The enamelled green double sign at the street corner bespeaks a rare happy marriage of the past and the present. Amid the mad and dread mood of Trinidad and Tobago today, the two placards for Old St Joseph Road and Bertie Marshall Blvd (with a tenor pan insignia), mounted on a single new post, look almost too good to be true, even triggering the chilling thought that somebody might steal them.
In T&T, the past for being quickly forgotten is too readily trashed. That predisposition must have motivated the over-reaching proposition that the Red House, in rejection of its long-standing use as a public building, should be preserved as a first people’s historic site.
Only the new signs unveiled on Thursday evening memorialise the Erica Street intersection from where Bertie Marshall, with his house, Highlanders’ panyard, workshop and laboratory, bestrode such society and culture as then defined Success Village. That short 1960s-1970s period qualifies as a golden age, when the narrow strip defined by the Eastern Main Road and the “Back Road” reaching near Morvant Junction appeared to be brimming with possibility.
Rapidly, that possibility evaporated, as emigration emptied Success Village, leaving a setting vaguely identified as just “Laventille”. Stumps and ruins, overgrown lots, and incipient dumping grounds recall where family homes with endearing vegetation and horticulture, and small business places, once stood.
In defiance of the passage of time and of wider indifference, a handful of old “livers”, in federation with some returned residents, and some nationals still in New York and elsewhere, have preserved a spiritual entity called Success Village. Eight years ago, some such people founded and later incorporated the Success Village Reunion Foundation, a body that remains subject to the ups and downs of enthusiasm and energy typical of T&T community organisations. A parallel movement aims to bring back Highlanders steelband.
One week ago, talk on Erica Street stirred a throb that yet fell short of expectant excitement. The Back Road was to be renamed after The Panman, so the story went. It appeared linked to the election season.
It connected with another talk: on the vacant lot that used to be the Barataria Market, a sign went up promising location of a public library branch named after Percy. This was the resident, whose crossed forearms in the face of Patrick Manning, symbolised rejection of the former prime minister and foreshadowed PNM defeat in 2010. Visiting the site days later, I saw just amputated stumps set in fresh concrete: the sign was gone.
Not all talk “on the ground” can withstand eyeballing investigation. If Percy, celebrated on the People’s Partnership platform, was to be remembered with a library in his name, that wasn’t being advertised on Second Street.
The informant bringing me that Percy library news editorialised in scandal over the “politicising” of a state facility such as a library. It called to my mind, I told him, the UNC government’s plan to name the Port of Spain National Library after Vidia Naipaul. That naming project, discarded after the Manning administration assumed in 2001, has been all but forgotten.
My recall of it last week brought the immediate rejoinder that I was emulating a much-berated practice by the People’s Partnership people of justifying wrongdoing on the ground that “the PNM did it too”. This has emerged as a kind of psychological terrorism against recalling the past, especially when assailing a common rush to judgment in assigning the labels “first” or “worst”.
In public affairs, yesterday means less and less. Every issue gets treated as freshly newborn. Scrolling back to my own observations and reflections written over years, I found a citation from American journalist Lewis H Lapham, who likened forgetful people to children beating about “in the bathtubs of the Everlasting Now”.
Thus beholden to “the Everlasting Now”, T&T appears to have humourlessly received the born-again preachments out of the mouths of former Attorneys General, condemning Anand Ramlogan for assailing political opponents.
As AG, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj had himself rampaged against Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide, and piloted a fearsome anti-media project. In his turn, AG John Jeremie passionately prosecuted the ferocious and near-devastating Manning administration assault against Chief Justice Sat Sharma. In between, AG Glenda Morean field-marshalled the PNM’s no-holds-barred campaign against the Elections and Boundaries Commission.
To drain the “bathtubs of the Everlasting Now” is not to defend Anand Ramlogan. It’s rather to recognise in him what Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and others, saw in him long before, and imagined how his street-fighter’s propensity and capacity could be put to political use. It’s also to notice that, over the last two decades, Attorneys General have enjoyed their specialist hours to strut and fret, little troubled by “how it go look”.
If Ms Persad-Bissessar had been motivated to make a difference, somehow to raise the level to what today’s critics suppose they want, why would she have picked as Attorney General this legal and political hotspur? Well, she did pick this rooftop machine gunner, after having recruited the loosest of cannons in Herbert Volney.
Beyond Bertie Marshall and Success Village, memories are made of this. The song of that name stays in mind.