Holding up a mirror to society


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Category: Reflections 20 Dec 09

I’ve quoted these lines before written by arguably the finest writer and journalist in this country, Raoul Pantin, whose poems are little known, but (and I’ve said this before) of a similar calibre to that of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. Pantin has never been recognised for his full worth, perhaps because he has never pushed for it, preferring to remain here, a witness to these islands. I saw his brilliance on scraps of paper, that neat hand, eviscerating truths, exorcising demons, writing of love, the curves of the Northern Range, in turn brutal and tender, reinforcing Tolstoy’s belief that every time a writer puts something down of worth, he peels off some skin. He could have been Pablo Neruda; he could have been a male Sylvia Plath. He is the master of nuance, language. Yet, he is Pantin, who stayed here. Thank God for that.

Pantin’s prose, weekly columns written over decades, and books (Days of Wrath: The 1990 attempted coup and the 1970 Revolution: a reporter’s story) became for a time, a record of Naipaul’s prescience of our “casual brutality;” became the way of life here. As my news editor years back, speaking to the rookie television reporter I was then, Pantin told me something I never forgot: that it is the writers’ responsibility to hold up a mirror to our society and people; to be a witness, a lamp for the unseeing, a voice for the voiceless. One afternoon this week, I saw atrophy in lack of movement. It happened that a funeral cortege brought traffic to a halt. For a full 30 minutes Trinidad froze. I sat immobile and mirrored the blank faces in the other cars thinking of the friend who was shot in the leg outside his own house, his keys taken, his car left immobile.

I saw the doubles vender do what he always does; the garbage thrown carelessly on the street; the boy hustling for a dollar. The concentrated desperation in so many faces of people waiting for a taxi, thinking of stretching their dollars, their school dropout boys, their sick mothers. The huge speakers in an otherwise battered car, were blaring a “Christmas” song that has jarred for the past 18 years, devoid of melody, of grace. The act of any ritual solidifies much-needed foundations. Women love it because it plays on their strengths, nurturing, passing on recipes from mother to daughter. It is in remembrance we construct our fragile new world identity. Yet, it also marks a terrible stagnation: the ritual slaughter of our young men; the ritual emergence of the thousands of illiterates from schools each year, the gangs fed by “community leaders.”

Guns that were once directed at groups of people in the Red House, TV and radio stations are now spraying bullets in the open, in daylight, where women walk, a continuum of 1990, when a series of constitutional and legal blunders solidified lawlessness. Christmas is the anniversary, a protracted ritual, a steadily-rising crescendo with the first parang in October to a few weeks stretching into late December and reluctantly petering out in January. So many Trinis say “I love my Christmas,” the presents, the tree and the lights, the cards, the mall, the decisions to include and exclude, the choices between roast duck and lamb in a household that doesn’t eat ham or beef. There is the awful guilt as I collude with those who give the unfortunate children a “gift” for Christmas.

It’s too much. I want to be part of change, of a place where corporate photographs with hampers don’t exist, but where those who want to “give” at Christmas can sign up to commit to educating a child through to university. Or, put some savings in a battered women’s name so she could be independent. Or, give an unemployed man the gift of re-tooling, the promise of a job. It came, you know, this redemption. The frost thawed quickly, as it always does this time of the year, when night falls suddenly, and the swish of the cars speak of urgency. There was Raymond Ramcharitar’s new book. There was Kamla Persad-Bissessar, finally poised after an interminable wait, to take her place in the world, and there was the musical birthday tribute to former Prime Minister and President, ANR Robinson. All anniversaries have their rituals. It is a time to bring out the mirror, and say: “This is me, and this is us.” 


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur