By Sham Ali
The Caribbean community and the residents of the Richmond Hill area of Queens, New York, have lost a beloved son in prominent businessman, Jimmy Maraj. Further, the Metropolitan Cricket League and the cricket fraternity have lost one of their most strident supporters and ardent cricket enthusiasts. Jimmy passed away a few weeks ago when he lost his battle for life after a prolonged illness — he was 63. The man who once tracked the flooded fields in search of birds and dredged rivers for fish, mud dams and pitched roads playing cricket in his homeland reached his end of tape in his adopted home. Albeit at a time when most begin to contemplate the unfamiliarity of mortality, the end of his was written. It was one of those days when that familiar voice of a generation was in silence and for so many the emptiness of the vast expanse of space seemed like a friend.
Jimmy was born on Madras Road in the village of Chin Chin in Trinidad and moved to the United States in the early 1970’s. Like so many before him, he left his boyhood days of catching birds and fish and playing cricket with his confidante and best friend Shadi Khan, grasping the opportunity to move to the United States for the hope of a better life in the land of opportunities. He would in due course pave the way for all of his immediate and extended family to follow. From the inception, he was determined to scale new heights in his new found land and the Richmond Hill area was his bedrock.
He was focused, brave, flamboyant and enterprising. It was a period where success stories of people of Caribbean descent, in the seventies and early eighties, were few and far between, and if any, they were often devoid of the appropriate platform. But Jimmy’s determination to change that model was evident in his sharp mind-probing eyes, pursuing his first business venture and putting his shoulders to the wheel. He was unafraid to plant new roots and in a relentless and tireless pursuit ensured that he would stand on par among the few. A man who felt that he could do anything was on a mission and he did that which he set about to do — he began to slowly chisel his way to success. He was never apprehensive about taking risks, and if he was, he covered it up neatly with an effervescent and accommodating smile. He tried his hand in the airline business at Tower Air, but food was more his style. He forged ahead decisively with his efforts in the food business and like a palm tree in a storm the roots were firmly planted. Jimmy was a pioneer and just as he had paved the way to bring his family to join him in a foreign land, Uncle Jimmy subsequently flicked the switch of success, extending his hand and the food business to many of his relatives.
And for the last four decades, as many grew around him, his strides lengthened and he became a key fixture in the business community on the ‘Avenue’ of — yes, ‘Liberty Avenue’ in Richmond Hill. And it would be on the ‘Avenue’ where his foundations would remain in the Parrot Sports Bar & Lounge, now renamed Level One, and the popular Sandy’s Roti Shop. Additionally, the community needed a little more and his work with the New York Police Department and local politicians fostered an important relationship among all parties that served his community well.
His passing has left a significant void!
Fortunately, Jimmy’s achievements as a businessman far outweighed that of his cricketing aptitude with bat and ball, but one would never dare attempt to tell Jimmy that. He was a man who hung his limitations on the bar he set himself and not on the opinions others had of him — especially when he was in his cricket attire. A lover of the game, he immersed himself in playing but could not get enough of it. He was centered, highly opinionated and a fierce competitor by any measure; one who thrived on the cricket field by issuing his individual challenges to his teammates and the opposition. At times it was difficult to decipher which team he was on, always bubbling with clever opinions. If you were a fast bowler, he could hit you for a six — he swung his bat with regularity, with a high back lift and without fear. If you were a batsman, you could not hit him for a six or he would knock over your stumps. That was the way his competitive spirit played out. And, if at any time his success with the ball appeared bleak, his bowling arm conditionally refused to attain the prescribed extension and assumed that of a pitcher. As one might imagine, fielding though was never on his good side.
Cricket is flooded with characters of all genres, and for the greater part those characters contributed uniquely to the novelties of the game. Jimmy was one of those characters whom you loved to hate on the cricket field but loved to have as a friend indeed. A perfect match for him was opening the batting and getting a few runs that included one maximum, then opening the bowling and complete his spell and thereafter get the substitute to field for him while he engaged the opposition from the side-lines. On convenient occasions, he tried his exploits as an umpire in close ties with and to the amusement of his friend Glen Lorick, but that particular talent left a lot to be desired. God rest his soul, but moreso yours if he was successful in his exploits. Jimmy would make sure you were reminded of it whenever he saw you, however at the end of it all you were always his friend.
Business though wrapped his life in fine linen and cricket simply added some color and smoothed the edges, and although he left a community behind on his way to a better life in the United States, his accomplishments never detached him from the disadvantaged, but exposed a higher quality in him as one who did not forget his roots. Hidden beneath the dark shades and all the elegance and high-flying society living, there existed somewhere within his soul that speck of longing for whence he came and all those he had left behind. And so his hands extended with an open heart to a community in his village in Trinidad, and he ensured that Cosmos Cricket Club received all the funding they needed to stay alive so that the youths could have an opportunity to play. There the Gates had no chains and arms opened warmly and widely whenever he visited and of course he was king on the cricket field.
He was an optimist by nature and the one who had paved the way for brighter days for so many, illuminating their world with the flick of the switch of success from deep within the confines of his kind heart. That life is perpetually declining from some fairy-tale age and the sense that a certain type of human being is gradually drifting into a world beyond return may be a belief shared by some, but Jimmy took reverence in his belief of return that is deeply rooted in his religion. I have a good feeling that he is satisfied. However that may take some time to digest for his charming wife, Asha, and his loving children whom all miss him dearly.
But Jimmy, generous and effusive, a nurturing humanist with that philanthropic hand had demonstrated on numerous occasions his willingness to help and donated heartily for children in need of medical attention. At the time he would never have imagined that such simple acts of kindness had far-reaching rewards, that it would seat him on a very different stage in a world unimagined. It is a star that those with character can wear proudly. It would be nice to argue that no man is irreplaceable and surely not indispensable, that life is defined by continuity rather than by walls and exclamation marks, that there will soon be another like him — we can only hope.
Apparently for so many who sheltered in places of convenience and called it home, home for so many is where your heart desired. And at a time in his life when his energy was at a minimum, he still had enough of that ‘trembling’ desire in him to venture in the direction of his beloved homeland to a village of Humming birds, Calypso and Chutney music, mango trees and cricket pavilions, and where for so many wonderful years the novelties of his life resides, his heart rests, at times restlessly. And for one last time Jimmy held on to that moral fiber in him to extend his hands that once moved a village, again. And on that day, frail as he was his enthusiasm for the game never dimmed, but he just couldn’t sport his cricket attire for one last walk to the wicket.
And for all that he represented during his time, not free from flaws and imperfections, a perceptive businessman and a spirited cricketer in his numbered days he still had enough of that element of tranquility and goodness for a world he has left behind. It is a striking legacy that lives on through his multiple endeavors and in the many lives he has touched. And the man, who flicked the switch to light the lives of so many, left it on, when he smiled, took one last look, blinked and bid a final farewell. May his soul rest in peace!