Life in a tiny fish bowl


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 09 Apr 00

It’s a terrible admission from a journalist but every now and then I treat myself to a news blackout. For the usual reasons.


Tired of reading about things that make me angry - like a calypsonian who demands respect and expects subsidies because he is “promoting the culture” and is meant to be a social commentator, but can’t accept defeat gracefully over a party song and goes to court for a car.


Tired of hearing that yet another woman has gone into a coma because her husband has beaten her senseless; yet another human being turned into minced meat on the roads because we are too hip, too cool, too proud, too macho to obey the law and drive properly. Courtesy on the roads is a weakness, and a true gentleman who uses his strength to protect rather than attack the weak is a wimp. We are prepared to kill and die for Machismo. Such is its ignorant power.


Every week we get the same thing wrapped up in a different package; the lament of the down-trodden Indian, the chant of the outraged African, the boring statistics of the technocrats, the banal utterances of politicians who cynically walk over the poor, ill, unemployed or angry masses to place themselves strategically in a game of power which only benefits the players.


I know that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones but if the truth be told, sometimes I get sick of reading myself too; so much angst over and over again. But we write what we are. Small Island people in the New World. We are all, readers and writers, editors and advertisers, Panday’s brothers and sisters, Manning’s ladies and gentlemen, swimming round and round the fish bowl because, we LIVE in one.


A self-imposed media blackout, however brief, has its disadvantages. The last time I treated myself to one I had e-mails from Trinidadians everywhere, Canada, England, America, saying, “So sorry to hear about Kitch,” to which I actually replied “What are you sorry about?” and then rushed out to get a paper and turned on the news which revealed he had died two days back.


It’s Catch 22 in a fishbowl syndrome. First comes nausea and regret from the news, then comes relief with the blackout, then comes the stirrings of curiosity which grow until unbearable, then comes the binging on all the newspapers, flicking between channels on radio and TV for the news. This time round, four media items in particular carried me to nausea and regret at ending my news blackout.


Two were letters to the editor.

The first, a John Austin from Cascade complained that older female flight attendants should keep their weight under control as since their job does not demand “highly skilled persons... a pleasing appearance helps shorten a tedious flight.” Why not male flight attendants? Are female clients not entitled to “a pleasing appearance?” Can Mr Austin further demand that all employees performing low skilled jobs, including postmen, hospital attendants, traffic controllers, construction workers, petrol, shop and fast food attendants, waiters and waitresses either be “pleasing” by going on crash diets or are fired for getting old? I have never heard such sexist, fascist, patronising, hypocritical rubbish in my life.


The other letter writer claimed that domestic violence was CAUSED by women who are unfaithful to their husbands and then went on to advise men who horn spouses to do it discreetly. More hypocritical sexism. There is NO excuse for anyone, man or woman beating up anyone in the home unless that person is trying to kill you. And if we applied that reasoning to men, then half the men in this land should be whipped by their wives and girlfriends for horning.


All the literature has now revealed that domestic violence is caused by men who are INSECURE, men who tend to be both bullies and cowards, so they resort to thrashing anybody woman or child weaker than themselves.


The third was a photograph in the front page of the Guardian. That of a handsome smiling young man in the front page of the Guardian accompanied by another (older) smiling man and in the background there was a third man, also smiling.


This tableau could be charming except that the smiling young man was being escorted to court after being charged with the death of his 10-year-old son, who reportedly died of a broken neck and fractured spine.


Cuthbert Radjman, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, is the hero of our new generation. The whole world seemed to be smiling with him. Made in Trinidad and Tobago and there’s plenty more where that came from.


The fourth was a TV report which made me want to throw up. In his attempt to score cheap points in a by-election campaign, opposition MP, Jarette Narine implied that Education Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, fell ill because she wore a Baptist outfit and interfered in people’s religion; on the Baptist holiday. He was sucking up to the African voters but in fact insulting them, and Baptists, by believing that they would fall for such base talk. Even Mr Manning appeared to be cringing in the background while this little man let loose such gobar to the country. You don’t win an election by crowing over another MP or by mocking a politician’s wish to partake in a celebration in a multi-racial society. Hundreds of African, Chinese, White, and people of mixed decent wore saris last year for Divali, and that was heart-warming. As was Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s public show of respect to Baptists.


Mr Narine, politicians even if they fall far short of it should have -at least as a mission statement - that at least one third of any campaign should deal with issues which affect thousands of our people, like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and the worst of all loss of hope.


Apologising to the Baptists is not enough. Formally apologise to Mrs Persad-Bissessar in Parliament. Power, especially the power of the word, is dangerous in the hands of the ignorant. Build that library. Round up children whose parents are too poor to send them to school. Educate Educate Educate. We’ve lost the last generation since it’s already produced ignorant letter writers. But we CAN save the new generation if we educate them. Give them books and they will give us back our humanity.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur