Appreciate the beauty of T&T


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Category: Trinidad Society 11 Sep 11


On the train journey from Edinburgh to London, a fragile sunshine coats the English channel with bridges, neatly rolled bales of hay, grazing sheep and enervated cows, clusters of forests, apple orchards, stations on which I will never get off, like Newcastle and names of towns with ugly industrial buildings I will forget instantly. Ever since I was very young, I was always thrilled by train journeys holding promise of the unknown and the unexpected, which for me is a powerful drug even if I experienced the same journey ten times. Over the years it has become an analogy of life itself. The only constant is change.

In India it was the teeming station with passengers shouting for their luggage to be carried by coolies, bent into a C under their bundles, their heads protected only by a coil of dirty soft cloth, the steel trunks (a colonial relic), suitcases; it was hot glasses of tea and samosas being passed through the rail windows by vendors; of women bearing tiffins marching ahead to stake their seats with a swirl of excited children, the frantic waving of flags as the most daring of passengers or the people seeing them off swing on, and off from the train tracks, the final shrill whistle and the beginning of the journey.

Lit by an expanded moon, daylight pollution shattered into fine gold dust at dusk, night trains picking up the first slow thundering of wheels into a dizzying speed, snaking on circuitous tracks, stopping at crossings for shadowy figures of old men with sticks and cattle and little families are especially unforgettable. On an on we rumbled, across the unending land, villages, tenements, towns barely glimpsed, then gone, to a trance inducing state where reality and dreams merge. Memory is selective. These days as our country lives under the shadow of thousands of guns and the recent memory of too much murder, it is easy for us, an entire population to forget that even now, perhaps as you read this, the bamboo Cathedral in Chaguaramas is like an impressionist painting come alive; in some cove a child is looking at a jellyfish by a sun-warmed rock to the rhythm of unending waves.

Just as we have no time for the call of our birds in our rainforests which nourish our land, we may take for granted the women and many men who everyday, despite the horror of murder and lawlessness that has become the daily business of our lives, are busy this Sunday, as they are every day, laying new foundations for our shattered country by supervising homework, cheering on football and cricket games, ensuring that each child understands that there is a time to receive and a time to give back. There are fishermen out in their boats and cyclists and adventure racers doing their hundred mile rides and long runs and kayaks and following dreams of excellence and pianists who are practising their scales and its a day to visit parents and grandparents.

Yes, there is an aching beauty in Trinidad that keeps us here and perhaps outside your window, as I remember mine in Port-of-Spain, is a mango tree rustling with sunshine. As I write on the train to London, the sleet against my window reminds me of a winter decades back on another train journey to Edinburgh with my student friends. It was one of the coldest winters ever. We didnít know where we were going to stay, we were broke, freezing and ravenous but that was forgotten as we argued for 12 hours non-stop about the Middle East and whether we would do a parachute jump for Jews or Palestinians.

We arrived to a fairy tale Edinburgh, its castle and cobbled streets covered in snow to meet a black South African friend of ours, Mbuyiseli. He was born in Port Elizabeth after his father was murdered, hadnít allowed apartheid or his motherís sadness to make him bitter or racist. His hunger for learning had long passed the boundaries of race, religion, socio economic profession and country, and even the then racist regime could not keep him back from gaining a scholarship to Oxford to study Classics, and then to Edinburgh to do his PHD. Murders in South Africa were a daily reality for Mbu, apartheid a cruel evil. It was well known that Mbu was an insomniac, but that didnít stop him quoting the metaphysical poets to us as we walked around the medieval old town and through the castle. He had an old world unfailing genteel courtesy, and his praises were quaintly Victorian delivered in a strong South African accent.

The last time I saw him was eight years ago on Oxford Street with his fiancť, a tall, elegant woman. They were young, educated and wealthy. They were going home. There was work to be done there. Last year I heard he died after a long illness. I thought of Mbu's scholarship, his tiny book packed rooms in Oxford where a group of us would go from London for a taste of refracted glory of Christchurch College. As the train rumbles on, I remember his perpetually furrowed brow, working out some complex idea, but also the memory of hardship, of a cruel regime that had sought to humiliate his entire race was ever present in his eyes which remained sad even when he laughed. Mbu taught me a new way to look at the world, through the lens of beauty. It is he who I think of now, thinking of my country under a curfew as we go under a black tunnel.

It was Mbuís hunger for knowledge that must have affected me when I was a careless young woman, something about the reverential way he showed me 300-year-old books in a library in Oxford University, made me think we can all, even if we remain on an island, live without borders, with perpetual curiosity in our heads. No journey is as we envisage and sometimes when we think itís the end, it goes on, and when we think its going to go on, it ends. What makes this life worthwhile, with its seemingly unfair balance of grief and hardship and poverty in lives around the world, is beauty.

I remember now as the train slows down, after covering a story on poverty in Trinidad, both myself and the cameraman stopped simultaneously at a sight I will never forget. A boy standing on a rubbish heap playing with a kite looking at a fiery sky, his hair a bronze halo. An angel on the garbage. Points of beauty are deeper and more poignant after they overcome darkness or grief, proof of human tenacity, I thought as the train ground to a halt at Kings Cross (restored after the terrorist attacks of 05). Remembering as I walked into the gleaming station the spectacular fireworks over Edinburgh Castle on our last night there, as clusters of moving colour lit up a dark sky.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur