Today may be marked as Sat Maharaj Day, recognised as when funeral exercises led by his family and religious authorities will signal his departure. He took his time to get here, from having been felled by a stroke on November 7, staying alive to just past the stroke of midnight last Saturday.
The countdown reported by his son Vijay was ruled from his sickbed by the Maha Sabha Secretary General himself. From news reports, the public could have formed the impression of an enduring will to live. Limbs had shown promising signs of stirring, and the doctors had taken him off medical life support.
Bedside chronicles read as if pursuant to the will of the man who shaped his own life’s options, up to when he would choose to die. He “waited until one minute past 12 to die…on Hanuman Day, according to the Hindu scriptures. He waited until today,” Mr Maharaj Jr told a reporter. The late leader had programmed his parting.
Breathing his last, his hand held the Hanuman Chalisa, said the earliest report. Reading this, non-Hindus might have imagined the thing in his grasp to be a sacred chalice. The late Mr Maharaj went, holding pages of the 40-verse Chalisa incantatory prayer to the God Hanuman for strength, knowledge, intelligence and pain relief. Or so my references say.
Back in 2016, I had been similarly moved by the cover image for his book, a compilation of columns entitled The Hindu View of Trinidad and Tobago. Mr Maharaj was there pictured holding what looked like a kingly golden sceptre. As I later wrote, I could more readily imagine him holding a cutlass, for wielding in defence of Hindus, or Indians.
“Arm yourself with weapons…to take over this country,” had been the urging of then DLP leader Rudranath Capildeo at a 1961 Queen’s Park Savannah rally. Those turned out to be his infamous last words. Sat Maharaj, however, who had had his own personal share of electoral defeats, knew better than so to test the fates.
The Sat Maharaj I got to know could hardly be identified with violence, whether committed or incited, against non-Hindus or non-Indians. He earned ill fame for giving his mouth liberty, as happened earlier this year when he vented on radio about Tobagonians’ failure to grow food, their dependence on ferry-riding to the Trinidad markets, sketching a general profile of sister-island slackness, shunning of honest work, and indulgence of unproductive vices. He specified beach-bum hustling of tourist “white meat”, encounters that he even categorised as “rape”.
Such a diatribe added up to mouthful of 84 words, headlined, “Nothing going correct in Tobago”, which provoked threatening official responses. Those came not only from the Telecommunications Authority but also from the police who, weighing a sedition charge, executed a search warrant at the Maha Sabha Radio Jaagriti building, from the studio inside which Mr Maharaj had given his mouth such damnable liberty.
The passing of Sat Maharaj can mark the onset of an age of expressive restraint. Race matters, or subjects so spun, will not as readily fall from the lips, or the pens, of those moved to give freest expression. Mr Maharaj, after all, could count on the institutional backing of the prominent Maha Sabha, and the spread-out network of those deriving benefit from schools and mandirs and wider Hindu fellowship.
Beyond and preceding Radio and TV Jaagriti, the Sat Maharaj identification extends to the T&T print media within which he had been a mover and principal pusher since 1970. That was when The Bomb came into being, a publication that has continued until last week, when Mr Maharaj’s son, Vijay, announced a decision to close the paper that had come into being under the legendary leadership of the late Patrick Chookolingo.
The Bomb would turn out to be trailblazer for a genre of newspaper journalism that flourished for decades until millennial twists and turns toward new technology and newly conceived free expression doctrines. Still left open had been the possibility of reopening the doors of The Bomb if Mr Maharaj were to survive. Gone now is wide sentimental attachment to what survived of The Bomb this far into 2019.
Despite his near half-century of frequently controversial activism in religion and the media, the Sat Maharaj demise has registered as that of a national celebrity. Among other things, rhetorical shadow boxing figured between Afrocentric Selwyn Cudjoe and Indo-centric Sat Maharaj, that evidently resulted in no notably hurt personal feelings. Somewhere in between there, Mr Maharaj enabled my invitation to deliver the feature address at the 2016 launch of his book. On that occasion, at the Maha Sabha headquarters, Mr Maharaj and I stood out as the only two in attendance who wore Western suit jackets, as opposed to Indo-T&T cultural threads.
As far as I know, no family relation obtains with Niala Maharaj, novelist and journalist. Her own summary of his life and times merits choice as a sign-off salute: “Sat is impolite, sometimes wrong, always impetuous, occasionally silly… but without him, Trinidad would have been much poorer.”