Monday, February 19, 2018

Know your history


Class act: Sir Frank Worrell on the go.

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"And to all the younger people in the audience..."

I don't know if Ousman Ali aspired to be the next Sonny Ramadhin in his playing days, or if he especially delighted in the wizardry of Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralidharan in their very recent pomp, but this foundation member of the Sir Frank Worrell Memorial Committee certainly had everyone in the audience stumped by that reference nearing the end of last Saturday evening's event at the Daaga Auditorium.

An assortment of greying, balding and dyed heads turned left and right, stretched forward and arched backward in search of those mythical souls who were still drinking generously from the fountain of youth. Alas, none were to be found, at least not among those invited and who actually braved probably the worst sustained downpour for this rainy season to turn up at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies.

Maybe the recipient of the Humming Bird Medal at this year's Independence Day awards was caught up in the nostalgia of the moment in delivering the vote of thanks, for the presentation--from Kirk Perreira's evocative video compilation entitled "The Magic of Melbourne" to feature speaker Mike Coward's articulate and powerful testimony to the contribution of the late Sir Frank and his role as captain of the West Indies in the magical 1960/61 series in Australia--left many misty-eyed and wishing we could somehow be transported back to a time when, to almost all of us in attendance anyway, the game, and indeed life itself, seemed so much more enjoyable.

There was no questioning the sincerity of Coward's lecture, or the depth of feeling he has for cricket and the preservation of time-honoured values in the face of what many of us see as fast food crass commercialism. At the end of the day though, we have to be honest enough to question whether occasions such as these are more about self-indulgence, about immersing ourselves in experiences which those of like mind steadfastly attest are far superior to the modern fare.

Whether it's in celebration of Sir Frank, or Ramadhin, or any other occasion when the same people from the same era assemble to commemorate the same thing, you have to ask if this contributes in any way to others getting a greater understanding, to say nothing of an appreciation, of not just the game, but the times--sporting, political, social--being recalled with such fondness by an increasingly ageing, and therefore dwindling, segment of the population.

We often lament that, even if they were invited, young people have no inclination towards an appreciation of history, even if it might be very relevant to understanding their own circumstances. More than once in the not-too-distant past I was in attendance at cricket discussions featuring the other two of the three W's--Sir Everton Weekes and the late Sir Clyde Walcott--as part of the Reds Perreira Sports Foundation's series of lectures at the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown where none of the playing members of the current West Indies squad (all staying at the same hotel) were in attendance.

But what do we expect if hardly any of this, not to mention our social, political and cultural experiences and the prominent personalities therein from these significant times in our own development are given little more than a cursory mention in the school curriculum? Oh, before the education specialists start to steups and complain that I don't know what I'm talking about, it's a sad indictment on their ability as educators if all of the above comprises a key component of the syllabus and at the end of it all, the system keeps churning out young people who have little or no sense of their own history.

One of the first things we yearners for an increasingly distant past must acknowledge is that there is more than a touch of arrogance to the assumption that we lived in a time of dignity and civility...and that it's been all downhill since. Droning on constantly about "in my day" as if all was sweet and light in the 1950s, 60s or 70s neither informs nor educates but provokes young people disinclined towards being constantly admonished to just switch off and wait for the old so-and-sos to finish their pointless diatribe.

Look, whether it becomes properly integrated into our education system or obliterated forever, nothing will tarnish my memories of growing up at a time when cricket was very much a flagship of West Indian pride. I have been so brainwashed into an appreciation of the traditional form of the game from a very young age that the one-day and Twenty20 varieties are about entertainment and little more.

Give me a Test match any day, or even a club or school fixture in the nearby savannah on a quiet Sunday afternoon, where the timeless rhythm of the game unfolds and the score is almost irrelevant to the appreciation of an innings being calmly and solidly built, or a bowler gradually probing for a batsman's weakness before administering the coup de grace.

Yet even as I soak in these and other idyllic memories and experiences, I have--reluctantly, it has to be said--come to terms with the reality that my joyful splendour is nothing more than utterly boring $@!#&?* to many others, some of whom aren't all that far away from my tally of years.

More than these trips down memory lane, we must find a way to teach the children.