An unsung hero. That was how cultural activist, Ajit Praimsingh, was described today. Praimsingh, owner of Praimsingh’s Pooja Bhavan and Indian Music Store, died in New York, USA, where he was receiving medical treatment for the past year. And although he was ailing, Praimsingh continued his work with the Mere Desh committee, which he founded in 1990. Mere Desh (My Country) was formed to educate the Indo-Trinidadian community and each year awards were presented to men and women who kept the old traditions alive. The non-profit organisation also organised competitions to renew interest in the art and culture handed down in the rich oral traditions of India.
In a recent interview, Praimsingh told the Express that each year community groups and individuals nominate persons in their community who had failed to gain recognition for their role in nation building. “We must recognise the contributions and achievement made by people of Indian origin and stop dwelling on the adverse conditions under which our forefathers worked. We must recognize their contributions and achievements in the development of Trinidad and Tobago. They have excelled in every aspect of life including religion, education, agriculture, commerce, politics, medicine, sports and culture,” he had said.
The annual event was held to commemorate Indian Arrival and featured a cultural programme promoting local artistes. The event included classical singing, tassa and paratha roti competitions. The Mere Desh committee was also involved in the installation of a monument for the late chutney singer Sundar Popo. Mahantji Balliram Chadee, president and spiritual leader at the Hanuman Mission in Toronto, said Praimsingh was a cultural icon. “He was one of those few people who wanted to recognise those who were unrecognised,” he said. Chadee said although he was ailing in New York, Praimsingh ensured that the Mere Desh competition, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, went on. Chadee said Praimsingh’s Pooja Bhavan was known throughout the world as providers of religious texts, music and pooja supplies. “He was a businessman, but not a businessman. Making a dollar was not his priority. He gave unconditionally. He gave voice to the voiceless. He enjoyed giving to charity,” he said. Chadee said his relationship with Praimsingh strengthened in the past year. “When he went to New York we spoke regularly. He asked me to prayer for him as his health was declining.
When I came back from India last year, the first havan I performed was in Praimsingh’s name. He was very dear to my heart,” he said. And in memory of his fallen friend, Chadee said, he wanted to realise Praimsingh’s desire to upgrade the Caroni cremation site. “He always spoke about it. This was something he really wanted to do. He wanted to see a place of sanctity at the Caroni River. There were no proper facilities, parking, roads. He wanted it to be a place of peace, like Mosquito Creek in South. This morning, when I heard he died, I told myself that I will do this for him. I will fight to get the Caroni cremation site brought to a higher standard,” he said. Praimsingh’s relatives were making arrangements today to have his body returned to Trinidad for a funeral service.
Story by Carolyn Kissoon – 5/2/2015