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Category: Reflections 25 Oct 15

Why write? “I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman. For me, writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are, you come out and hope that no one runs away.”—MARK HADDON.

It’s time I came out of my book closet. What it was like all those years about wanting to write a book, about talking about writing and reading in a country where barely anyone reads. Why I went away for a year to learn to write a novel.

If Barry Padarath, the MP for Princes Town, refused to be intimidated to silence after being called “princess” by Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Darryl Smith during the budget debate last week, then it allows more of us to stand in the light, be our real selves.

Instead of slinking away, Padarath called Smith on his sly remark that only suggested homophobia, and openly called it what it was—“bullying”. This is when I was most heartened by my people. Instead of jumping on the picong and homophobic bandwagon was a barrage of criticism levelled against Smith for his nasty remark across social media, non-governmental organisations and the Coalition Advocating For Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (Caiso) group, lobbyists for the LGBT community in T&T. That there are such organisations in T&T is also heartening.

Now that we are showing signs of moving towards a more open, liberal and humane society, I too want to come out. As someone who loves reading and writing more than the sea, more than soca, more than fetes, more than food or football. For decades I have tried to fit in. In some senses I have. Journalism has given me access into the bowels of our country. I’ve seen pan on cool Christmassy nights, and danced to soca in the rain, and felt exhilarated by Carnival. But that was always a tiny part of me. At heart I was a reader in a closet.

I got some of that yearning to be amongst people who love books and ideas out in this column over the last two decades, but what I’ve always wanted to be is a novelist which is almost the opposite of journalism. You need to slow the story right down, the climax comes towards the end, and there is redemption.

In journalism we scream the climax out in the headline. This last year in London has been scary for me as an island woman away from the familiarity of who we are. I got to know how we ‘move’, the chameleons that we are, the fact that we can wine down to the ground but scarcely tell people the truth of who we are. I interviewed the whores and went wading into the Beetham, into hospices where there was no morphine, and stood amongst boys who were living and some dead by the gun.

I understood early on moving to Trinidad that it was weird to talk about books. “So what are you reading now?” brought a blank stare. Equally, talk of cricket and band launchings and Christmas curtains bewildered me. I found consolation in the depth of our people, the resilience, the tolerance, the unique wit, the cunning insight that could be found in everyone from the judge to the doubles vendor.

But I did find I couldn’t come out about books. I must reveal that my husband’s library induced me to marry him in a shot in my first year in Trinidad. By then, I had seen too many houses—some with marble floors and imported Italian kitchens, others on stilts, but no books.

That sprinkling community of book readers was revealed later. We are now a growing literary community thanks to the Bocas festival, the film festival, the burgeoning of the arts. Yes, there are curious arty people who see the pan and doubles, and shark and bake, but also the passion of reading and writing.

There was another reason that I remained in the closet about books. In Trinidad, talking about books felt obscene, as if I was talking about caviar when people were starving. We have been starved in a way, of humanity, and if I didn’t write about that I wouldn’t be a proper journalist.

So instead of writing about book prizes, I wrote about blood dripping from the ceiling as women’s throats were slit, of the beheaded man, of the drowned and brutally raped boy.

It’s happened again. I wanted to talk about the walks you can do in London, the stomping grounds of Shakespeare and Dickens, Bronte, Wilde, and the Bloomsbury set. I wanted to write of the terror of inviting strangers into the work you care more about more than anything, and find generosity, critiques that don’t crush but push you to be better.

But I can’t, not just yet, because the first thing I saw when I opened my laptop this morning was the murder of a British man and his partner in Tobago. Yet, another double murder of a foreigner that has made world news.

I have come out of a closet full of books. I am not one for politicians, but the Padarath incident made me see that Trinidad is burgeoning and there is now room for all sorts, including the fringe literary community.

It also showed me that so much of what we can be is stifled literally by fear of the next murder. Our brutality, verbal and physical crowds out almost everything we can be. That’s why we are a gridlock nation and when there is movement, it’s one step forward, and two steps back. Brutality stopped me writing, and humanity will bring me home.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur