I had pictured my Success Village porch hung with a Trinidad and Tobago flag as large as il Tricolore in vertical bands of green, white and red that I had seen in Toronto's Italian neighbourhoods. Back home, I soon shied away from the idea of rhetorical expression of so large a T&T standard.
Other people had a similar idea. Car-size versions of the national flag were noticeably fluttering above windscreens like heraldic symbols of belonging.
As the urge persisted to get that special something to wave, I entered a famous Port of Spain store—and left empty-handed on learning that the mini flag and mini pole cost $45! It was a question of money or, rather, parsimony. I was ruled by an instinctive reluctance to put, on some mark-up merchant's demand, that much money where my mouth was.
My heart had long been recruited to the cause of "celebration". In ever more conventional wisdoms, the Independence 50th anniversary was rated as an occasion for hanging the national head in shame. Still, I was moved to reject any dress code of sackcloth and ashes.
By August 2012, Independence, I discovered, had got a bad name. Sometimes in principle, and always in practice over 50 years, Independence suffers disparagement and even delegitimation, in a slanging radical critique headlined, "There is nothing to celebrate". Or words to that effect.
Following swiftly from 1962, Independence has found itself in bad company. It was appropriated by ruling parties in Port of Spain, all of which have been found severely wanting.
So long as its image is that of a government thing, Independence is liable to be condemned by association. Marking the 50th anniversary is a project of the People's Partnership, an administration hopelessly threadbare of affection and respectful regard.
This is also the 79th anniversary of CLR James' publication, The Case for West-Indian Self Government. In 1933, James profiled a "crown colony" in which political and economic power, and social prestige, were all immovably contained in a leak-proof system.
"They", the white colonial rulers, had it all; "we", the ruled over and imposed upon, had nothing. Even then, however, looking down the road, James declined to acclaim prospective "self-government", or Independence, as any all-rectifying utopia.
"No one expects that by a change of constitution, the constitution of politicians will be changed," he wrote—in 1933! He expected that, after Independence, politicians would continue to "disappoint the people…deceive the people and even…betray the people".
In the hands of politicians, Independence prophet CLR James predicted, some things will remain the same. But not all things.
Referring to politicians, he wrote: "There is one thing they will never be able to do—and that is, neglect the people." Into the hands of the people, Independence would put the actual or potential power to gain respect, and an effective capacity for retaliation against "neglect" through the ballot box, that was only just imaginable at the time James was writing.
Today's focus is on the quality of the democracy inaugurated at Independence, not on the reality of its enjoyment. T&T got many things wrong, made many backward and sideways steps, and experienced many moments of physical and mental standstill.
We didn't become a Singapore. Over the same half century, Singapore with far fewer natural advantages did brilliantly better.
Nor have we found a better measure of progress. "Singapore sets the bar for what we must become," wrote Jason Julien in a Business Express analysis that detailed some relevant "metrics".
The grossest T&T failures register in public affairs: in getting government systems to perform. "Nothing works," we used to wail, and today use more and different words to say the same thing.
Police and policing represent the most apt examples of such failure. Police set the example, now standard in government and other state administration, for laid-back non-enforcement of law, such as in road traffic.
Despair over getting things fixed stirred interest in outsourcing and in privatisation, and in the near-transformation of state employment into contract work. Yet it was special-purpose state enterprise, EFCL, which (again) failed to repair enough schools quickly enough.
Still, even with no assurance of better in-house capacity, an ideologically driven OWTU is rampaging against outsourcing by Petrotrin and T&TEC. Nor, in 2012, is the union projecting itself as a business entity willing and able to perform the work being outsourced.
I have refused to be saddened or terminally depressed by the enormity of might-have-beens over those 50 years. The killjoy spirit that denies indulgence of "celebration" belongs to the long-prevailing bad mood and bad mind, depressing the atmosphere like ITCZ clouds.
On August 30 in Port of Spain, I was instructed by the preponderance of T&T red in what people in the streets were wearing. Against such a spontaneous popular response that Independence was something worthy of embracing, the high-minded resistance to "celebration" looked elitist.
From a vendor on Frederick Street, I bought a small flag—for $20.
Later, as I heard and read a lot of nice things a lot of people said about my receiving a National Award, I yielded to a sighful sentiment occasioned by a heartwarming new experience.