“Humanity must perforce prey on itself.
Like monsters of the deep.”
hear two similar stories on the same day from India and Trinidad. The
first, a news report from the Times of India: In a backward village in
India (there are 600,000 villages in India) a man attempted to molest a
young girl. Her parents demanded justice at the panchayat (local
selfgovernment). It was decided by the villagers that his punishment
would be licking their spit off the ground. The villagers spat on the
ground. The man was forced to lick this spit. That night he committed
suicide, unable to deal with the humiliation.
The other, a story
from a policewoman: A woman from Chaguanas is brutalised by her husband.
She has a black eye from being bashed in the head. He hammers her and
then urinates on her. The woman wanders somewhere in Trinidad,
humiliated. The next day this happens to me:
A woman driver
appears from a side street and hits my bumper hard. My car gets a
scratch. I am shaken up but not damaged otherwise. She’s a bank worker
in some kind of wellpressed uniform. Not management. Thirtyish. Long
hair tied up in a ponytail. Boxy frame. Not from Port-of-Spain. Nasal
voice. Brown skin. Round face. We eye one another warily. I check my
car. There’s a scratch. I say to her: “It’s fine. It’s a scratch. Let’s
forget about the police station.
I’ll handle it. I
am shaken. Just say sorry, and let’s be on our way.” She refuses to
apologise —“I am not saying sorry” —even while she walks off, jumps in
her car and drives off; I stare disbelievingly. Asking her to say sorry
was like slapping her in the face. The stony set of her face reminded
me of many such moments. People actually flinch when asked to say
“Please,” “Thank you” and “Sorry.” As if they are being abused. Between
the damage of arrival and the fat off the oil boom, the words humility
and humiliation became interchangable. So saying “please” feels like
begging. “Sorry” feels like self-immolation. “Thank you” is about
feeling beholden. The words don’t equate with empathy, gratitude or
I have to remind
myself why I live here. We live amidst perpetual sunshine, rapacious
laughter, an Eden of green, endless childish diversions: a string of
public holidays, Christmas, Carnival, cricket. We are at heart, a hugely
talented, a deeply damaged people not given to introspection. We are
intuitively democratic— tolerant over religion, political allegiances,
race, colour, size. We are Zen-like, innately peaceful. The daily
murders have more to do with the temper tantrums of entitlement than a
studied hate crime. The woman with the poom poom shorts and hijab sit
side by side at a concert with equanimity. We are that.
Then there is the
elephant in the room. Outsiders observe primarily that we find the idea
of service humiliating (we fail to see the link between good business
and service); that our people (when not partying) are generally angry;
that obese and ill, we have turned towards ourselves.
Foreigners find us
• Why are traffic
laws not enforced?
• Why are some 40
per cent of you still functionally illiterate?
• Why is there no
confidence in public health institutions?
• Why is the
judicial system so slow?
• Why don’t the
police enforce laws?
• Why don’t you
• Why are your
obesity figures among the highest in the world?
• Who brings in the
drugs and guns and puts them in the hands of the illiterate?
• Why don’t people
keep their word, or time?
• Why do you not
have building codes despite the fact that you are at risk of hurricanes
• Why in such a
rich country with free tertiary education do so few of you,
proportionately, attend university?
• Why do you not
have a proper museum?
• Why do you only
have statues of entertainers around your city?
• Why don’t more
• Why don’t things
run on time?
• Why isn’t there a
proper plan to fix roads (other than texting a minister when there is a
• Why is there no
accountability across the board?
And finally, the
most cringe-worthy question:
• Why are people in
this country so easily diverted from the real questions by the spectacle
of costumed politicians who are clearly in the middle of a feeding
Coming back to the
woman from Chaguanas whose husband urinated on her, the man in India who
committed suicide after licking the spit of the villagers and the woman
who would rather die than say sorry: It’s a treble analogy for the state
of our country. The first is: we are a wounded, humiliated people,
urinated on by indentureship and slavery.
The second is: our
wounds, combined with loss of Old World civility and easy oil money,
have made us simultaneously arrogant, insecure and ignorant of the fact
that humility is a sign of great economic strength.
And finally: we,
the people, who have been made to lick the spit of politicians for some
50 years, are so rigid with anger and humiliation that we have shut
That’s why men feel
it’s nothing to urinate on a woman they’ve beaten up. And that’s why
women find it impossible to say sorry when they are wrong.