“Pan? Pan my ass! Sat say once that UNC people have dholak and sitar and tabla and tassa; they don’t want no pan!”
“Morning, breds,” I had greeted Prakash cheerily as he stepped into the street just as Bobby and I were passing his house on Friday morning. “Yuh hear bout Warren?”
“Who Warren, Thompson?” he responded immediately. “Whappen? He dead?”
“No, not Thompson,” I corrected him. “Solomon. Heart attack this morning.”
Prak and I go way back to secondary school in QRC, which is where he would have known Solomon. In the days before TV’s monopolisation of Trinbagonian attentions began, the Queen’s Park Savannah helped shape entertainment tastes. So, like Warren, Prakash is a Panorama and kaiso addict and rarely missed a pan event. Until…
One day, he was clearing some land he had in the country and the chain saw he was using recoiled, gashing his leg. After that, strangely, he pulled in his liming wings, devoting more and more time to working the acreage on his country estate.
And bemoaning government’s “igNORance of agriculture” and lamenting his adult sons’ matching complete and utter lack of interest in the field.
“They doh care a little bit,” he would often lament to me, “about the potential benefits to be derived from owning land.
“Dis douglarisation ting does worry me sometimes,” he laughed. “Dem just want to sell back de piece ah land I spend all my life savings on and get de money in deh hand.”
On Thursday, Pan Day on Wack Radio 90.1, I had spent a couple of leisurely mid-morning hours in the backyard with the radio on. In that time, from under my three grown mango trees, doudouce, julie and starch, I uprooted 143—yes, I actually counted!—mango tree sprouts.
So as we hit the road in lockstep in the still unbright morning, I shared that surprising stat with Prak and Bobby.
My neighbour shot me a sideways look, as if thinking for a moment about challenging me on the figure. He didn’t.
“I think a doudouce seed will give you a doudouce tree,” he eventually said, his tone even. “But I hope you know none of the hundred and change trees woulda be starch or julie.
“You know why?”
“Me eh no mango expert,” I laughed, “just a mango peong.”
“If yuh drop a mango seed somewhere in yuh yard tomorrow,” Bobby offered, “yuh could end up with a mango vert or mango rose tree one day. But starch and julie does take a lil more work. Dem grafted.”
Prakash: Dah is de darm ting self! (angrily) Julie and starch is work!
Me: He hit a raw nerve or what? Yuh sound like yuh vex.
Prakash: I grow up hearing all the time that it ent have no free lunch. Except in Trinidad! Everybody here want to get reward without work.
(After a long pause) Listen. Yuh could go and buy peach and pear and kiwi in a tin in the supermarket, right?
Me: And pineapples. And lychees.
Prakash: Yuh could go and buy mango in a tin in the supermarket too?
Me: (simultaeneously) Not as far as I know…
Prakash: (Sighing deeply) Let me tell allyuh someting, if we was serious, we woulda be putting mango in tin years ago. And other fruits too.
“The reason it ent happen yet is because we not willing to do the work. Or to pay the people who willing to.
“Every year, I does have hundreds ah mango on my land, julie and starch I graft from small too. The vendors want to buy my whole tree fuh $200 and then sell my mango four fuh $20.
“Not a f… ah dat! Ah rather what I cyar gih my family and friends rotten!
Another long pause.
“Now if somebody siddown and study how to preserve starch and julie in a tin too… And papaw. And passion fruit. And whatever else. Pommecythere? Sapodilla? Five fingers?
“You see any evidence dat work like dat going on anywhere? Shithong Kazim Hosein in Agriculture? What’s-her-name Scoon in Trade and Industry? Penny Beckles in Planning and Development? Ha!
“You tink UWI doing anyting like dat?
Bobby: They should be. It makes sense.
Prakash: Deh not. Not one Fac! Not in Cariri, not in Agriculture, not in Economics, not in Engineering!”
Taking a long, hard stare at the rising sun now in the eastern sky, he drew a deep breath.
“Listen,” he went on, “if somebody in Trinidad could find a way to make growing grafted mango and papaw and passion fruit and pineapple really profitable, Caroni could open back tomorrow. To plant not cane but fruit for export.
“If Kamla wasn’t just playing politics, you tink she woulda tell she Local Government people to boycott Rowley meeting? You tink last week in she Emancipation Day speech, she woulda talk dat f… about opening a pan factory?
“You don’t tink dat, even before the end of 2010, she woulda be seriously pushing agriculture and agri-processing and looking fuh ways to re-open Coconut Growers and Citrus Growers and Caroni Ltd?
“How much radio in Caroni you tink was on Wack Radio yesterday? How much Indian like me it go have in Arima on Borough Day weekend?”
And then he leggo the Sat pan line.
Me and Bobby eye make four. And I swear I wanted to ask Bobby then and there who he tink go win the 2022 Fifa World Cup.