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HomeEducation / CultureNow I Understand

Now I Understand

– This article is dedicated to Antiguan-born, P.R.L Henry. At our amusing card-playing sessions of Hearts at lunchtime we referred to him as “Phenrose.” He was the Senior Public Relations Manager (SPRM) and my immediate boss when I functioned as one of the officers in the Public Relations Department at the Trinidad and Tobago Petroleum Company (Trintopec).

By Johnny Coomansingh

During the period 1990 -1993, I wondered why my boss at a certain time of the week indulged in such cacophonous fits of laughter inside his office. I really could not understand his demeanour every Thursday. The unrelenting cackle of his laughter met my ears quite easily because my office was not too far away from his. So one day I mustered the courage and walked into his office to ask him about his incessant laughter. He answered: “Tony Deyal!” “Who is this Tony Deyal?” I retorted. He replied, “Who is Tony Deyal? Although an Antiguan by birth, he replied in Trinidadian dialect, “Tony Deyal is mih good fren boi. I cyar wait to read what he write.”

Sometimes you would see him rushing about in the office like a dog smelling and sniffing out an agouti. Scurrying about, he presented a staid stare looking for the Daily Express newspaper. In a jiffy, he would pop into my office, “Yuh have it?” Then he would speedily “skate” to someone else’s office in search of the paper. I couldn’t understand his questioning gaze but I remember his movements quite well. His dire need to read what Tony wrote was all too amazing. I guess if he did not get to read the column he’d be a man most miserable. Because of his reactions to Tony’s writings, I became inquisitive, more like “farse” and decided to start reading too. I also had my fill of chuckles and laughter while reading.

Tony has a deft style with words. The way he manages the words in his sentences to evoke laughter on any serious issue is baffling…capturing the reader to go on. As I read, I kept drifting back to the nightly television programs he produced and presented for Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT), Face of the Nation and Issues and Ideas, and I wondered if this was the same Tony Deyal. Nevertheless, I wanted to meet Tony Deyal. Many years passed, but what I learnt in Trini dialect is that “What eh meet yuh doh pass yuh” and as a corollary, “Mountains and valleys don’t meet, but rivers and people do.”

I cannot remember how we made contact, but most likely it was through email and then by telephone. We talked about meeting at Adam’s Bagels on Maraval Road, Port of Spain, his favorite watering hole for coffee. My several attempts to make it there were futile. It so happened that he had to come up East and we decided to meet for the first time at Rituals in the Trincity Mall. He came with his son Zubin.

We greeted each other and of course celebrated our meeting with coffee and a nice chat. The next thing I knew, I was at his home in San Fernando celebrating his birthday with some of his friends. I had my cuatro with me and we broke out into a Mighty Sparrow medley that everyone enjoyed. Tony is a man who does not like mauvais langue (bad mouthing/backbiting) kankah or kuchoor (confusion) but will wallow in a little calypso bacchanal. Tony has a memory like an elephant when it comes to calypso.

I remember him singing Sparrow’s Take Yuh Bundle and Go, with a chorus that goes like this:

“Take you bundle and leave and go,
Don’t stay here no more,
Say you mind must be tell you,

I’m a real cunumunu,
Ah go prove to you that ain’t true”,
But he stand up behind, she bend down she head,
To pick up something below the bed,
Scramble on to Betty Lou bawling ‘Dou-dou’,
Is joke ah making with you.”

In December 2019, I got married and Tony and his family were present. We will visit each other and have a meal together from time to time. Tony has continued to write columns for several newspapers, including the Jamaica Gleaner, Barbados Nation, Caribbean News Global (CNG) and the Independent (Canada). His articles are also posted on Facebook, which we all lap up for the puns he employs.

Tony has not changed his style; he has only gotten better, like good-aged wine. We readers have declared that he’s the Master of the Pun; no comparison in this region. As one of his great achievements, he founded My Trinidad Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, the only free, monthly online literary magazine in the Caribbean. Without any cost, the magazine is in its fifth year moving up from strength to strength. Our dedicated writers, poets, and contributors have continued to support this magazine without fail.

Nudged sufficiently enough, Tony eventually published two books. His first book titled: Tony Deyal Was Last Seen is a compilation of 76 columns of great reading containing history, culture, sport, politics and miscellaneous matters rendered with more than a smattering of jokes. His second book, Blades of Grass and Glory, written in the same style, contains 78 articles selected from the collection he penned on the game of cricket. He published the first book when he was 76 and the other when he was 78.

On the back cover of the book Tony Deyal was Last Seen, Professor Kenneth Ramchand advances: “Tony Deyal is the most widely read columnist in the English-speaking Caribbean. Of the pure humorists I have read, only Mark Twain is in the same rank as Tony Deyal.” Ramchand added, “Deyal is a serious writer not only because he is careful of craft but also because his comedies are fired by deep social, cultural and political concerns…They are referred to as columns because that is the format in which they appeared, but they are stories. This “columnist” is a storyteller in disguise…In all the islands, Tony discovers and embraces the deep structural commonalities and bold features on the surface that bind the peoples of the region in one Caribbean.

At the launch of the book, Tony said: “I wanted something different about the Caribbean, a book that proves we have more in common as a people than we have differences. I wanted to celebrate life in the region and show how we live and love it. I wanted people from outside the region to see us as we see ourselves.” Now I understand.

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