Waiting for Kaiso to Dead!

 

For at least thirty years out of my life people have been holding an unnecessary wake for Calypso. Is like Calypso on a ventilating machine, everybody sit down in the waiting room absolutely convinced that any minute now it going to dead.

 

Every season you have people who are more guilty of nostalgia than real common sense accusing the art form of being dead. And trust me, next year there will be a Calypso Monarch competition with calypsonians arguing about not receiving enough money; and an audience accepting sub standard performances and songs. Calypso dead? Not quite. Calypsonians and calypso shows being lazy and unoriginal? We have plenty of that. And this is not to say that all calypsonians are that way, but the ones that get offered up to us and labelled as True True Kaisonians have definitely become that way.

 

What we recognize as being Calypso in 2013: slow, preachy, lyric-heavy songs that focus on social or political issues, wouldn’t be recognized as a calypso back in the 1800s when the form was still evolving. The stick fighting songs we have today share a closer resemblance to calypsos of a past era. And if calypso could have evolved then to survive and appeal to a twentieth century audience, then it can do so now. And is, but most of us are unaware of it.

 

But you see, we have our notions about what is a calypso. We create our own mental definitions and stick with them. We have had artists repeat a particular formula year after year for the last forty plus years; they have been paid by tents to repeat that formula; crowned as monarchs and received hundreds of thousands of dollars and cars for singing the same formula. And when that formula begins to go stale or bore us the cultural ignoranti among us, who know only one thing as Calypso, get up and pronounce in a self-important fashion that Calypso is dead.

 

So let me disabuse you. Calypsos, good social and political commentary, with infectious beats and memorable hook lines are being sung here every year. Year after year and we ignore them. There is no rule book that says a calypso has to be slow, must have four or more verses, must have brass in it, and can only be performed by person’s upwards of thirty years of age. Calypso has no formula!

 

jointpop FC

jointpop FC

Back in the nineties, when Sugar Aloes and Cro Cro were at the height of their vitriol, making tent going an unpleasant experience for Indo-Trinbagonians, men like Gary Hector, with his band jointpop FC, was singing songs like. “Port of Spain Style” and “Bashment to Halloween”. By the year 2000 the band had released another album to its hardcore group of fans with gems like “New Fast Food in Town” and “Crack, Pitbull and Gun”. Any of those songs I just named there could have knocked Panther and Kurt Allen out of the Savannah last night for lyrics and melody. And until you have seen Gary Hector in full flight you do not know what rebellious insouciance is.

 

In the last decade our most powerful calypsos have been coming from Soca artists, yet we continue to deny their contribution to local music because we have been trained to be dismissive of soca music. It just there to wine and get on bad. We barely listen to the lyrics and then accuse the songs of having no lyrics. Why! Because they aren’t slow? Because they don’t fill our narrow stereotype of what a calypso should be?

Fay Ann Lyons and Bunji Garlin

Fay Ann Lyons and Bunji Garlin

In 2009 when KMC sang ” Yeast” what was that if not socio-political commentary? Does being able to dance to it lessen its message? When Fay Ann Lyons sang “Meet Super Blue”, how many of us realized that it was a calypso of affirmation? We were probably too busy wining to listen to the lyrics and understand what they meant.

 

machel Ben HurIn 2006 when Machel Montano sang “No War” and “We Not Giving Up”, what made them not a calypso? The artist? The beats per minute? The musical arrangement? Have you actually listened to the lyrics of “The Return”, “Mr Fete”, or ” Fog”? All fitting the model of songs of affirmation?

 

This year we too busy with memes about waking cows to realise that Bunji Garlin’s “Diffrentology” is the next sound in calypso. Or that “Savage” is yet another well crafted calypso offering from Garlin discussing our class strificstion issues, much like “Lies”, ” Fete is Fete”, and “Clear the Road”.

 

gyazetteWe might also not be exposed enough to the local music scene to realise that the band Gyazette could have sung any number of songs from their soon-to-be-released album and possibly won the Calypso Monarch title. Kerene Asche’s “Meh Padnah Ship” would be forgotten next to front man Nikolai Salcedo’s blistering delivery of ” Who Is the Captain of This Ship”. And the disdainfully saucy message in his “Mango”.

 

Unfortunately, we have come to rely heavily on stereotypes and formulae here. To win prize money, you have to follow formulae, and bands like jointpop and Gyazette aren’t much for formula. While Montano indulges in formula every year to win soca competitions, he also gives himself enough leeways on his albums to experiment with form and sound. Bunji Garlin, since exploding onto the local music scene since the late nineties has been delivering calypso after calypso annually. In fact, I’d love to see him shake up the extempo competition one year and show the stalwarts what Sans Humanite really is. Just think Red Edge Freestyle session and you too will wish that NCC would hurry up and fix all of the silly competitions that rely on formula for their judging; and have artists stifling art forms in order to eat a food. While the slavish audience looks on demanding the same thing every year; and if they ain’t get it, is not “true true calypso”.

 

It is not that Calypso is dying, rather we, the organizers, judges and audience holding a pillow over its face, while the art form struggling hard to free itself.

But while all yuh eating up all yuh self over Kurt Allen and Pink Panther, I going and rock my Gyazette, jointpop, Bunji and HD…..and I still say Trinidad James shoulda win last night’s crown…WOOO!

Full Dotish!

 

 

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Terms and Conditions of the Hunger Strike Ending

20121206-065444.jpgJOINT CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL
FOR THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

The Professional Centre Bldg.
1st Floor Unit B202
11-13 Fitzblackman Drive, Wrightson Rd. South, Port of Spain

Tel: (868) 623-9396
jcctt1@gmail.com

Fax: (868) 625-5749
http://www.jcc.org.tt

MEDIA RELEASE

For more information Contact:

Afra Raymond: President, JCC
JCC Office:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date: 5th December, 2012
START OF MEDIA RELEASE

– PORT OF SPAIN – After consultation with the government and
the Highway Re-Route Movement, the JCC and its Civil Society Kindred Associations
– Federation of Independent Trades Unions and NGOs (FITUN), Trinidad & Tobago
Transparency Institute (TTTI) and Women Working for Social Progress (Working Women) -
are pleased to confirm that we have appointed an independent working group to examine
the several matters of concern on the disputed Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon
Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin.

PORT OF SPAIN

Tel: 625-6230 or 623-4945
Tel: 623-9396 or 720-0850

The JCC and its Civil Society Kindred Associations have appointed Independent Senator, Dr.
James Armstrong, as Chairman of the Independent Working Group.

The JCC and its Civil Society Kindred Associations has agreed the attached Terms of
Reference for the examination of the facts in this matter and identified the required
disciplines for the review.

The JCC and its Kindred Associations are now committed to this process for independent,
civil society oversight of large-scale development in our country.

We regard this as a solid framework for the transparent ventilation of the matters in
dispute.

This is a real advance in the development of our country, so we would like all parties to
work in good faith within this process. The Independent Working Group will be inviting oral
and written submissions within this exercise.

The Civil Society Groups are confident that these efforts would lead to a resolution of
this protracted impasse and would signal the heralding of a new era of civil society’s
participation in the national development agenda.

TERMS OF REFERENCE

Review all the documentation provided by NIDCO, HRM and other interested parties

Invite written and oral submissions from interested parties

Ascertain transparency and compliance with prevailing statutory requirements

• Examine the process of public consultation and public information Examine the

TOR issued by the EMA for an Environmental Impact Assessment, along with any

other relevant documentation, in order to ascertain implications for social, economic

and environmental impacts of the highway development, including consideration

of land tenure, land acquisition and costs, land use and displacement of families

and attendant settlement development. This component of the review will consider

cost-benefit analysis; social impact assessment; terrestrial and marine ecology,

hydrology, drainage and public utilities.

Examine the route selection process including the consideration of alternatives and

the choice criteria

Make recommendations for Best Practice

Undertake any related tasks which will enhance the content of the Report

REQUIRED DISCIPLINES

Environmental

Transportation

Hydrology / Drainage

Social Economic

Archaeology

Planning / Settlements

Economic Analysis

Highway Engineering

Property Valuation

END OF MEDIA RELEASE

UWI Speaks…but what is it saying?

Today there was a march to show solidarity for Wayne Kublalsingh at the UWI, St. Augustine Campus.

To be more accurate: “A Solidarity Gathering in recognition of Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh” was what the notice about the event said. It came a solid two weeks after the hunger strike began and 3 days after the UWI Prinipal’s statement on the Hunger Strike.

A statement that can be described as embarrasing at best. In it the Principal sypathises with Kublalsingh, but is in favour of the Highway, in fact, he wants a Highway that extends to Cedros.

It is a statement that comes across as both callous and misinformed. Why? In it the Principal seeks to distance the University from Kublalsingh by stating he only works for the University on a 2-month contract. Which is intriguing to say the least. Kublalsingh has been on contract at the UWI for years. His is not just a 2-month contract. Kublalsingh taught me…and that was back in the mid-90s.

Further, you’re in favour of a highway for which we can’t even get the EIA report? Interesting.

Last week when news of the Hunger Strike hit the campus you could hear pins drop in the department that Kublalsingh works. People were only whispering on corridors. Sending an e-mail around to see who wanted to go visit the camp and show solidarity was frowned upon. Indeed, the only action UWI was definite about was that Kublalsingh’s classes had to be looked after.

As per a proper position on the issue….mehh! Not even the Guild President….and he was being prompted by peers to issue a statement….but his political affiliation is widely known and probably played a role in his prolonged silence .

Then over the weekend came the announcement of this show of solidarity. And I had to wonder what led to the show of conscience today.

It’s no secret that this institution suffers from incredible amounts of government interference. It’s in bed with the government…and scarily so.

So much so that writing against the government in newspapers columns like I do gets you the attention of management in less than positive ways.

It is also no secret that many key members of the Institute of Gender openly rallied for Kamla Persad-Bissesar in 2010. Some were even awarded by Persad-Bissessar’s government.

So the March took place and the usual suspects were there. the crowd wasn’t large. This is a University whose days of militant activist students are firmly behind it. These days the things that rile UWI students up are the same things that riled them up 10 and 15 and 20 years ago….shuttles to go clubbing and increased tuition fees or removal of GATE. Social awareness and UWI student in the same sentence is an oxymoron. And often times, social awareness and UWI lecturer too.

At this “Solidarity” today I watched a number of people pat themselves on the back for a job well done  – about 100 people had shown up.  They affirmed to each other that this was necessary! It had to be done! 13 days into a hunger strike. I surveyed the crowd and tried to pick out how many members of staff, who had managed to leave their offices and march around the campus had made it to the Re-Route Movement’s Camp in the last 10 days. I recognised only one. Im sure the others meant to get there….they just didn’t.

I looked around too at the many intellectuals and specialists in social science areas and wondered why weren’t more people speaking out publicly about the crucial issues?

To date not an expert from the UWI’s engineering or environmental sciences departments has weighed in on the Highway Protests. the Centre for Economic Studies, SALISES, will hold a forum on it Dec 4th….this protest has been on more than a year and it took a man 13 days of starving himself for the institution to sit up and take note.

But let’s back up a little. There are many more crucial issues that have occurrred before we got to this point in our socio-political history. There have been abuse of process, abuse of state funds, abuse of women, children, the constitution, the environment….and UWI has not been in the vanguard leading any discussions on any of the crucial issues.

So, I had to wonder why today? This show of solidarity was arranged by Gender Studies,…where were their comments during the State of Emergency (its chief organiser was openly in support of last year’s SoE.)? When Cheryl Miller was arrested? When Sita Gajardharsingh-Nanga was openly attacked and vilified? Section 34? Kamla’s attack on Rowley at Divali Nagar? Kamla’s constant use of the National Mother motif?

Maybe I should be heartened that they have finally responded. Maybe this is where it starts.

For now though I am sceptical. Sceptical because many of the key players are people that have openly compromised themselves in the past, so I don’t know that I can trust them to do the right thing about my future. Many of the key players for quite a long time kept silent because the government screwing up was made up of the parties they supported. And for many Trinidadians, loyalty is hushing up and supporting shit. The minute you criticise, it means you anti-everything. God forbid that any of them should come out and openly critique the government they supported.

But I imagine the attack on Kublalsingh has hit home. Wayne is a lecturer like them. Wayne supported the COP, or at least his family does. Wayne was eventually vilified and mistreated. Not that this government now start to mistreat people….but the stones finally start to fall in people yard. So they find a voice.

 

But I am not yet convinced about the reliability of this “solidarity. So, for now,  I watch and wait.

 

De Vice Cyah Done!

 

The Ethnic Agenda

 

In case you missed it, Ambassador Neil Parsan’s wife is black, which apparently is an actual ethnicity, not just a colour; and his wife’s colour apparently gives the goodly ambassador carte blanche to make up information about Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean. Oh, wait you missed it? You missed the speech wherein the diplomat that is supposed to be representing an entire multicultural nation gave a speech that implied he is really only there to serve the interests of a particular interest group: the People’s Partnership? Some of the key points in Parsan’s speech was to point out that the “Indian Diaspora is a formidable force in Trinidad and Tobago, the largest numerical representation in the Caribbean.” And let’s not forget as well that Indians are ” the most well-to-do and culturally strong and progressive ethnic group in the uniquely plural society of Trinidad and Tobago.”

 

I can’t tell you where to find Ambassador Parsan’s speech anymore because it has since been removed from the embassy’s website. What I can tell you is that Neil Parsan is engaging in a not very subtle game of Whose Ethnicity Is More Superior? And that is a game that the entire country will lose. Why? Because it is pitting groups against each other, and making the atmosphere of Trinidad and Tobago more toxic. A speech such as this says plainly that groups here don’t yet view themselves as Trinbagonians but as ethnicities all holding their corner and struggling for a larger piece of the pie. That an Ambassador, a diplomat, representing an entire nation, would be caught delivering such a speech is beyond embarrassing and Parsan should hand in his instruments of appointment and just leave Washington DC because his conduct as an Ambassador in that speech is poor. He is not representing a country.

 

But  Ambassador Parsan is but one in a string of ethnicity-related gaffes we have had coming from the People’s Partnership of late. Since the massive Section 34 March, we have had Minister of National Security, Jack Warner, on several platforms spreading a message of ethnic strife. The Section 34 march was negligible according to Warner because he saw only Afro-descended people in it. As if to imply that Afro- descended people aren’t Trinbagonian enough to be taken seriously. As if to imply that it wasn’t a march of citizens. As if to imply Section 34 is a race or ethnicity issue and not a national issue. Mere weeks after the march, on i95.5 with John Wayne Benoit, MP for Mayaro, Winston Peters in response to a question repeated that he is only representing the people who voted for him.

 

And if that wasn’t insulting enough, Warner then, sulking and petulant, announced that he wasn’t attending the opening of the Nagar because Keith Rowley would be there. Disingenuous as ever, Warner claimed he didn’t want to politicize the issue. Then Sat Maharäj, pundit Harry Maharaj and Devant Maharäj jumped in to support Warner’s position. Mind you, this is Divali and the Divali Nagar site. A holiday celebrated by the national community on lands donated by the state. What Warner was ostensibly saying to Rowley is we don’t want you or your kind here. Please keep in kind that Warner is not the UNCs Minister of National Security, he is the nation’s, obligated to serve the nation, and at a public forum this is how he speaks to the Leader of the Opposition, a man that represents the interests of another part of our society.

 

Of course, yes, you can argue that Warner was there in his capacity as Chairman of the UNC. And in that case, what are Warner’s words and actions saying about the party’s agenda and policies? Is the UNC, the party that is currently leading this coalition government, actively using strategies of ethnic division and polarizing politics as part of its strategy to stay in government? The COP agreed to this? Because I can’t see what other way there is to define what Warner and his supporters are attempting to do if not polarize the nation yet again.

 

And to add frosting and cherry on top this ethnic agenda cake is our Prime Minister. A lady who is mum on most matters, but manages to break her silence at the closing ceremony of the Divali Nagar and used the opportunity to attack the Leader of the Opposition. And on trivial issues no less. What the Prime Minister fails to remember with the whole goar lagay incident, when she decided to bow before the President of India is simply this: the PM was there in her capacity as the head of government, greeting another head of government; two heads of state do not bow to each other. Simple protocol. But it seems the PMs advisers are not strong on protocol, just on beefing up her strategies for her ethnic agenda.

 

If sounding like a petulant child about the international bowing incident wasn’t insult enough, the PM then lashed out at the Opposition Leader’s decision to wear a kurtah to ceremonies at the Nagar. Apparently the PM has a monopoly on wearing ethnic garb in this country and we didnt get the memo.

 

The Partnership sounding scared. They sound jittery. Why else would they need to begin to deploy race politics so hard if not to rally their voter base around them. and that’s an old Bas trick, eh. When under attack rally the troops. So in one breath the PM will talk about representing the nayshun….and in another, she scolding people to get in their section.

