BC PIRES MONDAY 17 JANUARY 2022
Where the misfit fits in
Frederick “Dharmbodh” Westmaas recently published his memoirs, Glimpses of a Mystical Misfit. – Mark Lyndersay
AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Frederick “Dharmbodh” Westmaas and I recently published my memoirs, Glimpses of a Mystical Misfit.
I will turn 76 in March.
I’ve worked for six years as a psychiatric nurse in England. But spent the better part of my working life as a sculptor in Trinidad.
I spent two years in my guru’s ashram in India.
I was born in a nursing home on a street in the capital city which bears my official name, Frederick.
People do sometimes wonder where I come from but, despite my varied (Dutch, Afghan, African, French Creole and Venezuelan) ancestry, I am Trini, without a doubt.
The boxer Ralph Peterkin said the high point of his career was his victory over Westmust (sic) the Venezuelan in the amateur championships flyweight final in the late 60s.
I now live in D’Abadie, the home my father built and left for his children.
From age six to 16 (1950s and early 60s), when the government acquired our property to expand the airport, I lived literally on the banks of the Caroni River, as my father worked as a (control tower) aeradio operator at the airport.
I learnt to swim and mastered the art of river fishing.
From 16 to 28, when I left for England, I moved between Tumpuna Road, Arima, and my maternal grandparents, uncles and aunts in Success Village, Laventille.
My first primary school was St Helena Presbyterian, just across the iconic bridge separating Piarco and St Helena Villages.
In 1962, I was expelled from Hillview College (described in chapter seven of my memoirs).
We were six children, four boys and two girls.
Frederick “Dharmbodh” Westmaas worked for six years as a psychiatric nurse in England, but spent the better part of his working life as a sculptor in Trinidad. – Mark Lyndersay
Unfortunately, my youngest sibling died last September at 64.
Only my younger brother Jan lives in Trinidad. He was the only Westmaas to see me fight in the ring. And to join in storming Carnival fetes.
Both parents died in my arms, my father at 97 and my mother at 86.
One day my father looked at me lovingly and said, “You turned out to be a good boy, after all.”
Although I had intense relationships with women in England and India, my love for freedom shaped my destiny to remain single.
Being engaged in a personal search for truth does not constitute belonging to any religion.
As a youngster, I was an atheist. Today I try not to get caught up in beliefs or doubts.
Nevertheless, I believe there are degrees of believing and doubting. To a great degree, I believe in Eternity, which postulates that there is no beginning and no end.
People say they go to the beach, listen to music or even have a drink to relax. I see all this as “external relaxation.” Real or conscious relaxation is your inward journey to find the source of your tension.
I am inspired to compose a little verse: Let go and let God be/Is a quote I always see/But there’s another way/You can be free/Just let go/Of what you don’t want to be.
Besides Osho’s many books, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea captured my imagination as a teenager. It mirrored my adventurous life and my love for fishing. The hero Santiago’s courage had a great impact on me.
You can say I cut my dancing teeth as an adolescent in the 60s jumping up to the music of steel and brass bands at Carnival fetes I stormed in Trinidad.
As I matured and got into yoga and meditation, the raw, sensuous movements of the Carnival transformed into a more meditative, spontaneous and even ecstatic dance. Like a Sufi dervish in a trance.
With my visual impairment, watching movies is now a thing of the past.
Going back to childhood, the movies Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn still resonate with me. The song Moon River, about the Mississippi, where Tom and Huck had their adventures, still brings back a feeling of nostalgia.
Perhaps I was on the Mississippi in a past life. Or maybe it’s just a sentimental reflection of my own adventures at a similar age on our own Caroni.
Apart from the deceased Mighty Shadow, whose down-to-earth spirituality I was able to relate to, I like Mungal Patasar. Who blends beautifully the music of the sitar with the national instrument, the steelpan.
With the good and bad experiences and the lessons I had learnt, I felt inspired to write my memoirs, which I could share with others.
Despite my failing eyesight, I dismissed the idea of using a recorder. Writing by hand was essential. Using an erasable felt pen on large arborite sheets would work. I couldn’t type on a computer keyboard anyway.
My brother Jan typed and edited my work bit by bit.
The entire process lasted more than two years.
Developing cataracts has slowed me down a bit but I have become even more conscious of my inner feelings. And more alert and aware of my surroundings as I move about. Mind you, I am not blind.
I think the average Trinidadian is fairly interested in reading, including autobiographies. I can’t see how else we could produce such eminent prize-winning authors and lyrically rich calypsoes as we have.
As I reflect upon BC Pires’ question about why the wider world would be interested in reading about my life, I am inspired to write these lines: There would be readers in the wider world who would fit in/Eager to find out how the life of a Mystical Misfit has been/A Trini to de Bone, to drama he was prone/Learning to love life, dance and sing/And trusting in the truth of a life within.
For me, the real draw of the book is the search for enlightenment.
A rebellious youngster, I used my fists to fight in and out of the ring. And then used my hand to sculpt as a career, and finally, to write my memoirs.
Add working with psychiatric-ward patients while seeking to unlock the key to my inner self with the aid of an enlightened eastern master and this sounds more like fiction than real life.
My adventures in Trinidad, England and India have the potential to attract a wide audience, I believe.
The best part of writing my memoirs was going within and experiencing past events and feelings in a detached way, viewing everything objectively as a divine play.
The worst part was realising I had forgotten to include some important events and happenings. But I am planning a second edition.
What is a Trini?
I believe names reflect the essence of things. The frequency of the number three is positivity, equality and divine will according to numerology, the science of numbers. The frequency of the number three governs the natural, overall consciousness of Trinidad. Our creativity, fun-loving and forgiving nature reflects the positive side of three.
A Trini (also) loves to spread joy.
The question “What does Trinidad and Tobago mean to me?” inspires me to respond in verse: My country is that piece of Mother Earth/That nurtured and raised me from birth/ Guiding and protecting me as I went astray/And showing me a different way/With the clay of her body, I expressed my art/In ways that opened up my heart/Helping me to follow a path that made me free to fly/Inwardly in the mystic union of Mother Earth and Father Sky.