Friday, March 1, 2024

Meet T and T PM, Kamla


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LEGENDARY CALYPSONIAN CRAZY, in one of his most popular songs a decade ago made some predictions about the future of Trinidad and Tobago’s political landscape.
In Time To Come, Crazy said the twin-island republic would have a female leader.
Last month, Trinidad and Tobago broke away from tradition when the People’s Partnership led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar scored a landslide victory in the General Elections.
But who is Kamla Persad-Bissessar?
When she was 16, she wanted to go to England to study. Her father, Raj Persad and her uncles, didn’t want her to.
“He, my father, was very traditional, you know, and he said ‘Why you sending her away for?”, recalled Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
“But my mother [Rita Persad], she was very interested in my education. My father was also strong on education but he didn’t want me to go. But my mother, she held out.”
Had her mother not insisted, perhaps Persad-Bissessar would not, today, be Trinidad and Tobago’s first female prime minister.
The new PM also has a list of other firsts: first female Attorrney General; first female acting Prime Minister; first female Leader of the Opposition; first female Prime Ministerial candidate.
She softened when speaking about her parents, sounding fully engaged, a little laughter in her voice as she recalled those early days with her mother and father.
By the time she left for London, she had already met her husband, the reticent Gregory Bissessar, whom she calls Greg. He was already in England when she arrived there to study at London’s Norwood Technical College.
Two years later, when she was 18 and he was 22, they married.
The couple later left England for Jamaica where they spent 14 years. It was there that Persad-Bissessar developed her love for Bob Marley’s music.
“Reggae is universal music up to today,” she said, as in a passionate declaration. “Bob Marley has had a tremendous influence on my life.”
The unusualness of this Kamla-moment is the result of several uncommon things.
She identified as her guiding influences Hinduism and the Spiritual Baptist Faith. She added that she attended a Presbyterian School and that too was among her influences.
“I am baptised in the Baptist faith,” she said. “I have no specific church as such. I am of both the Hindu and the Baptist faiths.”
Both Persad-Bissessar’s parents were Hindu. In fact, her father was a Brahmin Hindu from a family of pundits yet he was the one who led her to the Spiritual Baptists at an early age.
“My father was very ill and people came to pray from him. From then we kept both faiths.”
And she doesn’t have a spiritual advisor, she said. “My faith is in God.”
Both Persad-Bissessar’s parents are deceased. She has one son, in his mid-20s, who has given her two grandchildren – a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. She has three sisters. The eldest is deceased and her daughter, Lisa Harry, is the niece who was in Persad-Bissessar’s Prado when it was hijacked on May 14. Another sister lives in New York. The third has been living in London for about 30 years but returns home each election season.
“She came home for Christmas last year and stayed for the internal [UNC] elections. Then she went back and returned for the general election campaign,” said Persad-Bissessar.
Were it not for the gruelling schedule of the UNC internal election-into-general election campaigns, she might relax by cooking, and eating her own cooking, more often.
“I like cooking, although I don’t have time to do it these days. I find it therapeutic after a long day.” She cooks and eats local food.
She looks tired now. At the earlier news conference, her face looked a bit drawn, without the fullness we have known in photographs of her a month or so ago. But, she said, she was blessed with good health.
“I am blessed with no major illnesses, no heart troubles or hypertension or anything like that. About two years ago, I was told that I was slightly diabetic but thank God no major problems have occurred up to now. I don’t have to be on insulin or anything of the sort.”
She considers herself blessed in several ways.
“I have been very blessed with the opportunities I have had in education. I am blessed with a very good memory. I have been blessed with family and friends, people I have met in England, Jamaica, Barbados, all along my life’s journey. There is nothing I want for myself anymore. I feel strong and confident. Life and God have been good to me and I want to give back. (Trinidad Express)


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