I cry a tear for this land


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 04 Feb 01

Here is an e-mail I received following last week’s column when I suggested compromise as a way out of the current stand-off between the Prime Minister and the President.


“Why the hell don’t you go back where you came from? Pity you weren’t there during the earthquake! Can’t believe ONLY 13,000 died!” (The person revealed their identity but I am withholding it).



Maybe they didn’t like the fact that I said the President has once before put country before self and should once again do the right thing; that the Opposition leader must follow his first instinct and be a gentleman in the face of his defeat; or that the Prime Minister was polite in his personal dealings with the President for weeks after his Excellency’s refusal to appoint seven Government Senators.


The PM’s address in Parliament was thunderous, but for God’s sake, what do you expect from a Prime Minister who, a month and a half after leading his party to victory, was being treated like little more than a puppet by the President, and unconstitutionally at that?


It was an e-mail I would normally delete, empty trash and forget. It is my belief that when people are vindictive, racist and angry with other people it’s always because they are unhappy with themselves. Too insecure, too frightened of other people to convert their ignorance into understanding.


But as the days wore on, it came back to niggle at me for several reasons. A little of it had to do with the fact that it was hurtful, when you have lived in, worked in, had children, delight in, participate in, are continually absorbed by the country you have come to love and consider home, to be told to ‘go back’.


Indian roots


Of course, my roots are Indian. I was born there and I would be lying and without character if I didn’t have strong patriotic feelings for my motherland.


But it doesn’t preclude my love and patriotism for my adopted country. My husband of Indian decent is so patriotic he has a map of Trinidad and Tobago tattooed on his body. He felt so alien during his sojourn in India, not understanding the language, finding the food too spicy, the culture unfamiliar, that he wanted to come home to T&T within 24 hours.


I’ve heard similar stories by Trinis of African descent who couldn’t wait to come home to their doubles and dumplings, their picong and pan, which has nothing to do with Africa.


My children were born here. To deny my citizenship and allegiance to this country would be to cut myself off from my own flesh and blood.


Then again, we’ve all come to this new world from somewhere, in the last few hundred years - Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe. Having a sense of history, of where we came from, gives us our sense of self. It is essential to allow our still tender shoots to take root, to interbreed if we want, to create a multi-continental landscape in our little backyard.


The statement niggled not so much because of the personal insult to me (writing is like cooking, if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen), but because of what it said about the state of our country: Among us, there are people like my poison-pen writer who are prepared to hate someone, wish them dead because of a difference of opinion and because of their race.


Ugly knot


Like many countries in the new world, we are an interwoven people. Like it or not, whatever fabric we have created for ourselves, descendants of masters, adventurers, slaves, indentured labourers, we have knitted jointly - plain and purl, calypso and chutney, doubles and dumplings, cricket and picong, Indian and African, China and Europe, Middle East and Philippines. If one thread sees itself as the dominant culture and wants the others out the entire thing will unravel into an ugly knot. To cut threads off would be like cutting off our own hands and necks and feet.


It hurt me, because how could anyone be glad that 11,000 (as I write 100,000) are feared dead in an earthquake in India, that 200,000 more are trapped, that 500,000 are homeless, that children and mothers and grandmothers and sons and husbands and friends and parents are separated, frightened, suffocating slowly to death; that people are burning their dead in alleyways, that unclaimed bodies are being claimed by animals.


The commonality of the human spirit runs deep. The crackling of air between peoples - that invisible pulsating life-vein of laughter and music, of celebration, of shared grief and love and discovery, remains. Even when it goes, the collective memory of that remains and our children carry it on.


Remember our knitted world - despite the politics, despite the men who will cheerfully sacrifice us all to maintain personal power. Skip the hate, purl, skip the politics, plain, and so we keep on knitting the landscape of our new world, we will not unravel, despite them.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur