Beyond the island's prison


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Category: Reflections 06 May 07


“It was a miracle,” I heard the elegant comments of a tiny woman as we were being pushed to the front of the stage at the Plymouth Jazz festival last weekend. There were no fewer than 34,000 people, folding themselves into their bodies, digging their heels into the dusty ground, so they could see Elton John with their own eyes.


Wouldn’t it be something if I suffocated here, I thought? Behind me as a tall dark beautiful media worker steadied herself using my shoulders; in front, a big woman wearing a plastic welcome-to-Hawaii-type garland aggressively shoved her ample backside into my stomach.


Her male companion, sporting the same look, hopped about getting security to get all his friends in front of us, blocking the photographer next to me.


As the beautiful woman behind me began shrieking with claustrophobia, seeing no way out of the wall of flesh around us I looked up to escape and saw the Plymouth night decorated with a perfectly round moon and encrusted with a single star.


Empire’s debris


Thousands gaped as Elton John’s fingers flew across his piano, disembodied hands with wings, music’s own language. His guitarists took over for seconds as the star leapt off his piano stool with surprising agility to spread himself across his piano preening like a Cheshire cat in his long tails waiter black costume.


In a flash he returned to the piano and seamlessly meshed and carried his playing to astonishing jazzy places. Elton John’s craft is beyond human.


The plastic garlanded man (who, like his companion, looked like he had stepped off a cruise boat but was in fact a Trinidadian) spilled a drink on a shocked woman’s head. He responded to my: “That’s obnoxious” by asking me who my husband was to which I responded in a manner in which my mother would be deeply ashamed.


The plastic garlanded man returned the salvo with a truly nasty cuss for which he got a shove from my husband who looks fiercer than he is (that was worth as much as seeing John).


As John played himself the tiny woman was saying, her face pink with emotion “people said he was gay, and he needed three private planes. But I understand, his piano deserves a private plane. People said that VS Naipaul was an arrogant &%#$@. Who cares? These men are magnificent at their craft. We are lucky to witness it. Remember this night.” Pointing a tiny hand in the air, she said, “Remember this moment,” as the moon swayed over us.


At that moment I remembered seeing and hearing Naipaul read Miguel Street in surprisingly lyrical tones at UWI. I am fiddling through notes I wrote in the dark as Naipaul responded to questions, mostly acidly, but finally movingly. He said:


“The island material is limited. I am against anything that imprisons the mind.


I was thinking of the debris left behind by the Empire. We are just little unstable collections of people here and there. We are prisoners of ideology. You have to take a step or two or three back to see the world.


“The rule of law, the ability to change governance, freedom of speech, the development of the mind, beauty and the pursuit of happiness which comes from seeking to express the fullness of one’s soul. That’s universal civilisation.”


As thousands walked away J’Ouvert morning style to our cars, I was grateful to Clico, for exposing us to Clinton, Colin Powell, Naipaul, for Elton John.


It would be petty not to mention Clico. We are grateful to every individual or corporation who carves a window out of the prison of the island mind.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur