People of the same heart

 

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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 06 Oct 02


“Two ventricles of the same heart” was the way one citizen pithily summed up our politics over the din of the bugles, music, the babbling crowd, the blaring voices over the microphone.

 

I witnessed the symmetry of the two ventricles myself on two occasions: the PNM’s nomination of candidates, and the UNC’s launch of their manifesto.

 

In Woodford Square, and at the Excellent Centre, party flags fluttered, hands raised placards over the crowd. Individual personalities were absorbed into the collective mass. The response to the fist shaking figures at the podium was similar to that of a hypnotized congregation at a mass. On cue, over a promise - cheaper medication perhaps, or a nest egg for newborns, the mass would cheer. At the suggestion that the other side was the enemy, was robbing them, or exposing them to terror, the masses would heave with rage.

 

Consider another version of the two ventricles observed by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott in his essay “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory ”.

 

Left ventricle:   

“Looking around slowly, as a camera would, taking in the low blue hills over Port of Spain, the village road and houses, the warrior-archers, the god-actors and their handlers, and music already on the sound track, I wanted to make a film…I was filtering the afternoon with evocations of a lost India, but why “evocations”? Why not “celebrations of a real presence”? Why should India be “lost” when none of these villagers ever really knew it, and why not “continuing”, why not the perpetuation of joy in Felicity and in all the other nouns of the Central Plain: Couva, Chaguanas, Charley Village?

I was seeing the Ramleela at Felicity as theatre when it was faith.”

 

Right ventricle:

“African children in Sunday frocks come down the ordinary concrete steps into the church, banana leaves hang and glisten, a truck is parked in a yard, and old women totter towards the entrance. Here is where a real fresco should be painted, one without importance, but one with real faith, mapless, Historyless.”

 

The Heart:

“They are here again, they recur, the faces, corruptible angels, smooth black skins and white eyes huge with an alarming joy, like those of the Asian children of Felicity at Ramleela; two different religions, two different continents, both filling the heart with the pain that is joy. But what is joy without fear?”

 

There is fear now, but that fear is a bogeyman that is whipped up at campaign nights unleashing a different kind of monster. Thankfully it evaporates in the light of day. 

 

In the day, I observed the two ventricles once again.

 

Downtown there is a ratio of one East Indian to two Africans working in shops owned by Syrians.

 

There is camaraderie between them – the easy everyday banter of people comfortable with one another.

 

 I do a quick poll. In four shops I ask the same question.

“Ready for elections?” In the first, they said they “tired vote”. In the second, two young men without taking their eyes off the TV above them and said “We studying football in England, not that” and became absorbed in the game. In the third shop they said yes, they will vote but it wasn’t a big deal. In the fourth they made fun of politicians who use their profile to market cosmetics, and say breakfasses. Apart from minor scattered incidents, the ventricles are cool.

 

Here is Walcott again:

 

“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than the love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, or archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent. ”

 

Our histories were simultaneously “shattered”. The vases that East Indians and Africans are now reassembling will invariably have shards and splinters of the other. In a tiny country strung together by pumpkin vines, separation is impossible. In churches, families, offices, sports fields, UNC and PNM supporters, pieces of separate ventricles interact. The bogeyman of fear is vanquished as they see before them not ‘a UNC’ or ‘a PNM’ but friends, siblings, colleagues, teams.

 

Even in the context of political patronage A UNC supporter will get help for his PNM father. A PNM supporter will put in a word for his UNC girlfriend. And so the heart beats.

 

On the eve of an election, when the ordinary citizen has been presented with grandiose manifestoes, perhaps a little dreaming of our own will be forgiven.

Walcott does it for us.

 

 

“…what are the proportions of the ideal Caribbean city? A surrounding accessible countryside with leafy suburbs, and if the city is lucky, behind it, spacious plains. Behind it, fire mountains; before it, an indigo sea. Spires would pin its center and around them would be leafy, shadowy parks…pigeons would cross its sky. At the heart of the city there would be horses…emerging from paddocks at the Queens Park Savannah at sunrise….and above all, it would be so racially various that the cultures of the world – the Asiatic, the Mediterranean, the European, the African would be represented in it, its humane variety more exciting than Joyce’s Dublin.”

 

With a poets chilly foreboding, Walcott answers the question of what could happen should our people be hypnotized into fear, a people who fail to recognize that if we destroy the other, we destroy bits of ourselves - two ventricles of the same heart: ”A morning could come in which governments might ask what happened not merely to the forests and bays but to a whole people.”

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur