I never felt as West Indian as I did when the voices of the Lydian singers
soared and dipped, a chorus of angels so pure, so clear, that I thought that
someone had put on a high tech doctored CD, until you saw their lips move.
The tears welled and wobbled, turning the hall into an underwater scene as
Pat Bishop conducted singers, piano, tassa drummers and a ballet dancer
(moving with the grace of a bele dancer recalling Africa) orchestrating our
forebears‚ continents with a seamless swoop of her arms.
I have battled and resisted these islands for years, an immigrant split
between continents of Asia, Europe and the Americas, at times felt as
forlorn as if I were dropped in the sea in between.
I couldn’t reconcile initially, the rigid formal structured life of India,
the extreme politeness, the landmines posed by having a Muslim mother and
Hindu father, there, with the ease with which West Indians slip on the
skins, names, cultures of other continents. How a judge can sip cocktails in
the afternoon and end his night drinking a Carib with a construction worker
on a road side.
India belongs to my childhood. What’s left of me belongs here, was fed by
this place, grew here, will probably die here.
In that large hall in UWI, 16 years of my working life swam around me:
colleagues, professionals, journalists, trade unionists, artists, writers
I was in a place where I knew almost everybody’s name. No stranger now.
Looking at the Tapia flag covering Lloyd Best’s coffin, singers swaying as
naturally as bamboos, a hall full of people I respect, it was only in loss
that I knew what we all had.
The elegant dancer in black, moving bird-like on the stage, now stomping,
now flying, performing a timeless, universal ritual of mourning, gesturing
at a dying age,
I looked at Arthur NR Robinson in the front row, and felt something like
love for this man, who I knew as “Uncle” growing up in Tobago, and whose
hands when I held them after the funeral felt cool to the touch, who took a
gun in his mouth for this country during the attempted coup of 1990.
I remembered David Rudder and Peter Minshall making us weep and celebrate
through song and mass, immortalising us with Tan Tan and Saga Boy, rallying
us around the West Indies, but almost silenced by our emerging mindless
Rudder migrated. Minshall hunkering down.
Journalist Raoul Pantin, known for his columns but whose poetry, as
brilliant as Walcott’s, eerily quiet. Wayne Brown and Dennis Solomon,
migrated in a fog of disappointment; Frank Rampersad, George John, and now
Best dying like that.
As the dancer pounds the stage, she expresses our national tragedy of not
recognising what was fine in us, and going for the tinsel that gets
discarded like a carnival costume.
Men like Lloyd Best, and men and women who loved him in and out of that hall
(sadly, few MPs), take the discarded strands of continents that we are,
polish and weave them, hold up damaged bits so we could fix them, give us
forgotten slaves and indentured labourers, back to ourselves, whole.
Without them we would be floating between continents, standing on shifting
sand, onlookers, and mimic men in an American reality TV show.
Better wrap our arms around them now, as we
don’t want to make the same mistake again. Not knowing what we’ve got till