Two days ago she called me to announce that she was happy, she sang songs after songs. Hollywood and Bollywood songs, hymns or bhajans, calypsos. To forewarn me that time was going, that we needed to speed up the last edifice to complete the Dharti Mata Mandir, a bathroom. Yesterday, I did not take her calls. Too busy. This morning, Friday 16th June, she died peacefully in her sleep. I never knew I would meet someone like this, to bless me, guide me, love me.
Miss Tara Sharma, who lived for over forty years opposite the famous doubles stalls in Debe, represented a high point in the monastic history of Trinidad and Tobago. She was the grand-in-law of the illustrious Pandit Jankie Persad Sharma, and upon marriage to his grandson Rajindra, lived in the Sharma’s ancestral compound, which hosts a temple over one hundred years old. The temple is resplendent with murtis, devtas, a takurbari, where I would rest, and a bedi, where a vigil was kept, ceremonies performed.
Miss Tara breathe life into the ancient texts of Hinduism. She was a walking Ramayana. A steadfast follower of Shri Raam. Her childhood is filled with instances of recalcitrance, rebellion. On Sunday, when I last visited her, she told me of how frankly she answered her commanding father, ‘You didn’t make me.’ She was telling her puzzled, reverent father, that she was not of his making alone, but of Shri Raam Bhagwan.
At the Presbyterian Primary school in San Francique, she fought a pitched battle against a young female badjohn who calumniated her identity. She transitioned quickly out of primary school and joined the pandits, the readers of scripture at their altars. She picked up Hindi in two-twos and could read the Ramayana and Gita fluently by her early teens.
And she went off alone, or with her farming uncles, parents, aunties, to farm: plant rice, honeydew melon, bodi, baiganne in her family’s acreage in Moriche, Woodland, where she grew up. On Sunday she spoke of her land, so many bandits ever-ready to inch in. She was on the warpath again. She recalled planting rice, the rain fell, the rain dried on your back, you kept on planting. But she saw the devtas in the lagoon. They came in dreams, in the form of cows, and gave hints and messages to her, often about politicians, the crying earth and its threatened habitats and species. She always had a dream for us, a message, a note to the planet and its peoples.
No sooner than an incident expired, a word fell from your mouth, Miss Tara had a narrative. Her studious reference point was the Ramayana. No exaggeration, she must have told us over a thousand corollaries, instances, narratives from the Ramayana. She lived the book. Its precepts, dicta, stories. The world was always unfolding according to Raam, the message of Raam, the Ramayana. She was a pandita, the mistress of the bedi. At the bedi, or seated on the thakurbari with a feast of elderly singers, drummers, harmonium players, dhantalists, she would expound, often bursting into songs, switching into Hindi, translating, shunting off into story, into an explication of verse, rhyme and reason. A living embodiment of the gift, the honied verses of Raam.
Miss Tara was a member of the Highway Reroute Movement. Her home did not stand on the path of the Debe to Mon Desir highway. But when she saw our advocacy camp in Debe, alongside the Ring Road and NAMDEVCO market, she came across. She had a history in land matters. She had worked with the former NAR Minister of Agriculture, Lincoln Myers, to pass the Agricultural Small Holdings Tenure Act. She personally fought a series of battles in Court, over thirty years, against land encroachment in the Oropouche Lagoon.
She knew that Mother Lakshmi lived in the lagoon. Often, in ajoupas constructed near her family’s farms, as a girl, she would unite the travelling minstrels, satsang groups, and play music in the lagoon, offer songs and prayers. The lagoon was a little village India. The carat, the mud walls, the leepayed floor. On Sunday, she marvelled at the cleanness, sweetness of ajoupa homes. At our HRM camp, she led our fasting and prayer rituals, our bedi and tulsi. She spoke with command to the politicians, setting down her law, her red lines. No one would broach her command!
Miss Tara was my gurudita. During my two hunger strikes she provided strict guidance. She and all her dogs, birds, cats constituted one family. She gave sacred names for them all, drawn from the Ramayana. She harangued piteously about the withering away of the planet. She lived a part of India which is fast disappearing in India.
When the floods came to knock out her temple, carry away her Ramayana, I interceded along with the Minister of Works to assist. Her home and temple were saved. She had always dreamt of building an alternative temple, a mandir on the Moriche Lagoon. A place, the spiritual center of the Republic, to prayer, fast, host satsangs, roast baiganne, tomato choka with roti on a chula in the Moriche. I was the Deewan, chief builder, architect, manager. The mandir is there, on a hill on the Moriche Lagoon, with a view to the San Fernando hill and the sunset beyond the Lagoon. Its life has left it.
PS: The photos show Miss Tara as an activist, a spiritual leader, and as a landowner in the Moriche/Oropouche Lagoon.