Part One: The Beginning
All journeys have beginnings. And all of us have our paths and crossings. Some of us are driven through the winding roads, tossed, and thrown with each new curve. While others never make it up the steep slopes or could climb the daunting faces of the jagged cliffs that life can toss us down at times. Then, there are those who look at the road. Who see the course and grab the wheel, learning how to steer out of the potholes and pitfalls, guiding their journeys despite the hurdles, to become pathfinders clearing the way for others to follow.
The journey of Kamla Persad began much like any other descendent of indentureship.
The women in her family were workers and wives and mothers and daughters. Her mother Rita, was a cleaner in the 1940s, working through the day at a Siparia-based contractor’s firm. She worked in the cocoa farmlands balancing her many roles until eventually, through unrelenting persistence and ambition to create a life for her daughter which was better than hers, she became a businesswoman.
Kamla, who was in her early teenaged years looked on at her mother’s drive and understood that regardless to the patriarchy all around her, the conventions prescribed to women and the acceptance by so many that a woman’s place was second, that her mother was a trail blazer. Grabbing her wheel and steering it out of the life of cleaning and labour, she came to owning and managing a roti shop. And how it flourished. Kamla, soulfully absorbed the example being cultured into her.
Indeed, she recognised that it was one’s own responsibility to pull herself out of the potholes and to walk along the shards of fallen rocks off the cliff faces, as her mother had done.
And as Kamla’s nanee or her mother’s mother, Rookmin had done. She had also worked all her life, as did her great-grandmother, Sumaria, who came to Trinidad as an Indentured immigrant in the 1880s and worked in the cane and cocoa estates. Both women became breadwinners to support their families after their husbands died at young ages.
Kamla’s ajee or her father’s mother, Soomintra had done similar. She supported her family by selling in the market and she was also fundamental in establishing the Saraswatie Prakash Temple in Boodoo Trace, Penal. Starting out as a simple mud hut used for praying, the decades of her activism inspired the villagers to grow the mandir into the landmark community institution it remains to this day.
Kamla’s ajee was a pioneer, organising the women of the area into singing and prayer groups. They would sing at religious gatherings in the Penal area. She eventually became a popular elder counsellor who would help poor families with food and give counsel to those in domestic distress.
Surrounded by these matriarchs of industry, Kamla has been rooted in a tradition of feminism.
Even though her mother Rita, her grandmothers Rookmin and Sumaria and her great-grandmother Soomintra may not have been given this official accolade, for they did not advocate for it, their very lives and beings were testimonies of feminism. Their examples of cultivating their own lives despite their history, their culture and conventions created the remarkable foundation that would set the stage for the young Kamla Persad to chart her own course to becoming the legendary woman she would go on to be.