A blast of cold penetrates three layers
of clothing. One hand is frozen around my train ticket in my pocket.
Blink and blink, and sparkles upon sparkles, overhanging silver
snowdrops, fairy lights, blinking Christmas trees.
Snatches of conversation on my way to
the train in Victoria. ďThe thing is,Ē said a suited man to his work
mate, ďto have a plan.Ē In a lift in the underground, one bright-eyed
woman, her dark hair spilling out of her reindeer scarf says
breathlessly, ďThereís no one I donít love after two glasses of
Another woman gets on. Itís in rush
hour. She is short, swaying at the force of the train holding on to the
railing. There are no seats left. She is wearing shades. Peculiar in a
city that goes dark by four in the afternoon.
There is water on her face. No, itís
tears. She sees a hand, a tissue, someone guides her to a seat. She
feels protected among strangers. People speak of the loneliness in big
cities faced by solitary dwellers. Especially those who work from home.
Days can pass and you donít have to see anyone if youíve got a decent
amount of bread, cheese, cookies, butter, pasta and tea around.
Recently, a cousin locked himself in my
bathroom; I didnít hear him for ages. After we got the locksmith in at
midnight, he says ďLucky it wasnít you. You could have died in the
toilet.Ē The locksmith laughs at this hysteria.
Yes, this weather requires comfort
butter on everything. Yes, Iíve put on weight but I donít mind. Itís a
small price for living in a place where people arenít afraid to show
their vulnerabilities, foibles and kindness.
Iíve tried for years and years to
understand why for a country that parties so hard, so diligently (donít
come between me and my mas, me and my fete, me and my Christmas), why
our people are generally closed off.
Sullen shop girls, shooting a man dead
during a dispute over a car accident are examples. In between there is
the bravado, the chuckles, the hysterical shout of laughter. Yes, we
equate the gentle, the open-hearted, the mannered, the vulnerable with
weakness, impotence even. The result is we deny ourselves an essential
humanity, softness, warmth.
Once in a low moment of my life, a
friend from England advised me. She said listen, this could be a break
down or a break through. She advised that I come completely apart in
order to build myself up again.
She was so right. Itís the only way to
heal. Thatís why I wish we could do that collectively in Trinidad. No
one should say: ďYeah, we were enslaved, branded, our families
separated, dehumanised. Yeah, our currency was the cutlass but itís over
No, itís not over. We are a wounded
people. A wounded people are closed. A wounded people actually really
need the release of a Carnival where we can absent ourselves from our
lives with the ready help of alcohol to become someone else, a bird, a
bikini, a Viking man in silver boots for a few days.
We need to talk about it. We need to
talk about why so many of us dislike Wayne Kublalsingh so intensely. His
fighting reminds us of our stupor, our carelessness about justice,
transparency. We need to talk about what it means to be strong.
It doesnít mean murdering old people. It
doesnít mean shooting a stranger dead. It means allowing ourselves to
ask difficult questions. How do we feel about having enslaved and
Without the crutch of material things
like Carnival and cricket, doubles and shark and bake, who are we? We
were cut off from our old continents, places where people had thousands
of years to develop an identity. We were placed here. Now what? We canít
have the conversation if we are buried in oil. We canít have it if we
live from fete to fete. We canít say claim the pan if we canít read
music. We canít say we are global without mastering global languages.
But we can slowly build, with learning.
We can make (apart from the state-funded anesthesia of Carnival) a real
culture, a high culture with many languages, get access to the
literature, science and philosophy of the globe. Just imagine, a T&T
where people speak Arabic, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Swahili, French, Spanish.
A T&T where every pan player learns to
read music and can walk into the Royal Albert Hall and play any
instrument including the pan in an orchestra because we have a music
school. Think of the depth of our calypsoes and chutney if we understand
what we are saying literally and on a deeper psychological level. We
will all be long dead before T&T matures.
It could take 400
years. Right now we are savage teens killing one another over ten
dollars. With our potential we can be the most amazing country in the
world. We are saved with an inchoate love of our T&Tó trudged through
wounds and broken through a bloominí poinsettia lit in a thousand ways
in our melting tropical surprise.