Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Tribute to Excellence...

*Phone rings*

Me: Hello
Raoul Pantin: You following this nonsense at the Guardian?
Me: Very closely
Raoul: They cant get away with this you know, we have to do something.
Me: Yes, agreed.
Raoul: This is damn foolishness, if they feel they getting away with this they lie.
Me: What do we do?
Raoul: What you mean what do we do? We going to protest. Looking for my damn shoes. Will call you back.

We were on TV6 the next morning, ready to defend the freedom of the press.

This has been my experience of Roaul Pantin, who decided early on without any input from me that he was going to be my mentor. Regularly he would post comments on my writings like “You spent the entire conversation skirting the issue, was that the intention?” Leading me to either rewrite or scrap the entire thing and start over. He would email me his columns and ask for advice, he would make suggestions of issues that I should be championing if I were really an activist worthy to be so called.

I cannot boast to know Raoul as long or even as well as others, but as well as I did know him what struck me everytime was his honesty with himself and his willingness to accept the limitations of his own humanity. He would use humor at his own expense to lighten a mood or to make a hard example, but it was his commitment to excellence that I will always remember. Raoul told me once that no one else need think that he was good, but that did not excuse him from trying his best to be good. His research into the recent terrorist killings in France had him climbing the walls trying to get in contact with anyone who could give a genuine French perspective, so the frustration with the fact that the Embassy here was closed and the numbers provided via the directory were going to voicemail no matter the time of day or night was probably the last and best example of his determination to do it right or not at all for many of us in his communication circle.

Together with Marcia Braveboy, Danielle Francois and Devon Welch, Raoul and I did a popular stint on Sunday morning radio that culminated in a three part series on the armed insurrection of 1990, and his presence in the studio was a rudder to the discussion, guiding all the guests who came and went as all of us assembled there tried to replay those dark days through the minds and words of those who lived it. Former Ministers, current Ministers, hostages, journalists, property owners and citizens, he knew them all and they he. His almost palpable hatred for the Jamaat al Muslimeen, Abu Bakr and everyone who had a hand in that dastardly affair was so real you could almost feel it, yet during the phone-in segment of that same event one of the insurgents called in to defend the Muslimeen's position, and consummate professional that he was, Raoul put aside his vexation and interviewed the chap as if he were buying a newspaper at the corner store.

Like others I assume, Raoul and I had some grating disagreements over national issues on which neither were prepared to give ground, yet without needing to say it, he epitomized the idea of agreeing to disagree. In that way he reminded me of another strong independent analytical patriotic mind for whom I had nothing but respect, Dana Seetahal, who was known to text during our morning shows if we were not prosecuting the issues to her satisfaction that she “was getting bored.”

I have been blessed. In my lifetime I have come to have the people I grew up revering almost call me peer. Raoul told me I was a writer, one of the best he had ever read. I compared it to the time Raffique Shah commented on one of my pieces, an essay into corruption with the words 'Kaiso Boy!' 

Without commendations from people like those I am not sure I would be writing today. Like with Dana, I am not sure that this nation is aware of what it had and what it lost when Raoul passed from us. Selfless and devoted for intangible gain, they held the pole that flew the flag that kept us going forward as a people. 'One ah we' regardless of who the we were, they transcended tribe, class and culture to straddle the idea of Trinidad & Tobago, the seamless integration of us all, to paraphrase Kurt Allen “Where every creed and race could find ah 'wining' space.”

He told me once I needed to write more poetry, that it took more discipline to write in prose than essay and I should practice that. 

This one's for you Raoul:

“Ring the bell, ring the bell, throw wide the gate for grief
Leave your stool, abandon your perch, stare at death in full relief
It's time has come, the song's been sung in haunting deep refrain
To sing at last, a great soul has passed, never to walk this way again...”

To his friends and family I extend the deepest of sympathy in their time of grief, to Trinidad & Tobago I offer heartfelt condolences for your loss.

May he rest in perfect and eternal peace......

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