On a scalding day in Rome earlier this year, I was looking through
the white haze at the ruins of this amphitheatre, which once seated
50,000 people, from the uppermost of the four floors of the spectacular
Coliseum, built during the reign of the Flavian emperors (69-96).
Something a passing Italian guide said brought on a response so
visceral it felt like a kick in the stomach which had nothing to do with
the punishing heat and everything to do with Trinidad. She was saying in
her Italian English that Emperor Titus held an opening party lasting 100
days, killing 5,000 animals. The uneducated, uncultured crowds desperate
for diversion, roared with delight until they got bored of it.
Faced with a citizenry inured to animal blood, succeeding emperors
decreed humans—the spectators—should kill humans; animals kill animals,
and finally animals and humans. Gladiators, Christians, slaves,
prisoners of war, those condemned to death were forced to fight to gain
their freedom. And it had to be bloodier and bloodier. The mob wanted
more and more, including the “humoristic” parade with “midgets, clowns
A Carnival brutality. It’s part of our love of gory spectacle. That’s
when the images of Trinidad flooded my brain like a silent horror movie
I was forced to watch. We are numb to brutality. We see dead people on
the roads and drive by, dead men on the pavement and continue to drink,
headlines of the murdered and turn the page, swerve past dead dogs, as
easily as we avoid potholes.
We hurtle, like the early Romans, from spectacle to spectacle. In the
past two weeks we’ve watched Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, university lecturer,
Sandhurst military graduate, with a PhD from Oxford University, in that
ring. And how we’ve enjoyed it. All we need now for our spectator sport
is to put Kublalsingh in the middle of the stadium and sell tickets to
watch him die, spurring him on.
The sight of a dying man makes thousands of us in that virtual arena
jeer with glee, led by government ministers egging him to kill himself
quickly, demonising him and his family as part of a cult, telling him to
soak himself in corn soup and much worse. Issues? What issues?
Independent technical reports? The hydrological study? The cost-benefit
analysis for this segment? The social impact study? Transparency?
Accountability? We are here for the theatre. Bring on the popcorn. When
I first went to see him, he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for eight
days. I was struck by a cameraman on his break casually licking down his
chicken and chips lunch while gawking at Dr Kublalsingh. The horror came
from the ordinariness of this act.
It’s symptomatic of our collective rising inhumanity. If we can stuff
ourselves in front of a dying man, then there are no lines where
brutality begins or stops. The worst thing about it: the cameraman meant
no harm, it’s just the way we are.
When I spoke to Kublalsingh on day 14 of his fast, supine on a
stretcher, barely sheltered from the burning heat of the afternoon, I
reminded him that people were actually hostile to him and didn’t see the
point. I told him, perhaps brutally, that Gandhi had millions behind
him. He, Kublalsingh, had just a handful of supporters. He replied: “It
took just a handful to save the smelter.”
I asked him for compromise. He repeated tiredly: “I don’t want them
to stop the $7.2 billion, 27-mile-long highway from San Fernando to
Point Fortin. Just the nine miles from Debe to Mon Desir (costing a
disproportionate $5 billion) that will destroy swampland, misplace
communities; and only until an independent report is done.” Perhaps the
independent review could begin without stopping the project?
“No,” he said, “that would be too risky.” Dr Kublalsingh is now on
light drips; that has exposed him to ridicule. I told him that even
Gandhi, in his longest fast ever against communal violence, hydrated
with salt water daily and that he was not to feel he was losing face by
drinking. Online polls show most people don’t know why he’s fasting,
damning him for publicly committing suicide, holding a country at
Is his the “madman’s rant”? Who is he? His brother Hayden Kublalsingh
told me. “Who Wayne is, who we are has little to do with position and
everything to do with a boy who grew up with six siblings in a board
house with no running water or electricity in Claxton Bay; playing in
the rain, in muddy go-carts, eating simply, laughing loudly.
“At a very early stage in his life Wayne’s reading, reflection,
writing and native intelligence give a different lens with which to view
the world. He asked himself, ‘Who am I? What is my purpose in life? How
will I impact on the world?’ “He is interested in equitable models for
social development. He sees the connection between himself and society,
and believes that caring for other humans, especially the vulnerable, is
a fundamental element of life itself.
“He is a critical thinker, original, independent with a fierce sense
of justice. To do this he is prepared to give everything away and leave
himself with nothing.” Now he’s into his third week of fasting, none can
predict how this will unravel. We can marvel at how Dr Kublalsingh’s
resolve grows proportionately to his diminishing frame, his protruding
ribs shed of muscle and fat, his increasing risk of multiple organ
Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s fast, in which he has shed over 40 pounds in
two weeks says much more about each one of us than it does about him.
This shrinking man is providing a bright, polished mirror with which to
see ourselves. Every day we are seeing clearly amidst us civil-society
groups and people like Winston Dookeran, Fuad Khan, Prakash Ramadhar,
Caroline Seepersad-Bachan, who have crossed politics for humanity.
In this turning point of our history,
it’s important for each of us to stand up and be counted on the side of
a humane society that will not partake of this bloody spectator sport.
Those in power know that spectators are fickle. If the tide turns
towards this skeletal, disintegrating man, they will look for another
lynching arena. It’s time those in power provide the compassion and
compromise that could take us out of the bloody ring and put us on our
way towards a civilised society. Even the Romans have moved on.