happens when you’re not looking, like a kind of cancer.
arrive here, and those who initially rebel and sulk, sweating in the hot
sun down the islands or on their back porch, muttering how there is
nothing to stimulate their minds here, no films or books, no conversation
or libraries, a stale museum, no coffee shop where you can quietly read a
paper or meet someone fresh and interesting, eventually find that
they’ve been sucked in.
can’t leave, they say. They don’t want to, and if they do, the colour
in their lives, like the Scarlet Ibis, seems to fade once they leave our
shores. It’s too comfortable. It’s like being allowed to be a slob all
day long every day of your life. So they return.
pack up their Naipauls because it is uncomfortable to be reminded how both
Vidia and Shiva (the one with lip curling disappointment at his country,
the other dead) have escaped the sheer monotony of this place, where you
can project what you’ll be doing ten years’ time; which doctor will
treat you when you begin going downhill; even speculate over where you
will be buried and who will come to your funeral.
it has its compensations. Like returning to the womb. A safe cocoon where
the highs and the lows mesh into the drone of a rusted air conditioner. It
could be they are drawn in initially by the perpetual drama with which we
live our lives - the talk tent type of politics that daily unfolds its
drama in the media, or the soap opera tabs we keep on the lives of the two
or three dozen public personalities who appear to run this small, hot
island. It could be the sun and beer and the glint of women at Carnival.
best way to get yourself kicked out of every social circle in this country
is to bring up the boring GDP, the battered women’s hotline which is
ringing off the hook or the quality of health care in this country.
there is the comfort of course, of the warmth, of the frequent holidays
and many distractions which allow you to fall into a greater stupor - the
long, long lunches, the languid and frequent limes where the same people
swirl around the same fishbowl repeatedly -some fish out, others in, being
the only point of interest.
foreigners and public figures, however, have something in common. They are
equally unaware of what really goes on in the bowels of this country. At
first this puzzles you. After the hundredth sound bite or
socio/political/religious commentary, you realise that’s part of the
structure. The only way a small portion of this country can inherit it and
share it with rich, influential foreigners is to turn away from the rest,
to mystify the workings of the machinery that runs this country so as to
maintain their power/authority and prestige without being questioned.
masses are not supposed to understand what they are saying; not supposed
to relate it to our lives. If public figures running the country, be they
politicians, academics or members of the hundreds of NGOs even ask the
question “What is this going to mean, to the man struggling to keep up
with his mortgage payments,” or “what is this going to mean for
working mothers, the unemployed, the uneducated, elderly,” then are they
slowly eased out for being spoil sports?
matters is the process, the endless meetings, the minutes of the meetings,
the salaries and the question of foreign travel, and how a particular kind
of maneuvring can advance someone’s career, but what does not matter is
how, at the end of the day, does it affect (and I loathe this phrase but
people seem to know what you mean when you use it) John Public.
you bring context into the way developing and “third world” countries
are run then we’d be dead. In an edition of India Today, I saw, without
irony, a headline story about starvation in India on one page, and on the
next, a proud article on India’s advancements in nuclear technology and
how many billions it cost.
sloppy thinking gets worse over time, it also makes life easy. You get
angry once or twice when people fail to keep their commitments, when they
show up an hour late to a meeting, when you quickly realise that it’s
not merit but contacts and mutual back-slapping that will get you
anywhere, but once you get the hang of things - oh boy, this is the life.
wonder Trinis and Tobagonians will inherit the inertia and corruption of
public figures who can literally by now, spew out a sound bite in their
sleep, and foreigners who happily join us, thinking we, too, don’t have
to be above board, or even think further than who’s who to get by very
wonder everyone, be they home-grown or foreign, loses their colour like
the Scarlet Ibis when they leave these shores. Those who are wide awake,
and vigorous, and energetic are soon chewed up and spat out the system,
leave or become irretrievably wounded.
World mentalities of drooping self-indulgent languor requires an ejection
of intellectual stimulation, depth, fresh ideas, drive, most of which
comes with the dulling of the senses, which must happen in a nation where
people in general don’t read widely or deeply, where curiosity is
quickly slapped down because it is threatening to those who lead us.
is this that separates us from the “first world” exemplified in our
“no hope” ghettoes where dull-eyed, angry men kill and women weep
because they are beaten or can’t feed the baby.
belongs to the past, but soon, it will be part of our future, because it
is easy to take over a country that is perpetually taking a little