Mahase Seecharan Speaks on Community Service
Mr. Mahase Seecharan is a Mc Bean resident who is active is his community. His grandparents were among the first settlers of Mc Bean village. In this interview with Triniview.com, he shares his thoughts on the community and Indian culture.
MAHASE SEECHARAN: I am the descendant of one of the very first set of settlers in the lower Mc Bean area. My grandparents, the Seecharans were settlers in the area. I grew up as a third generation offspring. My father served the community, and in a number of ways, assisted people in communities: in weddings, in prayers, in just about anything and everything. In the same vein, I have done the same and I have given up everything myself. I am retired and I am now serving my community just like my father did in here.
In the lower Mc Bean mandir, we started with the guidance of Dr. Parasram who began to transform this community because we have seen what has happened to so many of the communities where they have lost track and sight of culture and a number of things. There was the uprising – negative things like drug addition, alcoholism and so many things that were happening – and our young people seemed not to have had many role models to look up to.
Dr. Parasram came to the mandir when this membership dwindled to just a few and he coached and guided people in the direction of spirituality. He literally preached to the congregation here.
This mandir, like all mandirs was built like a community center to serve the community and not just to sit and do personal worship but literally to go and serve – and that is in itself worship to God. He quoted several times from one of the scriptures, the Ramayan, where it says in a particular statement, (quoted in Hindi) “Service unto mankind is one of the greatest religions of all.”
He guided some of the people here. We have a youth group that is quite vibrant and does quite a number of activities and had an alternative to Carnival because we found that in Carnival now there is so much bacchanalia and drunkenness, and some of them love Carnival because of the art and the splendor of the costumes and the music and everything. But with all of this negative projection they shied away and they wanted an alternative. So the youth group started to do a sports cultural day and they had an entire day of events.
We have other groups like the ladies group and people who serve in many ways through this mandir. The other thing is, it became a hub to host the community groups like the action groups, the sport groups and other groups to come because there was no community centre or facility for people to come and congregate and to propagate culture and sustain what we have had in our culture, and also to give the youths an avenue. The Ramleela group is the young set that has held on and is holding up tradition, an art form that is dying not just in Trinidad, but in other parts of the world.
There is a long history in this particular type of folk art and open theatre in this community. There are many, many people who have gone and people love them for it. It brought comedy, it brought lessons, it brought hope and so many things. It is something that gives people so much. That is medicine, so to speak, so they didn’t have to go to the doctor, they come to the community and they get everything for them. These boys are trying. And as Dr. Parasram was telling you earlier on and said to the crowd earlier on tonight, they have gone through so many pressures and turmoils and problems with the community and others where they were targeted by other groups. They were put through great pains and expenses for a number of situations and they have moved from one place to the other until they have come back to rest home, so to speak.
So we have seen the need of pooling everybody and helping this whole community. It is amazing to see when you bring people together as a unit how you get a lot more done. Recently, we had the Ramleela group, several sports groups and all the NGOs together and we invited one of our sitting MPs Mr. Ramnath to come and sit down and talk and he was amazed. He was like, “This is the first time this community or anybody called me and said we would like to talk to you.” Normally someone would just come and complain in a wedding or wherever he is and say, “We have a problem.”
The aim, with Dr. Parsaram’s guidance, is to start to touch people’s lives very slowly from where you are and move out of the circle and continue to help selflessly and not even thinking that people will be getting any rewards but just to help and do what you can do. When you can get young people involved in any activity – sports, culture whatever – they develop so many positive qualities like team spirit, fortitude and so many things.
I was so pleased within this ten day period. I could literally point to each one of them and tell you about some of the developments they have had and the growth they have had. I can shake their hands and commend them tremendously for what they have done because I have seen them grow within such a short space of time. Some people have grown their entire life and I have not seen such growth in some of them, so I really want to commend this group for that. It really made me proud. Tonight I am very, very proud of them and pleased.
TRINIVIEW.COM: Where do you see this Ramleela and this community spirit going?
MAHASE SEECHARAN: Well, this is just the first of the stepping stones. We don’t know where it is going to go. We can all think that we can take it from this level to another level where you have more professionalism, where they are now recognized, not just in this community but nationally. This group has actually had recognition not just nationally but internationally. I understand that they traveled to Surinam, Guyana and to several other countries and they performed. They were in a number of medias and magazines where they rated them very nicely because of the costumes and the way they worked together as a team and a number of things.
So it is to take them from that level and take them to another Pluto where they are recognized further, not just for the Ramleela, but for who they are. For instance, the president Mr. Ramdeen, the secretary or one of them, you want to see that they take this and what they have learned through this and take it and instill it in their lives and in other people’s lives so that they can say, “I am now a better person, I can now go out there and I can touch lives.” So that for instance, Mr. Ramdeen can now go into his work place and say, “I have learned how the diversity in working together as a team helped me to grow to bring unity, to bring corporation, to have success in an endeavour. Let’s take that and implement it in my job, in my home so that my home can blossom and touch the neighbours and then touch surrounding communities.” So in effect, you touch the entire world slowly. You start from your little cove and you keep changing it and you change the entire world. So that is what I would like to see, that they see this as their stepping stone… their small light to brighten this whole world.
TRINIVIEW.COM: What you speak about is quite interesting especially when you have many communities in which that community spirit have been lost; just disappeared, and people perhaps have more materialistic values. So it is really good to see this spirit being alive and you all are doing various activities.
MAHASE SEECHARAN: It is nice when you can have that and you can see that but behind the scenes there are so many struggles because it is difficult to have co-operation with a society that is degrading and where there is so much influences affecting them. There are so many pressures. In the past, for instance, let’s say we are talking about this Ramleela group where they had leverage to have more time to come and be a part of it, to extend more time and manpower hours. Now these boys are working until five in the evening, going into the morning at six or seven o’clock to come in at six in the evening and have to get ready for work. So literally they are spending twenty hours of their time and they are exhausted. So there is need for support systems that will encourage culture like this because this is one of the things that actually sustains a healthy society and a healthy culture and so on.
To work with it you need dedicated people, you need the businesses to come out and contribute and help in some way. You need the government to stretch their hands and get into society. One of the things that I notice in our country and in others also is that the government waits for people to organize themselves to come to them and beg. I detest when communities have to beg the government who they put there, and their money is supporting this country, to get pittance to encourage culture and diversity in this society. That is absolutely deplorable and it is not acceptable. The thing about it is, it is their role and their responsibility to manage our economy, to manage our country, our society and our communities and if they must do that they must have representatives to literally go to the society. They must go to the communities who are struggling.
One of the things that you see is the people who are as we see in this society, criminals, are being crushed and millions of dollars are pumped to save them. But the people who need the assistance to propagate that, to save getting to that stage, they don’t do that. In other words, it is the chicken and the egg syndrome. Get into it, get your representative into the society, go into the nooks and crannies and find out where they are. Go into the temples, go into the village councils, go into the churches and find the people. You will find people. I have done it in a few communities. I have gone and spoken to people and I have seen the need for assistance. Communities have gotten to the stage where they are sitting back and saying, “Oh my God, nobody cares. Nobody is helping us.” All it takes is for some representative, some department… community development. I know that they are understaffed because I have been liaising with this community. Pump the necessary resources there so that they can now transform the whole society so you don’t have drug addition, waywardness, violence and crime. This is where it comes from when you don’t support your society, your community with activities of such nature of sports and culture and all of these things. If the government stretches their hand and literally go out there and help it would make a tremendous difference.
TRINIVIEW.COM: Do you think that there is enough information available about Indian culture?
MAHASE SEECHARAN: Absolutely not. I have seen where even our media, there is seemingly to me… I am handicapped and when I lay on my bed and I adjust my bed looking at television, I see an absolute bias against the East Indian community and Hindu culture. The media is supposed to be absolutely unbiased, unprejudiced. Just like the mandirs and churches where you have the same thing happening but the thing about it is we have to get away from that. We must not suck up to any politician or anybody. We must be fearless regardless of where you are. For instance here, anyone can tell you I don’t care who you are; you could be the Prime Minister walking in here, if you disrespect a poor man I will level you. Don’t do that in front of me. Treat everyone with respect. The media needs to take their role, pick up their staff and pull their end. There is a society that is unbalanced in terms of projection and the East Indian community is not seeing that, maybe not only because of them [but] because of the advertisement and the support that they have to get because you have businesses who have to pump their funding to get your advertisements to pay for your time.
One of the things is, the East Indian businessmen in some cases are to me, and I will use the word very loosely, shameless. When they will not support their Indian culture for Divali, Pagwa, Ramleela and all of these things but they will go and support a Christian festival. I have no problem with supporting it but if you do that what about your own. Pump your resources and do your advertisements to support these things too. You will do it for Christmas and you will do it for Eid. When it comes to Eid, the Muslim community they come together and they support each other and they have advertisements. You saw what happened for this Eid and even all the others. The airwaves, the newspapers, the radio and everything were covered with ads and compliments and so on by their community. The East Indian community needs to get out there and do that. We have so many businessmen who are East Indians. They have a heritage, a background, a culture. Let them come out and support it too. Why can’t you? Don’t just wait for the government.
A television station came around once and asked my opinion about a number of things and advice and I gave it to them. And I gave them pointers and people that they can go to because they wanted to project an image of what’s happening in the little coves, in the little communities. I gave them names of people that they can talk to. I told them to go to the communities and go to these people and you can literally know what’s going on so you can air these things if you want. They said that they can get business people to sponsor it. It never came out. I don’t know why and I don’t know if it would. If people band together I think we can know a little more.
Everything culture is important whether you are African, Indian or Chinese and it needs to be projected and we need the support by everyone and that is what will sustain us. If we don’t have a root, the plant is not going to survive; it is going to wither up and die.
TRINIVIEW.COM: So there are certain obstacles in the way of various cultures being appreciated?
MAHASE SEECHARAN: Yes, there are obstacles. We were talking about business and advertisements. If a businessman sees something viable or nonviable he is going to put his resources there as the case may be. The other thing too is projection and perception of society. If, let’s say a priest, our rulers and our teachers give you an image, whether the image is true or not, it doesn’t matter but they are projecting an image for you. That image is so and it goes down through generations and it could be absolutely incorrect from the inception and it reached to point ‘z’ then that’s what was seen whether it was mediocre or something else, so we have a problem there. I guess we need some more of the intellectual minds to give of their time like Dr. Parasram who has volunteered his time. Anybody who needs his assistance he gives himself and his service free of charge and he goes to anybody who calls upon him. We need a few more like that.
TRINIVIEW.COM: Can you give us a little more insight about Mc Bean?
MAHASE SEECHARAN: I don’t know much about Mc Bean. I have spoken to some of the older heads about Mc Bean. This site that we are on now at the Lower Mc Bean mandir served this community in a number of ways. We had a well that served this community. Everybody got water from right here and it was also a place of worship. We had a few settlers who came and started here. My grandfather was one, the Kings another, the Rickies and so on. There were a few people who started off and then people started to flock to Mc Bean. There was an estate with cocoa, coffee, citrus and a number of things.
This community has remained small and it is now expanding. The community is being choked by a lot of infrastructural developments. Some seemed ‘viky vike’ to me and I could be very wrong because I am no expert in anything. We are now surrounded with a community here with so many houses and developments that are encroaching upon us and we have so many people who are coming from outside and we welcome them.
When I was young we could have walked in the community. We could have walked to anybody’s house. It was a family unit but it is growing further and further apart. People still recognize me and they treat me with great respect in this community. I talk to anybody and have maintained that relationship. Some people don’t have the time because they are so caught up in work. And this material world around us is demanding more and more of people. So we need to have activities and things that can bring people together and not only wait for a funeral to bring our community together or have like what we have here – sessions on a monthly basis to bring communities together like the Ramayan sessions which bring in larger volumes of people who will come and sit and chat. We saw that certain groups of people were left out and that is why we got together in the mandir and formed a community group that will also hold the non-Indian people and the non-Hindus together because we have a few drug dens that developed in a community and it is not nice.
I would like to see Mc Bean transformed into a livable place where everybody loves each other and respects each other for who and what they are and live as a family unit. I have listened to some of the stories of some of the elders and it made me want to be in a community and a society like that where everybody treated each other like brothers and sisters regardless of creed, colour, race or whatever. We are moving away from that and we would like to bring it back together.
TRINIVIEW.COM: Do you have any last words you would like to share?
MAHASE SEECHARAN: I would like to commend you guys for coming here and taking the time and listening to the people from Mc Bean and being a part of this event and hope that you come here as often as you wish. You are always welcome and everybody is always welcome at anytime. Come here and talk to us and if there is anybody who can do to help, you can meet with any of us. This mandir which is now the hub of activities for the community, for the group, so to speak, or most of the groups is opened practically everyday and somebody is here. There is a phone number posted and they can talk to anybody. If there is any assistance they can bring to the community we will welcome it and if there is anything this community can do for others we would love to.
TRINIVIEW.COM: Thank you.