Reassemble fragments in society

 

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Category: Trinidad Society 29 Jan 12

 

“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.”

Derek Walcott

 

After last week’s column in which I supported the gesture of the PM touching the feet of the Indian president as a symbol of humility and service—values we need to grow every sector in this country, from tourism to finance—I was told in one of the online responses to “go home”, and in another, to “go back to India.” After more than 17 years of writing a column, it’s easy to read signs of distress. When people lash out, almost 90 per cent of the time it’s because they feel bad about themselves. I supported the gesture since I felt secure that the Indian President didn’t threaten our sovereignty, and because our society is forgetting what it meant to be human. This is not a subtle point. The daily murder rate, and the shocking number of road fatalities point to this.

 

The most chilling thought is that the average murderer, whether he bashes a six-year-old child to death, or shoots an 18-year-old dead, or kills innocent people on the road with reckless driving, is sadly, and indelibly a part of the psyche of what makes you and me. The colonisers stripped us down to our skin. When we were stripped of family, language and country we grew a tough skin. Emptied of empathy we turned brute. I saw this in Israel/Palestine, during an intifada. I asked soldiers how, after going through the holocaust, could they justify occupying the homeland of the Palistinians. They hugged their gun and said: “Nobody was going to do that to them again.” They kill in the name of the past hurt, unable to get past the memory of the wound.

 

Our music reflects this rawness and we see it at Carnival. Our soca, chutney is copycat, stunted, devoid of lyricism, simplistic, (often with a “tune” from a nursery rhyme) with poor language and literacy skills. The aggression is not limited to men toting guns. It’s everyday fare in neglected rural Trinidad, with the highest rates of illiteracy in the country. I saw this, as I have repeatedly over the years, at a “function” last weekend. The point of the whole celebratory event is not participatory but a spectator show where the host invites many people to make speeches praising him, and ends up by praising himself. There were a sprinkling of ministers, glittery religious symbols, and much talk about God, the waiting food and the hungry guests. One minister gave a good speech towards the end. It’s a pity because by then many people, hungry and bored, had nodded off. He said that God is the same for everyone, but the religion and ritual we use, our world view depends on history, where we were born and how we grew up.

 

This applies to everything. Our circumstances dictate our behaviour. Before the meal was served the host asked if guests could help assemble the tables “and put the flower arrangements on them.” (If this doesn’t show lack of socialisation I don’t know what does. You invite people, you make them listen to your greatness for three hours, then you get them to assemble your tables, put on your tablecloths, add a flower arrangement and then sit down. Even a beggar girl, in some remote mountain hilltop in any old country, knows that she needs to serve her guest, to make him or her sit and eat). As I was leaving I went to thank the host whom I have known for many years—formal and distant relationship—and he said to me: “Gyul, I readin all your articles and tinkin, that bitch real like to travel yes!”

 

You call a guest who thanks you a bitch. My first reaction was shock. My second was to wish VS Naipaul could have written about this because he would have done it so much better. My third was, I wonder if he was aware, despite all the God talk, of his ancestral culture of India where guests are welcomed, treated like God, where people would rather starve than see someone go away hungry and where one wouldn’t ever dream of insulting someone in your own house. And finally, I saw for myself just how unsocialised he was. He literally didn’t know better. He was someone his village looked up to. Now the stories of illiteracy, incest, alcoholism made sense. The murders and road deaths throughout the country made sense. The neglect of books, manners, literacy, art, music, a civic sense, curiosity, became a monster with whom we haven’t grappled. A friend explained with the proverb that “a fish rots from the head down,” meaning when a State fails it is the leadership that is the root cause. We need to start the socialising process, reassemble the fragments in schools, at home, in offices, to create a second skin that is more human, less brute.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur