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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Jan Carew's 85th birthday celebrated in Toronto



Age, illness. They catch up with us all. But to see and hear a man as strong and dynamic as Guyanese writer, intellectual and painter, Jan Carew, stricken and talking about it is difficult to accept.

Naturally, these debilities didn't stop him speaking once again about his concerns for a world in trouble - concerns as many sided as the people of Agricola, Rome, the village on the Guyana coast he grew up in, and terrible recent storms.

He has done many things and lived in many places, including Toronto for six years.

Carew spoke at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel on Saturday, August 25, during a brunch to mark his 85th birthday. The occasion was organised by the bearded, Dashikied, and gregariously charming lawyer Charles Roach.

Carew's address came after Toronto-based Barba-dian writer Austin Clarke's "perorations" as Carew called them, tales of adventure and humour from Carew's long life, with responses to Clarke.

After apologising for his weak voice, a symptom of the Parkinson's disease he now endures, Carew launched into a homily on the challenges faced by modern man - punctuated by a straight-faced, subtle humour.

For me there was awe in meeting and listening to this man we had read, read about, and listened to lectures on 20 years ago at UWI, St Augustine.

Sadly - how to say this? - there's a whole generation of West Indian writers (most of whom live abroad) whose oral offerings we will begin to hear less of.

Two spring immediately to mind: Sam Selvon, who spent his last years in Canada, and CLR James - whose manner I heard echoes of when Carew spoke on Saturday.

Who will replace them? Will they be born and bred in the islands?

Will they be exiles in London, Toronto and New York, or will they be at home in those cities?

There's no doubt that that generation had to go away - to flee philistinism and cramped little societies - to find people interested in them and in publishing their books.

Some of their successors are there already, in exile.

I've wondered if the Internet, making the world smaller, and all that goes with this, will make exile less necessary.

Caribbean socialists, writers and thinkers, like the enduring Carew, have met, spoken, and sometimes worked, with some very famous world figures who share their faith. Carew was emphatic about the living world - the earth, both society and the planet - past and present, and what we might do to cure and to save it, despite the ravages of nature and mankind.

"The world we live in is a very troubled world, though the more I read of things past the world has always been troubled," Carew said. "Those who analyse it ought to have the responsibility to change it."

And it can be changed, he insisted. It must be protected for future generations.

"The world will always be here but I don't know if we will be."

"I can't give up the struggle to make the world a better place," Carew emphasised.

"I have come to the understanding that one of the best ways of dealing with crises of the world is socialism and versions of it not yet experimented with."

"Pessimism is popular today - beware of it," he continued. He said he was deeply influenced by his maternal grandfather, principal of the Agricola Rome school, who went on to greater things. "There is a bust of him somewhere in Georgetown," Carew said. "In the microcosm of Agricola, Rome, I learnt of the world, and my grandfather taught me the essence of race relations.

"When I go to Georgetown, the racial animosity seems inexplicable," he said.

On one visit, a taxi driver committed the grave error of telling Carew, the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Carew demanded the surprised driver stopped immediately and got out. "Me, as a man just from the United States, to hear this absolute rubbish."

Talking to me afterwards, Kiki Roach, Charles's daughter, herself a lawyer, felt it had been a "wonderful celebration with a broad cross section of people united by this man of human rights, and a great teacher."

(Stabroek News)


Posted by jebratt :: Saturday, December 24, 2005 :: 0 comments

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