Sunday, February 18, 2018

Life without feathers

Tony Deyal logo43

Mark Fraser

 In the days after Christmas and New Year, I tend to look back in time and reflect on the more important and weighty issues and events of my life.  Why does Frosty live in the middle of the ocean?  Because snow-man is an island.  Even now when I brave the traffic in Port of Spain, I realised how true that is.  There are the storms creating havoc in North America, and here in Trinidad I keep wishing I had a sleigh, Olive and all.  Who is Olive?  The tenth reindeer.   Xmasologists say that the clue to the identity of the tenth reindeer is buried in the song, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in the lines, “Olive the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.”  

Around this time of year I am very conscious of what the same xmasologists call the three stages of man. First you believe in Santa Claus.  In the second stage, you don’t believe in Santa Claus. The third stage is when you become Santa Claus.  I now have the figure but not the heart.  Now, I have discovered a fourth stage. It is when you feel like Santa Claus walking backwards. The major symptom of this stage is that you say, “Oh, oh, oh” instead of “Ho, ho, ho.” All it means is that you have more to complain about.

I was indeed feeling claustrophobic shut in my car on the highway, doors locked, alert for carjackers and drunk drivers and thought of a time many years ago when I was on the way to the funeral of a family friend, Merle, who had died of cancer. She and her husband, Dr Lloyd Webb, a colleague from my days with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), had been among the few friends who supported us when we were going through rough times in Trinidad.  I had sneaked a look at the newspapers and was even more depressed. A young accounting clerk of East Indian descent from the Express Newspaper had taken her own life. What made the tragedy even more unbearable was a claim that it was over her love for a young man of African descent and her family’s objection and resistance to the relationship. It was ironic that Merle and Lloyd faced a similar situation more than 32 years ago when they met. They got married in 1970, the year of the Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago.  Their marriage was blessed with love and four children, one of whom, Lyndon, was a close friend of my son George.  They treated him like a member of their own family. Merle was almost maternal in the way she treated and counselled my wife Indranie.

The two deaths forced me to reflect on my own circumstances. My surname should have been Adam since my family represents a mix of the human race including black, white and brown, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.  My Uncle Partap had married his childhood sweetheart Christina, and their first child Clint is my godson.  I attended Anglican elementary schools and a Catholic secondary school.  I went to school in rural Carapichaima, with its sugar cane fields that brought my ancestors from India, and then Port of Spain in a rural slum area, close to the killing fields of Laventille, named of all things “Piccadilly”.  

I suppose it symbolised a roundabout route or even that life is a circus.  In the intervening years, I have lived in Canada, the United States, Belize and Barbados.  I now live in Antigua.  I consider myself first a Caribbean person, then a Trinidadian.  I am not an Indo-Trinidadian.  There is no such thing in my vocabulary. 

When my son George was six, I became public relations officer of the national sugar company, Caroni Ltd., and we moved to a company enclave with white painted, green-roofed bungalows.  George went to a school that the company operated on the residential compound on which we lived.  Most of the children at the school were of East Indian descent.  One of the other children, or it might even have been the teacher, informed George that he George, was Indian.  George was mystified and declared vehemently, “I am not an Indian. I don’t have no feather.”  Twenty-one years later my son, four-year-old son Zubin, faced the same predicament, someone having told him that he is Indian.  He said bluntly, “Don’t be silly.  I am not an Indian.  I am a Barbadian.”  His sister Jasmine supported him declaring, “I am Barbadian too.” They now consider themselves Antiguan.

Christmas is a celebration all Trinidadians share, regardless of race, colour or religion. I walked into the Church of the Nazarene in St James the day of Merle’s funeral feeling as lost as a chicken at the North Pole. This Christmas had started badly and was getting worse.  I had no job and no hope.  The music started and I was made to realise that we were celebrating the life of Merle rather than mourning her death.  Then the message of the Nazarene burst forth as bright as the star that blazed over Bethlehem and set me singing with the congregation, “Joy to the world!”  Job or no job, it is the task of those of us who remain to make the world a better place. As I left the church, the salt tears causing my eyes to burn, yet my heart lighter for the love that I shared with a church full of strangers, I clutched Indranie to me and held in my heart my four children, especially George who has continued to live his life without feathers and Zubin who realises that home is where the heart is and not where your ancestors came from.


*  Tony Deyal was last seen bemoaning 

that the Caribbean is a geographical 

expression and not a political reality.