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Category: Reflections Date: 11 Nov 01


There are times when this country takes you as close to the primal happiness as the first carefree humans who walked the earth.

 

It could be at dawn, when the mist is bubbling on the hills, or the sight of the inky sea rolling its palette about, preparing to streak its surface with shades of emerald and jade. Or morning sunshine on your body, supine and languid with the night’s dreams.

 

It’s when we are at our most authentic, unmasked, not playing to any gallery, to impress or manipulate life to our advantage, but true to ourselves.

 

Like anyone who is touched by our islands, I have often felt the restorative powers of its lush, striking foliage and strong colours.

 

I have been moved in the past five or six years to write hundreds of thousands of words of wonder, on our new world people who astonish the world at how we can hold strands of several continents in a single face, in the ways we make contact with one another.

 

In the grocery, your cart crosses another:

“Making groceries?”

“Yes, and you?”

My favourite is the question from an old man who was sitting on a bench while I crossed the road. He called out:

“You crossing the road?”

“Yes, I feel so.”

 

Strangers acknowledge one another. Human contact is always made, not balked at, as in countries where people crowded in a lift, or train; rather look up, down, anywhere, but at another person.

 

There is that entire column devoted to rain.

But the day came, (I didn’t notice when it happened), when I was no longer able to shed the skin of the day to be still honest with myself. I couldn’t tell you if I was sad or happy, because I didn’t want to know. Like the rest of us, I was fed-up. The crust around me had hardened. The mask was on.

 

I turned my back on the egrets flying with the sun behind them. The dew dissolved under the relentless sun. The mist disappeared on the hills. The harsh light of day, especially on Sundays, went on intolerably.

 

What to do? There are only so many hours on the beach, only so many sandflies you can tolerate, only so much grating American cable, only so much sweating under a barbecue pit, only so much gossiping to fill your day with, only so much mindless religious dribble.

 

There was the excursion to a new airport, how pathetic is that? Another to a spanking new grocery in the West (it carries flowers, a sign of first-world prosperity, but alas, still no books, not paperback romances). There is a new pub in Port-of-Spain, but when you go out to be seen rather than make real contact, the soul remains parched.

 

On a week day, the melting mist brings news of some tawdry killing, sordid deal gone sour, a skirmish between the Big Boys, who go round and round our little fish bowl of islands for easy money and fame at the cost of unemployed young men, and hustling children.

 

And the rain can’t drown out the screech of aggressive tyres, foul language and rage of our people who are being kept down by a vacuous education system, in an intellectually vacuous society which has been filled up by hypocritical, self-seeking, self-righteous religious leaders, in islands where gold rather than knowledge is a mark of prestige.

 

You say: “We have art,” but I find it sad to attend a lecture on Walcott in a clinical hospital theatre, or go to an exhibition at an industrial estate. We have been apologetically fitting in thinking, energy, talent and the imagination, into our daily prosaic lives.

 

We must make all that the centre of our world - build monumental libraries, theatre, music, film, art complexes. It’s art, not Nikes that will push us to being the first-world people we want to be.

 

Music, theatre, lectures, dance, books, films, force us to push past our limits and boundaries, past dull indifference, apathy, thinking by rote, to allow us to feel each nerve end crackle with life, marvel at how much there is to be discovered about ourselves and the world around us. Above all, art is a clear mirror which allows us to see ourselves clearly, and change, if what we see is terrible.

 

But if we all shut our eyes, develop crusts, we will all be as false, as half dead crabs in the sun. I was crawling there myself.

 

In Tobago, I switched off the headlights while driving along a narrow road. The tall palms, the distant froth of the sea and the fireflies were swallowed by the dark night. The firmament above switched itself on and stars were pouring out of the sky like so many diamonds, gleaming in clusters, and lines, showing off, solitary and circular.

 

I fumbled on, stopping and starting along the pitch-black path, looking up. I felt for the mask. It had disappeared into the night. Honesty sheds crusts, and restores the stars.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur