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Category: Women 23 Mar 14

 

Miss Miles was set in the heady days of a shiny new independence, people buying shiny American cars, and needing gas. Dr Williams and his coterie of ministers captured the imagination of the people. Sparrow was big on the scene. Oil money was pouring in. New buildings were replacing the old. The ideals were noble: of each child carrying a schoolbag, of transparency, of zero tolerance to corruption, of self-governance, of every creed and race finding an equal place. It was only after I saw the play Miss Miles, written and produced by luminary Tony Hall, and executed solely over two spellbinding hours by actor Cecilia Salazar—both gargantuan figures in local theatre—that I looked her up.

Gene Miles looked just like Cecilia Salazar in a black wig in a yellowed clipping from the Monday, July 25, 1966, Evening News archive. It was headlined: “I’ll expose the big plot,” and in a smaller font: “And Gene calls for more gas data” with a large accompanying photograph of Miles, then aged 36. With the composure of a great actress, she looked up with big kohl-rimmed eyes just in time for the click. She had the look of a resolute innocent child, with no idea that she was about to engage with a pack of money- and powerhungry wolves and eventually be ripped apart by them.  As Cecilia said to me, she was supposed to stay that way. Decorative. She didn’t know the rules. So this sexy woman, never mind that her family was friends with Dr Williams, never mind that she herself was involved with a cabinet minister, she, Gene, along with her oversized chic handbag also clutched at several files in her hands. Files that would sell out the big boys. She was on her way to testify against them.

Playwright Tony Hall, who was a child at the time, says he remembers Gene, remembers how she rocked the nation. Miss Miles was born in pre-Independence Trinidad to a middle-class Catholic family of Portuguese descent; with a scrupulously honest civil-servant accountant father, Ranny Miles (an accountant at the Ministry of Works who quietly but firmly uncovered the lid on the Caura Dam racket). Her father’s whistle-blowing led to depression and death.

But Gene learned the right or the wrong lesson, depending on how you look at it. Gene’s whistle-blowing led to the first major commission of inquiry against major allegations of corruption under the PNM, dubbed the Gas Station Racket Enquiry, in 1965. In that news report of ’66 this bombshell said some things you wouldn’t expect out of a pretty little thing like her. She produced evidence from the Ministry of Petroleum, Mines, Industry and Commerce. She named names. Big names.  Who knows what made her do it. It could have been a combination of her Catholic upbringing, a kind of courage that comes only from innocence, or the example of her scrupulous father, or that the minister, cabinet member and Dr Williams’ friend “Honey O” summarily dropped her after having his way with her.

She was a bundle of contradictions: civil servant, host of the first Oprah Winfrey-type talk show on TV, a bright, scholarship-winning, devout convent girl who worshipped her Mother Superior yet played mas, a model, a motivational speaker, a singer in tents, a woman whose family counted Dr Williams among their friends, “a woman of the world,” as she called herself (ironically, naively, she was in fact the opposite) who reputedly frolicked with the powerful men of Williams’ cabinet. Yet she identified strongly with ordinary people, sang calypso, modelled, could drink hard and I’m guessing, could talk up or down-and-dirty whatever the occasion required. She fascinates me for so many reasons. I think of the “white” women of this country.

I wonder if they are hiding from public life. I wonder what history has done to them. I think of women in general and wonder if we’ve come a long way, or any way, from there. I wonder if women pay a price for integrity. The powerful men banded together, tore Miss Miles apart, sidelined her, froze her pay, froze her pension, moved her to another ministry, and froze her out of public life. She began to associate with the struggle of those to whom great injustice is done. Some say she was raped in “the madhouse;” others say she was raped on the streets. She was called a mad old white whore. Madonna, whore, exhibitionist, scholar, fighter, victim.

Who is she? She died at 42 of a heart attack. No wonder. This country broke her heart. She needs to speak to us now, more than ever, from beyond the grave to tell us why the bright promise with which this nation gave birth has not realised, to tell us about our own brutality, to implore us to speak out.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur