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SKETCHES by Rawle Boland

posted 17 Dec 2013, 12:53 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 17 Dec 2013, 12:55 ]
In her inimitable style, Sunity Maharaj hit the right notes in her moving tributes to Nelson Mandela, McDonald Bailey, Michael Als, all of whom touched me personally, and Gordon Delph, of whose notable achievements she helpfully made me aware. (Express, December 8) I feel I should add, as no doubt others can, sketches, which might be of interest for posterity.

My deeper understanding of the evils of the apartheid regime began with my close friendship at university with the late Albert Dlomo, a brutally tortured ANC leader, released from imprisonment on Robben Island and made stateless in England. And among my limited parental achievements, my children’s uncompromising rejection of any unfair discrimination is a consolation. On a school tour to South Africa, my last son insisted on joining the public pilgrimage to visit Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.

I have described elsewhere my experience, protesting for Mandela’s release outside South Africa’s London Embassy near, ironically, Nelson’s Trafalgar Square. On one occasion, my slot was from 3 a.m. British sharp, on an excruciatingly cold morning. It became humiliating because the aristocratic Lord Gifford QC, the celebrated international English barrister, was also present and correct, without a murmur of complaint.

 The role he voluntarily assumed was to advise and assist, freely, any protester in a little difficulty with the arm of the law, long and strong, in close attendance. Subsequently, he introduced me to the campaign for reparations for slavery, about which he is now even more passionate, with his Jamaican wife, having become a patriotic Jamaican citizen.

I first saw McDonald Bailey on his triumphant return to QRC in the 50’s. and was dimly aware, then, of some bacchanal regarding his progress abroad. To my surprise, he explained it for my benefit, when we became colleagues, as the only members of Shell’s Advertising Department at Salvatori Building in POS, under the frenetic and legendary Harold Knox.

Close up, Mac was not, to me, the uppity unapproachable celebrity some have made him out to be. One of our department’s perks was to hire any of the incongruously huge private Yankee taxis, idling near the Cipriani roundabout, for our luxurious business excursions. Mac liked nothing better than indulging in endless ole talk with our favourite chauffeur, known by the uplifting and warming nickname of “Sunshine”. 

Speaking of which, I remember seeing Mac peering intently, once, through the windows of our offices. Being incurably nosey, I wondered what was up. It was a drizzly gloomy day, overcast by grey clouds. Sensing my presence, he suddenly whispered for my elucidation, gently tapping the window pane with his pipe: “That’s what England is like!” It was an observation, the accuracy of which I was to bear long witness, to my eternal misery and regret. 

Mac was genuinely saddened when I suddenly left for England, where I arrived armed with his unsolicited recommendation about my potential, academically and as a footballer with QRC and Maple, which, typically, he generously overstated. I was to discover in England that his exploits as a rugby player were as celebrated as those on the track, which were suitably embellished anecdotally, when I came to know his contemporary, another renowned Trinbagonian athlete in England, the late Albert Mc Queen.

When I returned home, with my usual ruction in the press, Mac, still clenching his beloved pipe, even as he managed an infectious smile, flashing unusually hypnotic white teeth, was always effusively supportive in our reunions. In one, he was delighted to discover, from the press reports of my anti-racist bust-up with Suren Capildeo in the Columbus thing at city hall, our common heritage as descendants of ex-US slaves, from “dong sout”.

On another, he chuckled to hear of my homage outside his landmark abode near London University and my location, with his directions, of the commemorative plaque bearing his name at his London alma mater in Regent Street. Then, I also had the honour of meeting again his lovely daughter with her musically talented but unassuming husband, the late great Andre Tanker. Regrettably, I last heard of Mac, when the international broadcaster, George “Umbala” Joseph, kindly announced, “to the world,” Mac’s generous remarks to him about me, in his sightlessness, sadly.

Through the late John Poon, the enlightened bottle-dealer of Nelson Street and his colleague, Ken McLaren, the quietly devoted union official, I got to know Michael Als and his brother, Mario, to a lesser extent, after returning home with my ailing mother from New York in 1980.

In the ferment raging then as now, I came to appreciate, with his ramrod posture, Michael’s personal sacrifice, organisational skills, boundless energy and effortless eloquence, all of which I dreaded to assume had dissipated in his agricultural though enviable retreat, controversially, to Toco, until I heard of his heroic activities there.

Being distantly preoccupied, unfortunately, I cannot claim to have known of Gordon Delph, or, I must shamefully confess, of his ping-pong prowess. For revealing this, I am grateful to Sunity and for much besides. Because his achievements embroider the tapestry of the human race at home and abroad, I must mourn his passing, as I do for those exponentially colossal, Michael Als, McDonald Bailey and, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but even more heroic given his long incarceration, capacity for forgiveness and triumph, ultimately, Madiba! Season’s Greetings!