Saturday, December 16, 2017

Midnight's children


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A cursory look at this year's torrent of celebrations could easily lead one to fall in with the Gallup poll finding that Trinis are among the happiest in the world.

Nationally, we mounted various high pedestals to mark 50 years of Independence — showmanship and gamesmanship jostling with brinkmanship to produce astounding levels of wanton extravagance — and we missed a golden opportunity for profound contemplation.

West Indians everywhere could justifiably feel proud of the accomplishments of our athletes. Olympic success visited richly, leaving a sensation of triumph that crossed merrily from island to island, reminding us that we are best as a bloc, and majestic when we stand together. In cricket too, there was something for the region to feel good about; a long time coming, but enough to arouse a glimmer of interest again.

Representing T&T, George Bovell has been swimming up a storm, proving to naysayers that a disciplined mind, a strong work ethic and commitment can always go an extra mile.

We've celebrated these achievements with gusto, and we must be aware that the really prime moments have come from within the realm of sport. On public platforms we heralded the qualities that these young people displayed in pursuit of excellence, but once we step off the stage, we've behaved as if those same qualities are to be abhorred and if they are found in any sphere outside of sport, they are treated as symptoms of weakness or madness, either way to be shunned and denounced.

So, apart from the sport (and a Rhodes Scholar) which brought us something to feel proud about, what else was there? It is striking that the genuine euphoria was inspired by young people. Striking that much of what was good has come from the arts, sport and music — the underdogs in this country that still doesn't get it (and how it used to!) that this is what truly makes us human.

Looking back with more than a perfunctory glance reveals a Trinidad that is not a happy one in the sense of the Gallup poll's questions, but one that is chilling and dismal. Robert Mayers, in a grim letter to the editor, described it as our midnight.

"We are in our darkest hour; that hour when everything and everybody all appear to be the same — a dirty shade of grey," he wrote bleakly. This malaise that overwhelms us, he said, threatens to destroy us. "It seems to me that in many ways our country has lowered its head into the soft, satiny pillow of apathy. We have been lulled to sleep by indifference," said Mr Mayers.

That indifference has seen us acquiesce to all manner of perfidious behaviour, perpetrated on us in our name, and we have accepted that it is done for the greater good when any fool could see that the greater good is really the greater goodies for a few.

We have let people peddle incoherent arguments to explain away blatant malfeasance and we have settled for rationales that have nothing to do with principle but everything to do with expediency — political and financial.

We look back at this year and we should hang our heads ashamedly that we have become a people easily bought, easily sold and without scruple; that we are ready to crucify anyone who goes against this way of life that has earned us not just international high ranking as happy people, but as criminal and corrupt.

That is why Dr Wayne Kublalsingh's public and principled stance was so divisive; that is why it was such a powerful intervention into the degeneration that we have come to wear like a mud mask. He held up a mirror and showed us our cracked selves. He decided to say no to this mockery of good governance and yes to good citizenship. And back to the words of Mr Mayers: "Dr Kublalsingh doesn't have to be a deep philosopher to know that he alone is responsible for keeping his honour, his dignity and his happiness intact. And by fulfilling his duty to himself, he is automatically fulfilling his duty to those closest to him and to the larger society."

And as we end this year with ostentatious displays of giving and good cheer, amidst another looming showdown between a Prime Minister and a President (remember the December 2000 standoff which led to President ANR Robinson's declaration that "I fear a dictator" in the New Year?) are we really going to look back with pride at 2012?

Can we shake off the vulgar spectacles we have beheld on public platforms and accept some responsibility for the stunted mental development of the adults among us? They were made by our elders you know; craftily crafted to further agendas, not growth.

In what frame of mind will we enter 2013?

The Carnival season is now upon us. It has long been described as a site of cleansing, of renewal and restoration. Whether it fills that role any more, I cannot say. Twenty-five years ago, David Rudder's "Calypso Music" had written of this power in the music, asking rhetorically: "Does it wash away all your unlovely?"

But we've surrendered our power to apathy.

What can wash away our unlovely now?