dead children ‘til her dying day.

Although Mrs. Ramrakha's mother lived to be 103 years old, and her maternal grandmother reached the age of 106, the 4'11" woman was less hardy than her forebears. Having so many children surely exhausted her body, and may explain why her last child was born so sickly. And yet, aside from the lack of availability of medical procedures such as tubal ligation, which might have extended Mrs. Ramrakha’s life through her having fewer children, she wanted and loved all of her children unconditionally. Having fewer children was never a consideration for her.

In recent years, Mrs. Ramrakha suffered from diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis, yet until recently, no matter how painful it was for her to walk, she got up every morning to do her house work.

Nicholas Stix
Nicholas Stix, Uncensored

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Biography - Nicholas Stix

Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.


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