GOD OF THE COCOA - Chapter One

One - The Fly in the Arrangement

When Rajnath Kamalsingh married Latchmin, he was seventeen and she was twelve. The marriage had been arranged by their parents according to Hindu tradition, and took place in Granville, a village in the far south of the island of Trinidad. Every one from the village was invited, and every tradition and custom was kept as much as was possible, with no expense spared. Latchmin was dressed lavishly in as much embroidered silk her father could find, and in as much finery he could afford. On that hot tropical day of the wedding, every bead of sweat on her forehead dripped with  jewels, and every exposed part of her body, decorated in gold. With pride, Latchmin's parents dressed their twelve year old daughter in attire truly becoming a well-to-do Indian bride. From the crown of her head, right down to her saffron-soaked toes which fitted snugly into the flashy Indian leather chappals, she had been  addorned with intricate jewellery pieces her father had made himself.

Rajnath had first set eyes on Latchmin, two years before at another village wedding. A year later he became surprisingly distracted by her good looks on his way home from playing cricket one day. He was at the standpipe, desperate for a drink of water. Gasping, he opened the tap to gulp the water flowing into his cupped hands, but by the time he looked up again, she was gone, leaving him only with the sensation of an apparition, something he never felt before. He was fifteen then, and she, a child of ten, but that was of no consequence. He was mesmerised. She was the prettiest and the fairest he had ever seen. The dark brown mole above her lip seemed perfectly positioned on her fresh , clear skin, and her long black hair hugged her body like a blanket. She invaded his thoughts night and day till he became frantic and desperate to find her. In his search, he was surprised to find that she lived not that far away, and only yards from Granville Roman Catholic School where he spent most of his days.

Rajnath desperately scanned the school playground every lunchtime and every break time, hoping for another glimpse of the angelic apparition. Suddenly, school became a priority, and without fail every evening on his way home, he lingered at the standpipe, pacing like some kind of beast, his heart racing with leonine energy as he scrutinised the vicinity. When he did see her however, he was never able to speak. As the last months of his schooling dragged on, he became determined to have her. His mother had already begun her search for a bride, but had pressed him to remain at school till sixteen so that he could at least get his School Leaving Certificate, but his focus failed as the distraction increased. Although eager to find a job and gain some independence, Rajnath suddenly began to enjoy his remaining days at school.


It was a time of great poverty and hardship. But despite the difficulties they faced, Rajnath and Latchmin's wedding was a memorable one. It was a time for celebration and despite the rejections of their culture, traditions, religion, language and food, by locals, the family extended goodwill by inviting every neighbour, whatever their colour, creed or race. Whatever their inherent differences to the people around them, Indian food was no barrier, and despite the strange smells at first, those that ventured to taste the curries, longed for it and tried to emulate it in their own dishes.
Some years before he was born, Rajnath's father, Kamal Singh had secured himself a job as an overseer in one of the sugar estates. As one of the more educated amongst the Indian immigrants, he could not only read and write Hindustani, but also understood some English, and was able to do basic arithmetic. Like the thousands of Indians to arrive in the Caribbean on Coolie Ships during the end of the nineteenth century, Kamal Singh had left India, enticed by the promises from the Indian authorities and British shipping officials - plenty of work, good living conditions, and good pay. The six week journey of hell across the oceans - rough seas, little food and water of poor quality, no facilities for personal hygiene, caused much sickness and death amongst the travellers, mainly due to cholera, dysentery, and starvation.  Besides, some had thrown themselves overboard in despair.

Kamal Singh was amongst the men, women and children remaining, who arrived at their destination in a state of weakness, ill health and weariness. His first weeks on the island were spent huddled in barracks left over from the Slave Trade, with twelve strangers to a room. The food rations were meagre and they had one coalpot per room for cooking, which they used on the doorstep. The pay for cutting cane was $1.20TT per week, about 10 English pence today. 

They realised early on that not only had they been tricked, but trapped as replacement for the African slaves who, now free, had refused to work hard labour even for money. Many of these, now law enforcement officers, were decendants of slaves, and kept the rules of this British colony, as strict and as rigorous as in the times of slavery. Kamal Singh realised that they were trapped and decided to use his assets to his advantage. He had a plan. They were promised that after working for five years they would be given free passage home, or if they wanted to remain, they would have the option of buying a plot of land cheaply. He saw this as his goal, to work the five years, save, and buy some land.

Singh had been a skilled craftsman in India with a better general education than most workers, but was put to work as an ordinary labourer, a planter and weeder. With the language advantage however, he stood out as one of the few able to communicate both with his fellow Indians as well as the management. He eventually was promoted to overseer, where he earned more than the ordinary labourers. After five years of indentureship, Singh took the option to remain in Trinidad instead of returning to India, as by then, he had married Rajnath's mother, and purchased three acres of land cheaply from the government. They had two sons, and Rajnath was the first born.

Marriage was not Latchmin's choice. She had just begun to enjoy school again having missed a whole year, returning when she was ten, after a serious attack of typhoid which had almost killed her, were it not for the careful attention her mother had paid to her recovery, strictly following the doctor's orders. For months Latchmin had been bedridden, and on a liquid diet of rice-water and milk, so as not to cause further damage to her intestines, which had become paper-thin as a result of the illness. After recovery, her parents had spoilt her, never forcing housework on their daughter. Instead, they encouraged her to rest, read and catch up on her lessons.

They were not short of money. Latchmin's father was a skilled craftsman from India - a jeweller. Realising that jewellery played an important part in Indian life, he managed to set up a successful jewellery business in Point Fortin, instead of working as a labourer. He spoilt his daughter with pieces of jewellery, not just basic earrings and bera, but more decorative pieces with intricate workmanship - flower earrings, bracelets, fine-cut bangles, elaborate rings and complicated designed necklaces. He bought pretty embroidered fabrics, imported from India for her clothes, and sandals decorated with gold stitching and semi-precious stones. Latchmin's only chore, was to fetch drinking water from the standpipe, and this was only occasionally.

Both he and Bassandaye, his wife, betrothed to him when she was only five, lived a relatively comfortable life. By the time Latchmin was a few years old, they had built up a second business in property, buying and renting to those trying to get out of barracks, but unable to afford to purchase their own homes. Because they had been able to afford it, they were able to pay a doctor regularly to attend to Latchmin while many others with typhoid were dying.

As Latchmin grew closer to puberty, her parents were aware of their duty to find her a husband even though they preferred her to remain at school until sixteen. As Hindu parents, however, their responsibility to marry off their daughter overrode what they desired for her. As there were no suitable husbands in the nearby villages, their search widened towards the towns - Point Fortin up to San Fernando. Not  many Indian families had settled in the towns, however, having been driven towards smaller villages as heathen and aliens with a different language, non-Christian religion and strange garb. Latchmin's father had contacts but before he managed to ask around, he was approached by Rajnath's parents with an offer of a match between their son and his daughter.


He and Bassandaye deliberated. The match was not perfect, but finding Latchmin a wealthier husband in the town would mean that she would immediately be distant from them, whilst mixing with people who were not like them, or did not care for her. Their protectiveness towards their only daughter outweighed their need for a wealthy husband, but Bassandaye in particular wanted Latchmin to remain at school, realising that marrying her off so soon would seal her fate as a housewife and practical servant in another household. It was some months before they managed to finalise matters, but it was for another reason they arrived at their conclusion.

It was considered unlucky for a daughter to begin puberty while still in her parents' house, so they decided to accept the offer of marriage from Kamal Singh and his wife, but compromised with an agreement: Latchmin would marry at twelve, so long as they allowed her to continue attending school. Not adverse to education themselves, Rajnath's parents agreed, and Bassandaye and her husband promised a substantial dowry of money, jewellery and fine fabrics to the future in-laws, which they believed would protect their daughter's childhood as well as ensure her education.


The wedding had been a joyous occasion, but mixed with much grief. As was the normal for an Indian bride. Latchmin cried and cried, as it represented the end of her childhood and her place in her parents' home. Her mother had explained to her.

A Hindu wife belongs in the home of her husband and his parents. You will live as a daughter in their house, and do what they tell you to do. They promise to be kind, but you will have to help. After you are married, that will be your home. Always. You will never come back as before.

Bassandaye flinched, but she had done her duty. Only then did Latchmin realise why Indian brides always cried.


Latchmin met Rajnath for the first time, after the agreement between their parents. When they married she was pre-puberty, and was not to share her husband's bed until she became a woman, and not until instructed by her mother-in-law. Latchmin was shy and in no way looked forward to this time. For the first two days, she remained close to her bedroom, only coming out when she was called. On the third day Latchmin left for school after breakfast. When she returned home Rajnath's mother had made some decisions.

'Doolahin (daughter-in-law), I promise your mother, and your father that you will go to school. And you went today. I keep my promise. But you have to behave as a daughter now, in this house.' She smiled. 'Every day you

Latchmin listened carefully. The following day she tied out the goats before leaving for school. On her return home, she pounded the rice, fanned off the husks and prepared it for cooking, diligently picking out the small stones and discoloured rice grains. Rajnath's mother cooked the meal while Latchmin collected the washing from the clothes wire outside, brought them in and folded them neatly. Fortunately her mother had taught her how to heat the iron on a coal-pot. But this was not a job that Latchmin was proficient at yet. On her first attempt at ironing, she forgot to wipe the hot iron on a cloth before stamping it on the shirt she had so neatly spread out on the ironing blanket. Rajnath's mother did not miss what had happened. The black stamp on the shirt was not just charcoal dust from the coal-pot, which could be washed off. The fabric was burnt. Without thinking, Rajnath's mother reached over and jerked Latchmin by the top of her plait.

'Is there anything at all you can do? You are making it very hard, both for you and myself,' she said.

Latchmin was in double shock. That she had burnt the shirt was enough, but her mother-in-law's sharp response was frightening. 'I forgot,' was all she could say.

'I see I will have to teach you everything,', Rajnath's mother screeched. 'Necessary to bring you up to standard to be a good doolahin.'


Being a good wife was the ultimate objective, and that could not happen if Latchmin did not come up to scratch as a daughter-in-law. Rajnath's mother had no daughters of her own, but she was determined to do her best with Latchmin.

'The job of a mother is never done,' she said to Latchmin. 'You will learn, believe me. And you will come to be a good wife by the time you make first child.'

Latchmin shuddered at the thought of the first child.

'You will come to thank me in the end. Though it is hard work doing what your Ma should have done. You have to realise, that you have to make yourself useful. School, is one thing, but it don't teach you nothing useful! Only to read and to write? And what use is that, if you can't cook and take care of husband and children? You thinking you will become teacher? Work in Government Office? Like a white woman?' She laughed a scornful laugh.

By the end of the first week of the marriage, her jobs had increased. Latchmin was burdened with so much work that she struggled even to get to school on time. On top of all her chores, she also had to fetch water from the standpipe a mile away to fill up the tin barrel at the back of the kitchen every day. Amongst her chores, Rajnath's mother included the cooking - all the cooking, breakfast and dinner. It was usually dark before Latchmin ever finished her chores, and by then she was so worn out that she often fell asleep without dinner.

By now, it was clear that Latchmin's experience in the kitchen was severly lacking. Cooking may not have been her strong point, but it was certainly an important role of a wife. She concluded that Latchmin had been thoroughly spoilt, and a solution had to be found. A solution was found, and a stick from the fireside was applied to her backside regularly. Latchmin had never been beaten before, except to feel  the back of her mother's hand on rare occasions. Fortunately, she was a bright girl and learnt quickly. However, the beatings from her mother-in-law became a habit and occurred most days as a way to teach the girl the lessons she needed to learn.



Rajnath and Latchmin rarely spoke to each other, nor did they spend time together. But Rajnath was sad to see his new bride, shy and unhappy most days. He worked hard in the sugar cane fields as a labourer for twenty four cents a day, and look forward to seeing Latchmin after work. When he spotted the wheals on her legs, it broke his heart. One evening while Latchmin was bathing, he hid outside the bathroom and peered in through the cracks between the planks. Her body was as pale as golden sand, the soap suds clinging, soft and white, to her smooth flawless skin. His eyes travelled down her body to the shocking sight of her thighs, and round to her back, covered in long purple and black bruises. Though he had some suspicion, he had not realised the extent of the damage.

'Ma, he begged his mother, 'why you have to beat her so much?'

'So much?' The word reverberated like an echo. 'Where you get so much? That is nothing. You will have to do it all yourself later. You lucky that I doing this for you now. Less for you to do later. Much less. How else to make her learn?'

'No, Ma. She's not stupid. She can learn without a stick.'

His mother squared up to him, her head nodding up and down as she spoke.

'A wife's place is below her husband,' she said wagging her finger. 'See this eye?' She opened her eyes wide, and with her pointing finger, she pulled down the lower lid. 'Your father gave me this, first week we married. After that, I never forget my place.' She finished with one sharp clap of her hands in the air.

The scar she pulled at was no secret. Every neighbour knew how it had come about, for her boasting. As the weeks passed, Rajnath's sadness turned to anger, and he remained unable to change his mother's mind. Because of this, he set his mind on working out a plan. His own plan.

24th June 2010


Copyright - Marilyn Y. Rodwell 2010