Saturday, January 20, 2018


funny business


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You give a dance or a Christenin'

Policeman walk in, is youh whisky he drinkin'

And when he leavin' the Christenin' as man

You have to put something in he han'

–Mighty Sparrow


I was in a long, lunch-time line of people waiting to buy Indian food at a mini-mall on Frederick Street. A colleague told me that it sold the best curry in town and I decided to see for myself if this was true. Initially I found the line a bit daunting and almost chickened out. However, I reconsidered my decision when I saw how many Trinis were willing to form an orderly and patient queue for the food. That by itself is as rare as a maxi-taxi signaling that it is about to stop or Louis Lee Sing with his mouth shut.  Figuring that the shop's reputation was deserved and the food had to be extra special, I decided to stand my grind and my rumbling stomach. 

Then up the steps came two policemen fully armoured and armed, hotly clad in bullet-proof vests, huge holstered guns, handcuffs, crackling radios, paraphernalia like bush looking like Jack Warner warnerbees. They strode authoritatively past us, not even deigning to look sideways, their eyes focused on the interior of the food court. "Trouble," I thought, forgetting for a moment that I was in Trinidad and things are never what they seem to be. 

The policemen went past the cashier and parked up. They started some chitchat with the female employees that in other countries would constitute sexual harassment but in Trinidad, especially when police are involved, it is a mere exchange of pleasantries and with all the police preening and hooking their thumbs in their belts, a routine courtship ritual. It seemed that they placed their food orders at the same time because the line which was not flowing but at least was moving, came to a halt while the policemen were served. 

During the US elections I saw several clips of President Obama and his family standing in line for food, in one case on the sidewalk. The President, despite being the most powerful man in the world, never bullied his way past the waiting customers or made the excuse that he was in a hurry. The pictures were not taken during the election but over a period of years. I thought to myself that I have never seen a policeman or politician doing that in Trinidad.

The police behaviour took me back to my youth and the accuracy of Sparrow's calypso in its description of the police and its depiction of their abuse of authority. I remember policemen coming into the shop and, as we described it in those days, "calling down" goods from the shelves. No shopkeeper, especially those of East Indian or Chinese descent, could afford to say no.  Then, I fast forwarded and did a "Google" search using the terms "policemen Trinidad charged". Google found twelve million, two hundred thousand results in .42 seconds. The headlines read, "Police officers arrested for fraud, misbehavior", "Busby to prosecute cops on taser gun charges", "Slapped man to take court action on cops", "Cop charged with killing ex-girlfriend", and "Cops face charges after stolen car disappears" etc etc.

The one that stopped me was, "4 Cops in court on kidnap charges". I grinned wryly when I read it for the second and then a third time. Whether a thousand are charged or only one, it all boils down to a description instead of a numerical value – four cops.