What we must reclaim


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 02 Aug 04


"Diamonds are what I really need

Think I'll rob a store

Escape the law

And live in Italy

Lately my luck has been so bad

You know the roulette wheels

A crooked deal

I'm losing all I have

Sometimes I slowly slip away

From all the dull routine

That's with me every day

A fantasy will come to me"

-Lyrics from Supertramp, 70s rock band.


It is difficult not to feel a sense of generalised anxiety while a ten-year-old kidnapped boy remains missing. When a young man remains missing. Why? Because it's not just about the boy or the young man, however traumatic it is. It's about what we've turned into. It's about what's happening to us.


When Hitler-and this is an extreme example-but writers take that liberty-gassed the Jews, everybody, even historians, took the view that this systematic murder of six million people was the act of a deranged vile creature. I believe Hitler was the symptom of an already sick country. Thousands of bigoted people in their own way contributed to the holocaust.


It's the same in our country. We have created a country in which kidnapping is seen as an opportunity rather than a heinous crime.


At almost every level, from the thousands of illiterate unemployed stomping around our country and the small time hustlers, to the small businessmen, to the young executives, the big businessmen, we've turned into a drowning, myopic people who are beginning to believe that "grabbing'' will rescue us.


Clearly the people who grabbed little Vijay felt that way -that grabbing him would bring them security. Would save them from their own drowning.


It's rare now to come across anyone who doesn't want something. Liaisons -you can hardly call them friendships anymore- are shrewd, calculated investments. The casual conversation in which neither party wants anything from the other except for a little bit of human contact is almost extinct.


The ex-government official wants a contract. The hairdresser wants a cheap rental. The public servant wants more money, more time off. The calypsonian wants more air time. The contractor wants a gratuity. Nothing wrong with that. A man's gotta live. A man's gotta eat. A woman's got to live. A woman's got to feed her children.


Call it capitalism, call it globalisation-it's a hustle to survive, whether you're living in the slums in Calcutta or you're one of the people working in the Algico building in Trinidad.


Hustling alone is not enough for man. Pleasure is the real quest. Avoiding pain is another. So we combine the two with narcotics, generally-music, alcohol, food, sex, mindless films, videos, television. Money buys it all.


Men hitting the mid-life crisis seek young flesh; women gravitate towards comfort food to escape.


But is there anything else? I mean apart from the other narcotic of religious dogma? Of ritual and chanting and rosaries and dunking to get us through life?


Are we simply treading water to survive and are we panting so hard we can't see the ocean around us?


I suppose my main question is, looking around at the increasingly tight-lipped, angry people - myself included-at times in this land where savagery is difficult to escape, where photos of pre-pubescent girls-little children really-dolled up in an obscene burlesque parade of "beauty competitions" are printed alongside news of yet another rape of a minor by a big hardback man; where government ministers promote an atmosphere of vague religious superstition by building a chapel at the airport to counter a spate of "mishaps'' instead of putting systems into place so they won't happen.


Entertainment is good. Sport is good. Beauty contests are ridiculous but if the idea of a mincing woman with paint on her face and a bikini on her bottom gives us a sense of pride so be it.


But folks, fellow citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, look up from treading water for an instant and see the ocean around you. Look at our sinking ship above you.


We have streets to clean, boulevards to create, dumps to sort out, adults to educate-not just to learn to read and write, but about HIV/Aids, about nutrition, the fried chicken and chips-the fat and sugar and flour, the soft drinks that inject our bodies with the poison of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure. We need to stop our people from falling into the misery of preventable illnesses by selling them on exercise, which allows them to be exuberant, alert, young and productive for decades. There is other work to do. We have medical and police systems to sort out. We need computer specialists, health care specialists, law enforcement specialists.


We have to saturate ourselves with education-all sorts. There are hundreds of thousands of our people wandering around with all these latent talents and skills- people who want to be all they can be, who can build rather than pull down this country. We need to get them before they turn into the enemy.


But more importantly, even before we tear our eyes away from the nubile dancing girls, and switch off the music that dulls our brains, before we put the hustle in its place, we need to reclaim something. Our fading innocence.


Our sense of wonder about the world. Do whatever it takes. Hike in the forests, wade in rivers, read great literature, look outward beyond the blue, to the curve of the world, sit quietly and pick at the grass childishly, trusting that the world is on our side, that ten-year-old boys will be not be grabbed, will be brought home safely.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur