Thank you, Granny Quilla


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Category: Children/Teenagers 04 Sep 11


In journalism school we learned that “dog bites man” doesn’t make news, but “man bites dog” does. In sweet Triniland we are so used to brutal murders, equivalent of “man bites dog,” that when we have no murders it’s huge news. In the banter that keeps us citizens, guests and visitors loving Trinidad on and on, my brother-in-law said jokingly in a phone conversation during the week, that by the time we come home from Edinburgh (to a possibly extended state of emergency) everyone in Trinidad will be arrested. “So what’s new?” I asked. “Not murder,” said my sister joyously. “So?” I replied. “The Prime Minister forgave a foul-mouthed 14-year-old furious at the curfew curtailing her party habits.” So that’s making headlines. No murders today folks. 

I saw the video posted on YouTube where the girl “Granny Quilla,” whose words, if they were not real could be art, a pithy reflection of Trinidad. Her entire diatribe is a reflection of the thousands of adults she must have met and interacted with in her young life. It took an entire community to raise a foul-mouthed girl primarily interested in her partying—family, teachers, the grocery owner, the taxi drivers, the DJs, the state-sponsored carnivals she remembers from the time she was about three or four, the boys on her street, the mothers spending on nail art rather than books, the pre-pubescent wining children of mas’ or Shiv Shakti cheered on by their adoring parents, the blue notes fanned out perfectly in the hands of the big boys on the block and the billions stolen though State agencies like Udecott.

Granny Quilla, all of 14 years old, hurtling abuse at the world, she is you and me. I have to thank her because as much as we were repelled by her vacuous abuse, finally, finally people are sitting up and saying, she is not an aberration, she represents thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of our youth. Look what we have produced, people. We are now no longer dismissing youth delinquency as a soft news story. We are looking around, at our own kids, questioning ourselves, our “culture” our illiteracy, our family values. We are examining the part we played in creating thousands of “Quillas.”

We are looking around for the absent fathers and asking if the State should really be funding and rewarding rubbish “cultural” events around Carnival time, with millions of dollars that could be buying books for our 400,000 functionally illiterate, instead of spending on events that glorify wining and idiotic chutney and soca “lyrics.” The tragedy is, these nonsense events are cleverly manipulated by artistes as “multicultural” and promoters are quick to use the race card and politicise the event if the government even suggests there are other priorities.

So, Granny Quilla is saying really, if the State funds parties set to mediocre noise classed as “music,” why **** is the state stopping them now? I am no puritan saying stop the parties. It’s a free country, but it’s the job of the State not to play to the gallery, but to set standards. Fund music literacy, fund a pan school, fund theatre, not rubbish populist chutney and soca songs. Still, the state of emergency robbed me of a sense of wonder. On holiday, I would think, instead of the painting in front of me, or the concert, or the architecture, or the tones of a language, “Wow, I am walking on the street and I am not afraid,” or “I hope everyone at home is okay.”

The stuff that travellers are addicted to: marvel, discovery, was nothing compared to the relief of not being at all times, a couple of miles away from the scenes of another murder. So on the train to Edinburgh from London, I felt free to fall about in helpless giggles thoroughly embarrassing my teenagers as the Italian conductor tried and completely failed to tell us in English, as to why the train had stopped for 45 minutes. He also went on to do something I don’t believe I have ever heard an English conductor do, make an emotional plea to passengers—use the guilt trip: “Please, please, don’t keep pressing the emergency button thinking it is the flush because when you do that you hurt people’s feelings because they want to get to their loving peoples waiting for them at the station.” The look on the faces of the stiff upper lip passengers in particular was priceless.

Now that I have taken off my lens of “relief,” in the UK, I can see clearly that the First World countries we once held up as examples to ourselves are not so far advanced after all. In Edinburgh I saw the parallels between T&T and the UK. The problems in the UK are the same as ours. Illiteracy, absent parents, joblessness, a subculture, a growing gap between the rich and the poor and massive double standards. The recession has hit us all, First and Third World. Apart from trains that regularly break down, lots of things go wrong here. In Edinburgh the Polish girl at the front desk at the hotel gives us an “upgrade” which we discover has no heating nor hot water.

My friend from Perthshire was saying in her garden blooming with foxgloves and late summer roses, that after the recent riots, the jails were overrun with young first-time petty offenders, while greedy executives in the financial world continue paying themselves hefty bonuses and politicians enjoy massive perks. The greed of the poor is judged. The greed of the rich is admired. She was complaining that the people who felt left out of society, the young, jobless, poor, illiterate felt free to loot and protest, and the very rich who lived by their own rules were squeezing the law-abiding tax-paying shrinking middle classes. She spoke of inefficiencies in infrastructure, education, medical malpractice the latest victim of which was a 14-year-old girl who went in for a simple gall bladder operation and emerged paralysed for life.

But back to the 14-year-old, let’s not be too harsh on her. As adults we forget that the young live with an absence of fear and without context, as we ourselves once did. I really had to laugh when our son, a student here, welcomed us into his flat on the fifth floor of an apartment building smelling like a dungeon, to rooms with no heating and a distinctly overheated fridge. He had lived like that for weeks and not noticed. He took us to a “fringe” event at the tail end of the Edinburgh festival called What Remains, a grim “show” where spectators become participants in a story of a mass murderer in the hallowed halls of Edinburgh University’s Medical department with props like fake body bags and elephant skeletons.

I snapped at him afterwards (having left in the part where the murderer psychologically dissects your body parts) to take refuge from pouring rain in a “fish and chip shop” (that served fish and chips and Indian curry) saying “We just came from all this in Trinidad. Why did you bring us to this gore?” “It’s art,” he replied by way of explanation. Teenagers don’t know the meaning of dread unless it’s to do with locks or parents. I hope the state of emergency is extended (with due apologies to businesses and inconvenienced travellers) for a well-deserved reprieve, to give us time to take off our lenses of fear and judgement, and try for a new beginning where we can become a proper country where “dog bites man” ie, “no murders” is not news, but an everyday reality, and a once in a way “man bites dog,” a murder becomes an aberration.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur