The Life and Times of Eddie Sadashiva Pereira
In a conspicuous quote, Eddie Pereira wrote a farewell note the night before his demise; “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you, remember you when forget-me-nots are withered”. These poignant words in his own handwriting remain; “CARVE YOUR NAME ON HEARTS, NOT ON MARBLE”. That was his message to us, the night of January 25, 1995. The night his life ended tragically in his brutal murder in Nairobi.
Eddie, as he was known, was a Tivimkar Goan born during the First World War in Mombasa, Kenya, who lived through a still greater war, and more significantly, witnessed the end of colonialism in both India and Kenya and the rise of these new nations from their more or less bloody births and their memories of ancient splendors. You could say that Eddie was a “Great Indian Nationalist,” an extraordinary person with unwavering convictions who lived in a tumultuous era wrought with the often-devastating consequences of world wars, fledging steps towards independence of new nations and years of vicious terrorism. Above all, he was a passionate, politically driven man who for six decades made his mark on true “Indian” identity as well as the fierce nationalism of newborn Kenya. The oppressive British Raj in India did not endear itself to the young man bursting with pride in his ancestors, belief in his own self worth and a vision of liberty in the future of his two countries. In his unpublished autobiography he writes of these twin passions, which consumed his youthful years:
“Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru became my ideals. Now I was looking for higher values of life and sanctity, and in doing so I was ridiculed and misunderstood. I suffered and made to suffer. I was even imprisoned because I dared to speak the truth. No nation can continue half slave and half free. In India the Congress High Command decided that the time was ripe for revolution, and that the Congress Party or any Indian Party for the matter of it should resort to non-violent struggle for liberation, I for one was for armed struggle. In India, the resolution was officially labeled “QUIT INDIA”. I ventured in Kenya into newspaper articles, on emancipation; nothing was ever over to be anti anything that was non Indian as far as I was concerned, at the myth of an innate European superiority, and the Indian running dogs, unless I ran out of ink and paper”.
Though born in Kenya, Eddie early traveled to his parents’ homeland, India, to extend his formal education. He attended St. Paul’s school in Belgaum, St Pancreas High School in the southern city of Bellary, and later, St. Xavier’s College, where he graduated with honorary degrees in literature and practical politics. He also became a four anna Congress Member, embracing the ideals of a prejudice-free society. The Pereira’s belonged to the ancient Chardo clan of the Kshatriya caste of Goa. Eddie’s pride in his warrior ancestry is well documented in his autobiography:
“If records are to be trusted, the Chardo Kshatriya lineage had its origin in the annals of the epic narratives of the Ramayana. Our ancestors derived their inspiration from the heroes of Raghuvamsha . . . We all call ourselves Chalukya Chardo Kshatriyas and so we belong to a warrior caste of the fourfold social order in ancient India. . . . Shri Ramachandra, King of Ayodhya, is the hero of the Ramayana, one of the sacred epics of India. . .This Ayodhya of Ramchandra was the Chardo place of origin. Chardos are mainly found in Goa and the surrounding area out of Goa. Fallen as the Chardo Kshatriyas were from the high ideals of unity and freedom, they have in them the spirit of bravery of their indomitable ancestors. They never held their personal life dear, but welcomed even death in the later years of their struggle. Yet they had to migrate from place to place to keep their tradition culture and the way of life intact”.
By the time Eddie returned to Kenya in the late 1930s, there was little doubt that he was a radical espousing fanatical solutions to national problems. His reasoning was clear. His agenda was pragmatic. Symbolic of his pride in Indian nationalism, Eddie Pereira consistently wore a Nehru jacket with traditional leggings and cap. He was opposed to the authoritative British rule in India as well as the Portuguese dominance in Goa. Add to that his fierce opposition to the imperial British regime in Kenya. His convictions about the ill effects of colonialism ran so deep that one gets the impression that he wanted to take on imperialism with his bare hands:
“Frankly I felt very free. Ventured into the African continent in Kenya more stranded than making my way, remained unrecorded for the present, but the argument of my whole life as it had been lived is a state of completeness in a struggle of a civilization with a hostile environment, in which the destiny of British and Portuguese rule became necessarily involved. I do not think that any apologies are expected from me for a good deal of egoistic matter. . . .They say, a scoundrel’s last resort is politics; if that is so, that is what really happen to me! What ever it was, I took up politics (Indian Freedom fighting) very seriously and became very unpopular with the Goan community who were pro Portuguese and English at the time.”
The nationalist and freedom-loving Eddie Pereira was a natural supporter of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Their quest for Kenyan independence justified their methodologies for Eddie. Indeed, in the years that followed, he became a constant thorn in the sides of the British and Portuguese rulers of Kenya and India. He was imprisoned for his overt anti-British views and actions. His staunch anti-colonial stance would eventually result in his deportation from several provinces of British Kenya. His characteristic full tilt manner frequently clashed with pro-Portuguese Goan loyalists and there were strong indications that the Portuguese would bar him from ever returning to Goa The “loyalists” in Goa who preferred to emulate the Portuguese elicited sharp criticism from Eddie who saw in them fellow Indians who had turned their backs on their own traditions:
“They detested and hated to be called Indians but rather Goans. They tried their very best to emulate the good qualities of the Portuguese, but stayed with the bad one. At times they were more Portuguese than the Portuguese themselves, and ended in being cedar vanished Portuguese, without any identity, in other words, just sons of bitches. Outwardly, they looked Indian. With that, all resemblance between them and us ended. They represented an extreme of deracination, of vacuity, which still fascinates me. The act of conversion had left them culturally shipwrecked”.
His continued opposition to British imperialism in Kenya, the inflammatory anti-British articles he wrote for Kenyan newspapers etc resulted in Eddie’s imprisonment by the Kenyan authorities in 1957. The Nakuru Police’s charge (the colonial Kenyan government) was that Eddie had exchanged his broken down radio for a new radio while it was still under hire-purchase terms. Eddie knew that the charge was a cooked-up one but in his panic he pleaded guilty which resulted in his imprisonment. Eddie’s fortitude while in prison reveals the many aspects of his personality–his sensitive nature, his fierce pride and absolute belief in his cause and rightness of his actions, his moral indignation, indeed a presumed moral superiority to his oppressors, and his compassion for his fellow prisoners. Eddie called the prison, “the symbolic centre of modern society,” and wrote about his experiences in that solitary community in great detail in his autobiography:
“I was sentenced and imprisoned in 1957 February for six months. Heaven’s ominous silence over all. Bureaucratised world to me from my inner spiritual life became an obsessive object of contemplation, Madman and saint, clown and saviour, confined in what might be called the symbolic centre of modern society: the prison. I was simply appalled, to be perfectly frank, it smacked of a vendetta, or jealousy, or politics, I groaned a dastardly attempt to discredit me, The stabs shall heal no more; I will never forgive the English, I hate them. For no reason other than being anti British, anti Imperialism, anti White settlers, supporting Mau Mau and fighting for Kenya’s freedom and against apartheid in Kenya”.
Eddie’s defense argued that “having paid over three-quarter of the price is not subject under hire purchase terms and that I was free to trade it.” The appeal, lodged immediately by counsel J.M. Nazareth Q.C. was deliberately delayed hearing, but was eventually upheld and Eddie was released after 105 days in prison without apology or compensation. Eddie sardonically called it “the British justice.” At the time of his arrest, Eddie held a number of key positions with various nationalist, anti-imperialist organizations in Kenya. Eddie knew that the British would arrest him on any trumped-up charge. He was Secretary General of the Indian Association, Nakuru; on the executive council of the E.A. Indian National Congress, Nairobi, under the leadership of Shivabhai Amin 1956; on the board of the E.A. Goan Congress; President of the Goan Institute, Nakuru, President of the Goan Union, Nakuru, and Chairman of the Goan Education Council. Eddie writes in his autobiography that he was mistaken “ for a Communist when he might have been a fellow traveler and a friend of convenience, I was declared Nationalist and extreme left Socialist”:
“I had written over 100 articles in the press against British and colonial rule in Kenya, and had coughed out fines several times for writing sedition. My political agitation against the British started from 1940 and openly I donned Khadi. Some rare special treatment was extended to me by the request of The Special Branch of the Police who visited me almost daily for a friendly chat, they were seeking information of the workings of the Indian Association and the E.A. Congress, they also had a guilty complex for putting me in prison for no crime at all and this was proved when my appeal was upheld. The British ideals and objectives of yesterday were still the ideals of to day, but they had lost some of their luster and, even as one seems to go towards them, they lost the shining beauty, which had warmed the heart and vitalised the body. Evil triumphed often enough but what was far worse was the coarsening and distortion of what seemed so right. Was British nature so essentially bad that it would take ages of training, through suffering and misfortune, before it could behave reasonably and rise man above that creature of lust and violence and deceit that they now are?”.
Prison life was an “unrelieved horror” to Eddie who was often described as a man of gregarious and sybaritic nature. In those days, African jails were little more than mere “torture houses, producing crime and lunacy in equal measure.”
“My first days were spent where I could scarcely breathe in the fetid air of my cell and was at first, quite unable to eat the food which was insufficient and inedible, which always produced diarrhoea, the mere sight and smell of which made me vomit. When hunger at last forced me to eat, I suffered from diarrhoea and became so weak that I could hardly stand. In spite of exhaustion I could not sleep on my plank bed, and at nights I suffered from the wildest delusions. The filthy unsanitary conditions in which the prisoners lived, and the punishment of insomnia inflicted on all. I had not yet learnt how to speak to the other convicts during my daily exercise without moving my lips, and one day I heard a man behind me say: “I am sorry for you; it is harder for the likes of you than it is for the likes of us”, I replied, “No, we all suffer alike.” I was spared none of the cruelties and indignities which unimaginative human being wreak upon those who fall into their power; and as one who belonged to a different social class from the other African prisoners, I was the special victim of that pettiness and spite which the majority of those who have been subjected to authority display whenever they have a chance to exercise it”.
Eddie had the resolve to stamp on the imperial arrogance of the time. As the years went by, an ever-larger group of fellow Indians regarded his ideals with respect. Eddie’s convictions had not changed, but he was seen as more visionary and wise. When India and Kenya had been given their independence, Eddie became less politically active but he never abandoned his rebellious pursuits in his heart and mind. His rejection of tyranny remained strong. His passionate love for India and Kenya endured to the end of his life.
In later years, Eddie married Yvonne, a woman who was much younger than he. Regrettably, the marriage did not last. The difference in ages and irreconcilable incompatibilities precipitated a divorce, but the union brought forth four children. They were one daughter, Roxana or ‘Durie,’ and three sons, the late Chintamin or ‘Peter,’ Benegal and Naval. The latter two, known as Bennie and Neville, now reside in the USA. Eddie wrote of his family:
“Benegal usually drums of the specie Pereira family, and rightly so. We Pereira’s may have our faults and I have no doubt somebody has catalogued them in detail. But one thing you won’t find in us is self-deception. I suppose another ways to putting it would be to say we lack vanity, but that would be going too far. You’ve only to look at this infernal house to see what lengths our grandparents went to proclaim their social superiority. And what a fat lot of good it did them. Well, I am of another generation, another speck you might say, and if there’s one thing I value above else is it truth. Truth, sir, is the last repository of youth. How’s that for a saying?”.
In 1969 Eddie started a popular restaurant / inn called Chateau Pereira. The restaurant was located in the town of Kisumu, in Western Kenya where Eddie ran it with his three sons, Peter, Benegal and Neville. Chateau Pereira became a successful landmark and in its seven years of existence, the amazing tales and stories of its many patrons could have filled volumes.
All those who met Eddie Pereira were deeply touched by his way of making friends. Restaurant patron Fatima Jappie-Fadaka once said of him, “Eddie roars like a lion, swears like a sailor and holds his own very original views. However, after getting to know him, one realizes that he can bleat like a lamb, converse like a master and shake most people out of the complacency of their own long-held views and beliefs. He says exactly what he thinks and damn the consequence, but never with malice. In a by-gone age he would probably have been burnt at the stake. Thank goodness he has escaped that fate, as the world would be a poorer place without him. With people like Eddie, there is hope yet. Carry on the good work.”
Although born a Christian, Eddie, reverted to his Hindu roots in 1976. He took a Vedic name, Sadashiva and practiced the virtues of his Hindu beliefs until his untimely death. He requested that upon his death he be cremated in the Hindu tradition. Part of Eddie’s remains were scattered in the rivers of the wilderness of Kenya. A handful of ashes was returned to his ancestral home and immersed in the waters of the Mandovi River tributary in Comprem Tivim, Goa. Other portions of his remains were placed at the graves of his mother in Sidcup, England and that of his eldest son, in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA.
At the time of death, Eddie left behind the manuscripts of three books. One was to be his autobiography, while the others two were entitled, A TRAIL BLAZER CENTURY: The History of Indians in Kenya and GOANS IN KENYA: a New Breed. Unfinished, they are awaiting publication.
Kenya and India lost a true son in Eddie Pereira. His unsolved murder in Nairobi on January 25, 1995 left an immeasurable void. Thankfully, he made an unforgettable impression on everyone who knew him for what he was. Eddie was a man who fought all forms of injustice relentlessly. He inspired others with a never-ending passion for both individual and collective freedoms, and for what he believed to be the truth. Eddie will be remembered for his consistent commitment to lofty, yet practical principles, his nobility of mind and the radiant warmth of his deep feelings for his fellow men. Perhaps most of all, Eddie will be remembered for his colorful personality. Kind and unselfish to a fault, he gave most of his worldly possessions to those in need.
Eddie Pereira led a one-man fight for justice. He is gone, but not forgotten. There are many legacies from my father’s eighty years in Kenya. The older I get, the more grateful I am for a dad who engraved integrity upon his son’s heart. The loss of Eddie Pereira was great to those who knew him.
CUTTINGS FROM THE
“The COLONIAL TIMES”, published in Nairobi
(Africa’s largest selling Indian weekly)
Equality for Goans (December 1945)
Goans in East Africa (April 1946)
Goans Unity (January 1946)
Fifth Columnist (December 1946)
Portuguese Metropolitan Status (February 1947)
Nehru Eddie in 1946 (donned Khadi)