Authors: Harold Sonny Ladoo
Tags: #Historical, #Literary, #Fiction, #General
HAROLD SONNY LADOO was born in Trinidad in 1945, the son of a peasant. He grew up in the Caribbean, working in the cane fields and on the boats. In 1968 he immigrated to Toronto, Canada with his wife and two children, and enrolled at Erindale College at the University of Toronto. He mainÂtained a double life, studying and writing by day and working by night in a variety of restaurant jobs in order to support his family. In 1972 he graduated with a BA and in September House of Anansi Press published his first novel,
No Pain Like This Body
. This earned Ladoo immediate recognition as a new literary talent and he was awarded a writing bursary from the Canada Council which he used to finance his return to Trinidad in August 1973, to research further books. His trip was tragically curtailed when on 17 August he was discovered in a drainage ditch, having been brutally attacked. He died shortly afterwards, aged just 28.
His second novel,
, was published posthumously in 1974, and Canada lamented again the loss of a gifted writer. Harold Sonny Ladoo left behind him a large collection of manuscripts: two further novels, many short stories and poems.
HAROLD SONNY LADOO
Copyright Â© 1972 Harold Sonny Ladoo
Introduction copyright Â© 2003 Dionne Brand
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This edition published in 2012 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
Avenue, Suite 801
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Ladoo, Harold Sonny, 1945-1973
No pain like this body / Harold Sonny Ladoo ; introduction by Dionne Brand.
Publ. originally 1972.
PS8573.A28N6 2003Â Â Â Â Â C813'.54Â Â Â Â Â C2003-900535-6
Library of Congress Control Number: 2010924089
Cover design: Bill Douglas
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing
program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the
Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
There is no fire like passion;
there is no losing throw like hatred;
there is no pain like this body;
there is no happiness higher than rest.
â The Dhammapada
THOUGH ONE SHOULD LIVE
a hundred years not seeing the Truth Sublime, yet better, indeed, is a single day's life of one who sees the Truth Sublime.”
If you came from the same place as Harold Sonny Ladoo, you were likely to think, as he probably did, that books held the possibility of changing your life, that they could take you to other places, that they could free you of any reality, that readÂing them was not an impassive act, that the person who entered them was not the same person who emerged from them, that they changed some tissue in the brain, revealed some truth that clarified your condition, and that rescued you, and that the best of them called you into a communion with other human beings against solitude, against torment, against misery. You were likely a boy or a girl walking a rice paddy or a cane field or a cluttered street or a crowded yard suspended by a kind of joy that emanated from the half-read book under your arm; you likely forgot some parental order, stumbled on a stone, spilled precious water or milk in the thought that someone had so precisely put the person you thought you were in a book. Or that they had gotten it so wrong, nevertheless, that when you could, you would do it yourself; and, when you had, someone else walking along in the same way would be equally suspended by the sublime truth of it. Harold Sonny Ladoo's No Pain Like This Body has all the gritty concentration of such an experience.
I went to school with Ladoo. I did not know him except in the nodding acknowledgement one makes at impromptu gatherÂings of people who think that they are or ought to be associated by race or country of origin or some recognized affinity through colonialism. People who are thrown together find each other through accent, geography, cosmic accident or what Caribbean writer Wilson Harris called the great heterogeneity of the New World. I sensed in Ladoo a reluctance, a skepticism as well as an acknowledgement of that affinity. One could not blame him, since these affinities are never primarily occasions of joy. They assume too much about personality even as they offer solidarity, even as they seek to revive lost spirits.
Ladoo seemed to me, in the glimpses I had of him in the two years we attended Erindale College together at the UniÂversity of Toronto, a brooding unhappy man. He smoked continually, his cheeks sucked into chasms cut out of a bony face, a permanent scowl etched there by the hard place he had come from in Trinidad, a place called McBean; mistrustful eyes made so no doubt by the same harsh landscape of subsisÂtence agriculture he had hacked his way out of with a few others. A dismissive turn to his equally bony compact body, he occupied the farthest corner of a room in the cafeteria that we, a cosmopolitan group calling itself the African-Asian West Indian Association, had taken over, or liberated, as we used to say. Ladoo sat there in a cloud of cigarette smoke working on
No Pain Like This Body.
By turns he would be involved in vociferous arguments about some philosophical point with the rest of us, but mainly with Lennox Sankersingh, whom we all called Chorros. I never approached Ladoo, never to my recollection had any meaningful exchange with him. We others, with our mix of pan-colonial desires, political awakenings, and unbridled ambitions, left him to his writing, sometimes giving it the respect of a sacred act, sometimes grumbling and arguing with him about what seemed Ladoo's disengagement with what we considered real and urgent political issues. We were going to liberate the world and how could he be writing a mere book? He didn't care. He poured all his desires into that one line of the Dhammapada â the verses uttered by the Buddha: “There is no pain like this body.” But despite our chiding, that line and Ladoo's passion for it was understandable to us. Not only in the philosophical sense. We had experienced its practical meanings. For although he ignored us, and some would have said disdained us, he was with us. We knew him to be cutting out a particular figure recognizable to all of us in its sovereign agonies. For where had he come from if not from the same latÂitude of flung identities. That line's brutal ministration was as familiar to us as our families and the skies and earth we open our eyes to each morning. Indeed it gave our situations a grace, a connection with the eternal, and, albeit unchangeÂable, a license to do what one could. At least that was my interpretation at the time. Romantic, perhaps fatalist.
And there was another Ladoo. We called him Plato jokingly. He was given the nickname by Chorros. A nickname he acknowlÂedged, relished, possibly because in the thick of tobacco smoke, his face older than its years, he would argue any point with vigour and intensity. The room in the cafeteria at Erindale was full of discussions on Fanon, Sartre, Marcuse, Marx, C. L. R. James, Angela Davis, Lenin and Mao. Ladoo liked the idea of being compared to Plato in these battles. Most of us knew him only by this name.
Plato and Chorros got into many an argument, the rest of us bringing up the rear. One particular fight was over V. S. Naipaul. Plato argued that he was a better writer than Naipaul, and Chorros being a logician asked him how he had come to that conclusion and could he measure it scientifically. Plato exploded, grabbing hold of Chorros, at which point our room in the cafeteria went uncharacteristically silent. SudÂdenly, referring to Chorros' broken-down car, Plato said, “Hey Chorros, how the Volkswagen going?” The violence of the moment diffused.
We heard of other violent moments in his life at home, though we were never privy to those. Ladoo was an intense man. He saw his mission on par with Naipaul and Sam Selvon. He had, as Chorros reminded me, little patience for things not directly related to himself and that mission. In his late teens when he found himself without a formal education, he and sevÂeral friends decided to study independently for the Cambridge 0-level exams. They formed a group and pushed each other, met, staying up nights after work cramming until they were successful. On the strength of which Ladoo and others in the group immigrated to Canada (one of Ladoo's colleagues is now a minister in the Trinidad government). Ladoo applied that same grit to writing. He spent sleepless nights writing around job and school and family. He had scraped himself up from a hardscrabble place and was determined to become a great writer. And he was at the beginning of that mission when he was killed. Plato did not die in old age like his namesake, but like the small protagonist of his novel he perished from place and arbitrary violence. That hardscrabble village he had come from embraced him again, and that last time he was unable to escape.
The Caribbean is a place of infinite reinvention. How else Naipaul, Walcott, Marley Brodber, Conde, Carpentier and Wynter. How else son, reggae, calypso, steel pan, zouk. How else Marcus Garvey and C. L. R. James. All recreations, recombinations of ancestral memory, harsh New World reality and undaunted imagination.
There was a road I travelled when I was a child. I only remember it from the vantage point of a child, eye level to the side window of a moving car or receding backward through the rear window. It was a road and journey that began in excitement and anticipation but that under the weight of the landscape ended in what seemed dreadful days later with exisÂtential nausea. This was the road from San Fernando to Guayguayare. The road passed through the towns of Princes Town, Rio Claro, Tableland and Mayaro. These were the main towns, the sign posts of progression to either end. In between and for miles on end there was nothing. Except endÂless fields of sugar cane relentlessly waving, by turns striking the air like the Goddess Durga and by turns seeming a blue-green ocean, a manifestation of the goddess Yemaya â both having made the crossing and assembled on this island from the Old Worlds of India and Africa. Boredom and sickliness affected the traveller here, a loneliness sprang up along the road and a grim drudgery.
Somewhere off the road was a place aptly called the Devil's Woodyard. The eternal fields of cane were interrupted here and there by red, white and yellow jhandis â Hindu prayer flags signalling a dwelling, a devotee, a brilliant faith that had survived the arduous crossing from India. Once in a while along the empty road a woman with an orhni over her head or a girl carrying water stunned momentarily by the car would stare. The car dizzily swerving, the driver, a man named Dillon, stirring from the monotony of the road at the surprise of other humans.
Secreted off this road there were traces and villages hacked out of the cane; places that African forced labour had despairÂingly abandoned and where Indian people had been brought two generations before as indentured labourers. An equally despairing endeavour. The feeling all along these traces, in these villages, was mournful, a patient brooding. Their grim sense repeating and multiplying in other places called Barrackpore, Penal, Balmain, Fyzabad, Felicity, Calcutta, Palmyra, and McBean through which Ladoo observed the same desperation. Something living in them like the past and yet something waiting to be invented. One could either make something of these places or be crushed by them. And for all the marvellous turns of imagination that allow people to surÂvive history's arbitrariness, one is not always able to rise to the task of reinvention, one is not always successful at it. One fails. Ladoo's No Pain Like This Body tells of just such a failure. The novel is a Veda to the beginnings of Indian life in Trinidad. Life in the not so imaginary Tola Trace. A life of the barest subsistence and what must have seemed abandonment by the gods. Ladoo by this act, by the writing of a hymn to these origins, thought that he could reinvent himself. And he did, momentarily. His early death cutting his work short.