I was very sorry to hear about the tragic death of Oscar Moti. He and I began attending Corentyne High (CHS) in the same year, we graduated together, and we were both appointed on the staff of CHS at about the same time. When I left in the early ‘70’s, he remained for a few more years. We never again met but I still have some very fond memories of him.
I was most impressed with his calmness, which was truly monumental. Nothing ever seemed to bother him enough to upset his equanimity. He spoke quietly, he always smiled, and he possessed a great deal of warmth. Consistent with his calmness was his attentiveness to his outward appearance. He was the picture of neatness; the knot of his tie was never loose and in perfect position. He had the habit of spotting microscopic chalk dust on his shoes, especially when he left a classroom, and while he spoke with anyone, he had the tendency of occasionally stooping down to refurbish his shoes. Oscar’s calmness acquitted him marvelously well each time the Principal confronted him for his lateness (when he was a teacher). He was always armed with a good explanation. Although most times the Principal was never convinced of its validity, he was always forced to restrain himself because he knew what he was up against.
I got to know Oscar rather well in our second year at CHS, when we were in Form IIIB (there was no Form 1 in those days; new students started in Form II). He was the tallest student in class, and as we were seated according to our height, he was in the back seat. But we struck up a speaking acquaintance when we met at the Albion Community Center on library days every Wednesday. Once when I saw him returning “Quintin Durward”, one of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, I was full of admiration as he told me the he had read the entire novel. I had once attempted it but could not get beyond the first chapter. I was convinced that he had read it because he proceeded to tell me about Quintin Durward’s love story.
Fyrish was noted for its abundance of mangoes, and it was not uncommon to hear people in the markets talking about the fine quality of “Fyrish mangoes” and comparing them to other mangoes of an inferior quality. Oscar’s parents had a very large farm in Fyrish, but there was no evidence of mango trees on it. However, many of Oscar’s CHS colleagues have a special reason for remembering the farm, and that was because we had many Saturday picnics with Oscar on the farm. A group of teachers, usually about eight or ten of us, would cycle up to Oscar’s home and park our bicycles at his “bottom-house”. When all of us had gathered together, we would divide up the rations for the picnic and walk to the farm, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. Just before reaching the farm, it was necessary to cross a wide stream, across which the trunk of a robust tree stretched lazily and sleepily to function as a bridge. Because of the constant rain, a part of the trunk was usually submerged up to an inch or two in the stream and we sometimes slipped.
The food at the picnic was always the same, and was called by various names such as “straits”, “all-in-one”, or “cook-up rice”, but it was the best I have ever had. We all had a hand in managing the cooking chores and so were able to disprove the proverb that too many cooks spoil the broth. The atmosphere was idyllic. Along the length of the farm were two streams, one on each side. The streams, shallow and crystal clear, were always teeming with fishes, especially patuas and houris, which were very easy to catch. At one picnic, an American teacher, under the auspices of the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), was invited to the picnic but he arrived very late. He was a trumpet player, and it was clear he and his trumpet were inseparable. While a boy from the village was guiding him to the picnic, the VSO teacher, like some mythological conch-blowing Triton, was heard from a great distance playing his trumpet. During the meal, he would occasionally pause between mouthfuls to play a few bars on his trumpet.
Oscar was very fond of literature and taught that subject along with English. So full of confidence was he that he did all his lesson preparations in the staff room, either before his first class or during recess. He sat in the middle of the staff room near the wall adjacent to the Chemistry lab. While he read Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, or Robert Burns’s “Tam O’Shanter”, or Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, or Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, as the case might be, he would habitually share any literary gems he found with those around him. He even used to ask us for our interpretations of any obscure lines of poetry.
Oscar once invited a few of us on the staff to witness a novel sport: nocturnal bird hunting. Behind the row of houses along the leeward side of the Fyrish public road lay a long and wide expanse of grassland where different varieties of birds roosted at night. We were on this occasion able to observe Oscar’s skill in throwing a cast net and trapping birds. Each time he cast the net, it would open up into a perfect circle before falling. Along with his net, he had a Coleman Gas Lamp. The lamp, when lit, was enclosed in a box with a square aperture on one side. A thick beam of light shot through the aperture like the dancing beams of a movie projector. Once a bird was spotted on the ground, someone would focus the beam of light upon the bird to overpower and immobilize it. As Oscar moved into position for the throw, the bird was as good as caught and bagged, for all he needed to do was to complete the action to bring about the anticipated result. It was a marvel to see him bagging many birds that night.
The students that Oscar taught would always associate him with his powerful Japanese motorbike which he rode to school. At recess it was not uncommon for students to gather around the motorbike and admire it as if it was a museum piece. Even the Principal extracted much benefit from the motorbike. At the end of the month, he would ask Oscar to take me to Barclays Bank in Rose Hall to get the teachers’ payroll. The Principal reasoned that a motorcyclist and a pillion rider had a better chance than a lone cyclist of foiling a possible payroll “stick-up.
Whether Oscar joined us in the volley ball court in the evenings at the Albion Community Center, whether we all ran a mile and a half around the Center’s cricket field, whether we made a night of it at Harris’ Parlor after the 5 o’clock show at the Apollo Cinema, or whether Oscar amassed a little fortune in his streak of good luck at cards some nights, those were the good old days that cannot be duplicated.
Paris Singh – December 28, 2018