The hunger for flesh and blood


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 03 Jun 99

These bloodthirsty words emerge... out of the mouths of cold blood snake skinned inhuman criminals. They are coming out of the mouths of that respectable church going man...pundit in a dhoti, of that sweet-faced young mother, of that young pretty girl.


I realised that all of us crying out for blood had in us, the same bloody vein of barbarism that made those men kill. We were, and are the same! They killed a family. We kill them.


It was difficult to hear with the layers of noise: the talking, drinking, dancing, gesticulating, smoking people jammed in a small pub on a street side. But we were able to see, past the smoke, on the overhead television the mute footage of two condemned men stretched to slow motion being led to a police van. And then we saw this lovely girl from Botswana being crowned Miss Universe. The disbelief, the wide eyes, the stunned-with-joy walk to the throne.


With that kind of fodder, the Trinis were in fine form, and I strained to catch snatches of conversations which swung from Miss this, Miss that to Chadee this, Ramiah that.

Man 1: “I meet a man who say he slept with all the Miss Universe contestants. He put four sashes on his wife every night until he went through them all.”

Woman 1: “Why don’t they just hang the nine men in the middle of the Savannah and have the 84 delegates for the Miss Universe contest watch them for cheap entertainment. I mean the foreign media are here and we may as well live up to our reputation as the Wild West.”

Six pairs of eyes stared at her. Three bodies swung towards here. Something clicked. There is a connection between the contest and the hangings. Six brows closed down in concentration, one hand scratched behind an ear, another mouth opened. We looked at her in admiration. Of course! How clever. Both events collect crowds, get the pulse racing, bring out a kind of collective fever. Beauty pageants want flesh and hangings want blood. They have done for centuries in coliseums and harems. Men in Germany have been let down to boiling cauldrons of water bit by bit and boiled till their flesh pealed. Men in Rome have been fed to the lions while a crowd in the coliseum roared. It’s part of in-built atavistic human instinct for revenge.


And women have always been objects first created to be repository of male desire. The fashion, cosmetic, fitness, health have made millions off what appears to be vanity, but is in fact a desire to be accepted, even loved by men. It’s very rare that they love us for our minds. At least if they do, we’ve got to catch them with our body and face first. Every woman knows this.


It made sense then, that day when I watched the bathing suit part of the contest and every time I blinked I saw, in place of the contestants, finely bred fillies. The strange sensation of waiting for the bidding to begin also made sense. Apart from five seconds for the final ten, they weren’t really allowed to talk. It was a competition of bodies, and eyes, and hair, and face. It was on a stage. The girls were on sale. Buy me they screamed, I will be a good model. Take me to LA, Milan, London, Paris. I’ll trade my physical commodities for a career, for glamour, for money. In return, I will show you my cleavage, my backside, my hair. In return I will parade and let you feast on me. Beauty I love, but as a moving, living thing, the way the sunlight and trees play with shadow. Beauty of men, women, children, art, music, nature I can understand dying for, but beauty as barter is something else altogether. But even if a beauty pageant is somehow as primitive as hanging, it is not as bad. At least it doesn’t physically harm anyone.


Our support for hangings say more about us than about the murderers on death row. I am surprised at my own volt face. I, like all or most of you reading this, am a law-abiding citizen. I have small children. I too believe in making my way in the world by working hard. I try not to harm anyone. I am faced with men who can kill an entire family in cold blood. My first, second and third instinct is the desire for revenge. I too gave a whoop of joy when the Privy Council removed the stay of execution. I was as frantic as all of us, simply wanting these men annihilated. Thinking that if their lives were snuffed out, justice would be done, my children, all our children, would be safer.


I had begun writing a column in favour of the hangings when I got a call from a foreign paper. The editor was saying, “I know it’s rather gruesome, but could you watch them, do an eye-witness report?” The word “gruesome” jump-started my imagination - a noose, a chair being kicked, a full minute ticking by until the men were unconscious, another six while the hands and legs of the men, clinically dead, continued their involuntary jerking movements. Like dead chickens.


Then I heard everywhere, the crowd roar for their blood and I was part of that crowd. Then to my horror I realised that all of us crying out for blood had in us the same bloody vein of barbarism that made those men kill. We were and are the same! They killed a family. We kill them. Listen to the crowds roar, ladies and gentlemen. Join the chorus. Hang them! Hang them high!  Hang them now! The frightening thing is these bloodthirsty words emerge not out of the mouths of cold-blood, snake-skinned, inhuman criminals. They are coming out of the mouths of that respectable church-going man in a suit, of that pundit in a dhoti, of that sweet-faced young mother, of that young pretty girl.


Calm down. I know you’re afraid for your children, for your safety, for your country. Let’s think this through. Revenge is sweet but hanging nine men, and then the 50 others on death row, isn’t going to solve the problem of angry young men with no hope. Hang 50 today and 100 others will come crawling out from the back streets, men who’ve grown up without fathers, haven’t had money to get uniforms and books for school, got kicked out of the school system at 11, abandoned by their parents, boys, men who have no skills and no money.


They’ll see the people with the big cars, and they’ll look at their own streets and they’ll have nothing to lose. They will continue to peddle drugs and rob and kill if they have to. Besides, the whole country is so bloodthirsty anyway that they will just join everyone else, except they will take the law in their own hands.


I don’t know if three will hang tomorrow, three will hang Monday and three on Tuesday. I don’t know if men like Donald Trump and gullible girls are holding back women’s struggle to be recognised as human beings first, bodies after. What I do know is that the clock can be turned back, is being turned back. Even as we stare the millennium in the face, we are returning to the age of barbarism. Look at ourselves in this mirror. There we are, an entire country waving flags. We want flesh! We want blood! Bravo! Bravo! Or can we be still and listen to the far-away voice of Mahatma Gandhi saying an eye for eye makes the world blind.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur