Noise our greatest gift


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 09 Dec 01

And then a scholar said, “Speak of Talking.”

And he answered, saying:

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;

And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart, you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.

And in much of your talking, thinking is half-murdered.”

- Khalil Gibran in The Prophet


Thinking is not always a good thing because it might lead to care passionately for or against someone or thing or issue. It might lead to a cause that makes you become a suicide bomber, or find a cure for AIDS. It depends on how you use thought.  


I use my time on the road to think, not intensely like a scientist, terrorist or technocrat, but mildly, to music. Occasionally, I work myself into a rage over some issue or another and you see it reflected on this page.


There are moments of happiness, too, that come with a flash of insight into an old problem; or peace, when the road is clear and you can see the sea rolling about in the rain, or in the play of shadow and light on the landscape.


I like having the radio on as background and jack up the volume if a song I like is played or if the talk is good for a few minutes.


This week, instead of being a foil to my thoughts, the radio attacked me, and held me rapt. Almost against my will, I found myself being sucked in, unable to turn it off.  The fluid in my brain became packed tight with the cacophony of talk, whispering men shouting, shouting men whispering, the thudding of drums, roaring of crowds, ear drum-destroying screech of the microphone being adjusted, the jingle jangle of parang, kaiso, Christmas carols, the azaan call to prayer, quaseedas, bhajans, Christmas ads, election clamour with the laughter of mocking women and pathos of little girls crying.


As a result, I am compelled to report that as thought receded, and noise resounded, my brain became “half-murdered,” as Gibran put it.


The surprising thing is this deluge of noise wasn’t a bad feeling. It gave you a natural high, freed you from the responsibility of thinking. Another memory (not an original thought) that crashed into my addled brain like a bolt of lightning through all the thunder on the radio was a young executive saying recently: “We in Trinidad and Tobago could never be divided by ethnic fighting or fundamentalism because we are too busy partying. We go from Divali, to Ramadan, to election, into Eid, to Christmas, to Carnival, to Easter.”


That came to me like an epiphany. I’m not as fit as Forest Gump, who ran and ran and ran because he didn’t understand the chaos around him, so I drove and drove and drove to understand.


I drove all the way to Point Fortin and back. I drove along the highway, and along the coastline. I observed along the way the beauty of the land, the way the trees stood up fat and round, like broccoli pieces, lighting up into an emerald green with the flash of a cars headlights, or lamplight, fading into an inky green shadows of bush.


I felt the sharp salt of the sea on my face, breezes that had travelled from another continent. I looked up with wonder at a plane flying in the night, inching its way, like a firefly across the body of water where people felt safe from terror, and sat dreaming their dreams.


I saw, to my astonishment, a lit- up fixture of a giant crescent moon and star that must have been put up to celebrate Ramadan. I passed hundreds of homes, shacks and mansions, fringed with lights, several Christmas trees in windows, and one reindeer on the roof of a blindingly decorated home.


I saw the flags put up for the prayers said at Divali. I watched the smoke rise as if out of giant cigars in rows from our oil belt. I saw the twinkling lights of Port-of-Spain, and our twin towers, and the semi-circle of ghostly and magnificent buildings around the Savannah.


While I drove, I heard a call to vote for three or four political parties. I heard Hindi film music, DJs, a call to prayer, parang, kaiso, and old-fashioned Christmas carols.


I don’t know how this country of 1.3 million people does it. I don’t know how people of so many faiths and races manage to contain such a huge capacity for celebration, democracy and tolerance, even amid an election we all know is being battled along ethnic lines, rather than on issues or ideologies.


Tomorrow will be the beginning of something new. I am thankful this election is jammed between Christmas and Carnival, and no matter which party forms the Government, we will celebrate, if not victory, a peaceful democracy.


We may never find the cure to cancer, or be able to prevent our politicians from distancing themselves from us once they are in power. We may be a country of nine-days’ wonders, but we always will dance in one another’s festivals and, in a month or so, black, brown, white and every shade in between will make up the rivers of people on our streets.


Don’t knock our ability to make plenty noise. It may be our greatest gift.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur