An e-mail circulating in recent weeks among some friends, invited recipients to recall "Where you were" on the historic night of August 30, 1962.
When I considered the e-mail seriously, I realised it was not just an opportunity for friends to share a set of healthy recollections and move on.
In fact, it went beyond an invitation to collective reflection; it carried more of an implicit search for answers to what we have achieved in 50 years.
Have we (a) been truly travelling along a path towards the elevated status of a 21st century nation, or (b) have we just not been acknowledging the warnings of a nihilistic decline into degradation, decay and destruction of some perilous kind.
From August 31, 1962 we called ourselves a nation. Added to that belief, even among the decolonised world, Trinbago was seen as a "model nation" on the path to modernity. It possessed basic assets, inter alia, a young, gifted population; a small educated class with policy foresight to raise those standards; a functioning public and police service, with strict colonial regulations that insulated them, to some extent; natural and hydrocarbon resources; soils good for food production and a climate attractive to tourists.
Yet Trinbago's narrative was that of the Third World. It was caught in the maelstrom, which one observer characterised as "a non-integrated or mal-integrated political and social system, with relatively high degree of pluralism and low levels of political power and economic resources".
In reality, there was the overall economic structure, heavily dependent upon oil and sugar, deemed in some indices as non-viable. Our major holdings were foreign-owned, our products were not for the small domestic market, but for international consumption; our entrepreneurial and managerial class was small, inward-looking and risk-averse; our institutions, framed for the Empire, were unprepared for an independent nation, and most significantly there were the pyscho-dramatics of the "new" nationals, increasingly divided, and with growing demands for a say in decision-making.
It was "a challenge" our founding father, Dr Eric Williams, warned back in 1962 in his History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, and published to mark our Independence.
Looking at the broad matrix of history, Dr Williams pointed out that other economies, more important in the world system and better endowed, had failed conspicuously. But that would be no justification for Trinbago to fail. To merely determine to succeed would be an enormous tribute to our people's capacity, a powerful inspiration, and a wonderful opportunity for self-fulfilment, he wrote.
"On August 31, 1962, a country will be free, a miniature state will be established, but a society and a nation will not be formed. After, the people will face the fiercest test in their history — whether they can invest with flesh and blood the bare skeleton of the national anthem, 'here ev'ry creed and race find an equal place,'" he wrote.
Days later, Dr Williams would tell the Independence youth rally at the Oval: "There is no turning back. The road from now on leads forward and only forward. Your responsibility, therefore, is a heavy one. If you shirk it, you betray our nation. If you fail in that responsibility, you jeopardise our nation." He went on to emphasise the importance of the national watchwords — discipline, production and tolerance — stating that they applied to both the youths and their parents.
Dr Williams's words in 1962 are alive today. It was as though he was anticipating the conditions of Trinbago on its 50th anniversary, when he told us: "Discipline is both individual and national; the individual cannot be allowed to seek his personal interests and gratify his personal ambition at the expense of the nation. We must produce to enjoy. Wealth does not drop from the skies for any individual or any nation. Reduce production, "skylark" on the job, take twice as long to do a job, and make it cost twice as much — do these things and in effect you reduce the amount available to be shared among the total number of people. You don't pull your weight and you fatten at the expense of others."
Pointing to "our mixed society" Dr Williams said that Trinbago had "only two alternatives — you either learn to live together in peace, or you fight it out and destroy one another. The second alternative makes no sense and is sheer barbarism. The first alternative is civilised and is simple common sense".
Rereading Dr Williams' speeches last week was an emotional experience. One is moved by his depth, insights and vision for this land, and the requirements he outlined for nationhood in 21st century Trinbago. Probably, most important, were his warnings about the despair that many people now feel, hence his words of "sheer barbarism".
So 50 years after, the above questions are really for you to answer — not me. But, please, read the works of Dr Williams. He will help you in your answer.
Great is my home,Trinbago!
• Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has
since followed a career in