S0GAREE IS 110
By Vashtee Achibar Friday, May 30 2014
Soogaree Jattan, the oldest surviving indentured worker who came from the distant shores of the Indian sub continent to Trinidad turns 110, today, the Indian Arrival holiday.
However Soogaree, who is believed to also be the oldest living person in Trinidad and Tobago, if not the Caribbean, is now in the care of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Mt Hope.
North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) Chief Executive Officer, Kumar Boodram, confirmed Jattan was admitted to the Adult Medical Ward of the institution yesterday.
“She seems to be doing all right now. She came in for general weakness but that is to be expected at her age,” he said. He further explained that she is receiving oxygen and drips and assured she is receiving the best medical care at the hospital.
Boodram said as soon as he found out Jattan was admitted to the hospital, he sent the nursing supervisor to check on her.
Boodram, who is also a descendant of indentured labourers, (his grandfather whose name was Outar came to Trinidad in 1908 on board the SS Indus), said he has already ordered a bouquet of flowers for Jattan on the occasion of her birthday .
“I will present her with the bouquet of flowers,” he said. “We have to treasure her, she is the last surviving oldest indenturer and I consider it an honour to meet with her.” A medical source told Newsday Jattan is in stable condition explaining she has fluid in her lungs which is to be expected “at her age”.
Genealogist, Shamshu Deen, who has known Jattan since 1989, said he saw her about three weeks ago and she was walking. He explained Jattan, who came to Trinidad at the age of four in 1908, never knew her exact date of birth.
“She explained to me that she was three years old when the ship left India and when she reached Trinidad she was four. Since she did not know her exact date of birth, we have been celebrating her birthday on Indian Arrival Day. So she will be 110-years-old,” he said.
Deen, who lives in Princes Town, has been researching East Indian roots for close to three decades, and has traced the family line in India of former prime Minister Basdeo Panday. He said Jattan, who stands at a little over four feet in height, was a very active person up to about five years ago and loved gardening. He said her health took a turn after she fell and broke her hip five years ago. After she recovered, she walked with a cane. She still bathed and fed herself and occasionally took walks along Sandford Street, California where she lives, cared for by a nurse.
Newsday visited Jattan two years ago at her home in California and back then, at 108, she was in good health. Her nurse explained she was a strict vegetarian whose favourite meal was sada roti and tomato choka.
She said Jattan had no illness except at times would complain about arthritis pain in her legs brought about, no doubt, by her years of toiling on the sugar cane estates of Brechin Castle and Tarouba during the indentureship period which lasted from 1845 to 1917.
Jattan is a mother of five children, but one of them, a daughter died some time ago. She is a grandmother, great grandmother and possibly a great, great grandmother to many. One of her sons, Dhanraj Jattan, is a doctor in the United States.
In 2008, Jattan, then 104, was presented with the National Republic Day Award for her longstanding contribution to national development. The presentation ceremony was held on Republic Day (September 24) at the California Hindu Temple, located on Sandford Street, California a stone’s throw from her home. The award ceremony was hosted by the non-governmental organisation Citizens for a Better Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT) headed by Harrack Balramsingh. She has also received awards for community service.