From whence this violence


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Category: Trinidad Society 03 Feb 08


The notes off a pan rise, pause, scatter uncertainly, then break into an unmistakably recognisable melody.

Two women are walking on a dark alley. I am in jeans, a handbag clutched to my side. My blonde friend Ana is “dressed up” for the night, her car keys in her hand.

I say: “God, your watch” seeing the gold watch glittering in the dark. “It’s a magnet. Are you trying to get us raped or killed?”

In one gesture Ana rips it off her hand, and slips it into my handbag, changes her mind, says: “What if they steal your handbag?” takes it out and walks with it in her fist.

I think “great. It’s either her watch or my handbag.” We are both thinking of worse bullets and rapists. We hurry towards the lit yard (Phase 2); we find the soul of this capital.

We see standing, around under the neon lights, an older French Creole woman. She made costumes for years. The first thing she did after recovering from a long illness was to come here.

We spot the diehard supporters, one in dashiki, one in kurta (I kid you not), a few tourists, a group of people who have worked together towards launching a book on calypso.

In England, there is a constitutional debate to determine what is “British” to re-evaluate “British values,” in a bid to create a sense of pride in citizenship.

In India, every single advertisement on television and on film, whether it is for sneakers or multi-million investments, associates tear-jerking images with film stars emoting “My India.”

Angry enough

We never say “My Trinidad” in our advertisements, or “My Tobago. We say “me‚” and “I.” Still it’s here. Unendorsed, but here, in the yard, I watched.

I say watched and not listened, because there is so much to see. The wordless interaction among the players, as they fine-tune the melody, the sips of Carib in between, the nodding acknowledgement of people you know (in small islands wherever you go, people know one another), the shared perpetual expectation we live in for the next big lime: cricket, Carnival, for Ash Wednesday beaches, Christmas and again Carnival.

The people who will never leave. The people for whom the old Trinidad can never be wiped out. The neglected Trinidad that is us.

While driving, I spot a schoolgirl in a car holding a decorated white and silver flag out of her window, flapping wildly in the breeze.

She is calling out to drivers, pointing at the flag, pointing at them. She is skinning her teeth enjoying the reaction. As I get closer, I see that it’s a skull.

Where is this violence coming from?

In the crumpled newspaper on the passenger’s seat, I spot the headline of the man who pumped 23 bullets into a woman.

The day before, a man pumped 12 into another man. It was not enough to shoot to kill, but someone shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot, and shot and shot.

I wince writing the word 12 times. I don’t want to write it 23 times.

Someone was angry enough to pull the trigger that many times. God knows why in this boom town, people are so angry, honking, screeching tyres, shaking fists.

I practise smiling at unsmiling people. It takes me five days to get a smile out of a girl working at a gym, meeting people’s eyes.

Then, getting bored, I stop. I, too, retreat into anger, honking angrily at someone who bad-drives me.

Carnival fires its own momentum. It’s an unstoppable organic thing. Stops for no one. Nobody notices the people who don’t go out.

The music has leaked. The pan filters in. An old face cracks into a wide happy smile. A tiny girl jumps up and down in her costume. For now, that’s enough to hold our tattered T&T identity together.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur