crucial to keep ourselves, as a species, interested in ourselves. When
that goes, we tip into the void, we harden to rock; we blow away and
depressing seeing the same pious gaudy supplements on every religious
festival, every year. The same recipes, same headlines same bylines.
Nobody but the very religious or very bored or very
guilty-for-not-being-religious read them, and yet we are all subjected to
these tedious permutations of ten facts of the festival or holiday of the
don’t know if we are in last year or ten years ago; it doesn’t make
any difference because nothing has changed. No wonder inertia hits us. We
walk slowly, respond heavy-eyed to requests, sleep for recreation. Indian
Arrival Day, Divali, Emancipation Day, Eid, Baptist Day, Christmas,
Easter, and all the others are all very nice but should be kept private so
we can get beyond the boring ritual of chewing the same cud, and talk
about something interesting.
other thing we go on about is politics. The faces change but the sameness
is also depressing. As a cub reporter, I once asked VS Naipaul to comment
on politics in TT. He replied arrogantly: “The politics of a country of
1.2 million people does not interest me.” But having put up with seven
summers of repetition, I see his point.
tax our brains and use this brief time given to us to ask the question
why? Why are we here? What is the most important thing to us in the world?
Why? What have we always wanted to do? Why? Why don’t we do it? Will
there be a Hilton hotel on the moon in 50 years? What happens when all the
icebergs melt, as one six times the size of Tobago is melting? What will
e-mail do to the postal system? Why do men kill? What kills tenderness?
What is love? What have the thinkers and philosophers and artists
throughout the centuries and across continents made of our existence?
Let’s also talk about the role of whores in society, of the secret lives
of gay men and women, of sculpture, and sea, and the way a child’s mind
works, of the eternal themes of men and women. We have, through the
written word and technology, the means to inherit the earth; and yet we
are afraid to venture out of this tiny area where we have been forced to
pitch up tent. God must be so angry with us. Let’s see us in the context
of islands in the sweep of the Caribbean Sea. As part of the Americas, as
part of a huge New World.
have a suggestion of how we can do it. Newspaper publishers could use the
space used for supplements in various holidays to serialise Tolstoy’s
Anna Karenina, or CLR James’s Beyond the Boundary or Walcott’s Omeros
instead of Christmas/ Divali/ Eid/ Emancipation supplements.
men and women of business, could support this in the interest of national
development. It’s odd how in a country where we boast of 98 per cent
literacy nobody reads. Why not? I would like to see a study commissioned
on the subject. I think the savagery that David Rudder and Raoul Pantin
sing and write about would diminish here if people read quietly in maxi
taxis, while queuing up for rotis and doctors, or after an honest day’s
work splayed out in a sunny canefield or the Brian Lara Promenade.
instead of using cutlasses, men would use jargon like “I feel passive
aggressive towards you because I feel threatened” or “I feel your
hostility. Can you tell me where it’s coming from?” or “That’s
very Martin Amis.” Relationships would improve. In bars and homes, we
could argue over whether Naipaul would ever make the Nobel Prize, grumble
about how long books take to get down here, how expensive they are, how it
would be good to have a coffee shop in a book store. We could use books to
examine the human condition, marvel at the genius of so many West Indian
writers, learn a new recipe from Turkey, shed light on a local issue. We
would have things to talk about, but with width, depth, a large generous
to religious supplements. Yawn. I once did a television documentary
showing Indians from India celebrating Divali by gambling, drinking,
eating and setting off dangerous crackers all night, and the programme was
taken off the air since it offended the more pious amongst us. We are not
bitter, I told a visiting Nigerian friend; mostly, we are bored senseless.
We live the same day over and over again, every year, afraid to try
something new because that would threaten us.
is the biggest example. We save our energy all year so that we can spend
it in two days, and for the rest of the 363 days slink into inertia, the
national psyche. The root of our boring-ness is that having rejected
colonialism (and justly - they stripped us of our language and way of life
and exploited us shamelessly) we kept on many of its trappings - school
systems, legal systems, libraries, the civil service. We hated the
colonisers, but didn’t have any alternatives to their systems. We got
stuck. So we sulked. We ran “their” institutions down to the ground.
We made the systems even worse than we inherited them.
also threw the baby out with the bath water. We shunned the books they
shipped here. (They did have some redeeming qualities.) The books lie
dusty, yellowing, untouched for 30 years and more in dim libraries run by
people who never read them. We were disinherited but we also banished the
only Old World we had received intact.
as a fledgling country we know that old worlds do offer more than
brutality: They are layered thick by centuries with the essential question
that all art asks. What does it all mean? Books disclose worlds through
literature, history, poetry, religion, language, science. It has been done
for us. A universe waiting to be seized while we sleep. That is horror and
does it ultimately come down to books? It’s crucial to keep ourselves,
as a species, interested in ourselves. When that goes, we tip into the
void, we harden to rock; we blow away and disappear. Art has been given to
us to keep us interested and engaged - rather than distracted by
materialism or sated with boredom - so that we can attach to this life, a
life which might, otherwise, be an unbearable one.
hope for the next religious festival the light conquers the dark and we
get to read excerpts of the new book out on Naipaul.