 

But I want to take a minute and examine this voter base that the PP appealing to. Persad-Bissessar can only be appealing to a group for whom policies based on tribalism and ethnic division will work on. So then, is the leader of the PP saying that her voter base wants ethnic division? Is the leader of the PP also saying that she is quite willing to use divisive tactics once it keeps her popular. Remind me what was the new politics we voted for in 2010 again?

We won’t be getting any of that new politics anytime soon simply because Kamla and the PP must now rally the troops together and bunker down until 2015. Any loss of her voter base, or the Indian vote to the PNM will be a bad sign. Especially since she knows that she depended heavily on the PNM vote that the COP managed to capture. That’s out the window now since PNM supporters see COP for what it truly is….a Trojan Horse of a party.

Kamla also knows that there is no way she can win the seat of government with just the Hindu government. So the struggle is on. Let’s hope others keep their head on and see this Ethnic agenda policy for what it truly is….divide and rule so that the UNC can live another day….but still, you have to ask yourself what it says about the party’s voter base that race politics appeals to them.

De Vice Cyah Done!

Parsan’s 60%

You might have missed it, but this week Ambassador Neil Parsan, a man who was appointed to represent all of Trinidad and Tobago decided that he was only batting for Indians…..but not to worry, his wife is a black woman….he says….so that makes it ok. We can trust him to do his job. I wish I could direct you to the speech that he made, but it’s been removed from the embassy’s website. But in it he referred to Indians as being the most well to do and progressive ethnic group in Trinidad and Tobago.

Indians make up roughly 40% of our population, so in one fell swoop Parsan managed to paint every other group as a bunch of ketch ass parasites. The argument put forward by some supporters of the UNC is that the Ambassador pulled a Romney and was speaking to a specific interest group made up of a specific ethnicity and so tailored his speech to suit…..my response after my semi choked Bullshit is this: Parsan is a diplomat, not a candidate for a political post; he is supposed to represent every group in this space; and playing the race card in front of an audience is extremely undiplomatic. That’s not his job. Romney’s 47% speech was bad enough for all its undertones and stereotyping of Liberal America as a bunch of freeloaders, but how dare Neil Parsan decide to stereotype citizens of this country in this way. So no other group has achieved anything?
Every single ethnic group here has contributed in some way or the other to the country’s development. The much maligned urban depressed areas are where much of the culture that has made us internationally known comes from. The Chinese, Africans, Amerindians, Arabs, Portuguese, Europeans have all contributed. So how on earth can Parsan decide that the most well to do and progressive group is the Indians? Is he implying that the other 60% have done fuck all? And what about other Indian activists that just this week claimed that Indians are the most oppressed group here. How do you get to be the most well to do and the most oppressed at the same time?

Do we really want to go down the road here of discussing who contributes and how?

If we were to just look at which group pays the most taxes in this country something tells me the results going to paint a very disturbing picture about who contributes and how. If we were to trace where and how the drugs and arms trade starts and where it ends up, something tells me that we are going to have a very interesting picture of Trinidad and Tobago, crime and contributions.

But let’s stay away from hypotheticals for now and just consider what Parsan’s comments mean.

Because you see, if Parsan had an appreciative audience for this speech it means there are Trinbagonians among us who agree that Indians are the most progressive group in the country. And yes they have made huge strides, moving from being immigrant peasants to the driving force behind the local business and finance sector. But the country is not just made up of business and finance.

For Trinidad and Tobago to be what it is everyone had to contribute in multiple ways. And every group here still has a long way to go.

For Parsan to decide to single out one group is one thing, to pass on erroneous unsubstantiated information just for the sake of stroking the egos of his audience is quite another….and GOPIO? Really? In a multi ethnic space we still supporting and humoring groups that representing the interests of only one ethnicity? When will we learn that a nation is more than the sum of its…..it is its sum total….period.

This ethnic thinking is getting us no where. We still stuck thinking in percentages, and shares, and pieces and parts. That is the new politics promised to the nayshun, I guess.

De Vice Cyah Done!

Muje Maaf Kar Do….Mea Culpa?

This afternoon the PNM is putting on a grand Divali celebration in St James. The celebration will feature a tassa competition, a beauty queen show and deya lighting. For a party that is in opposition and considered to be more Afro than any other ethnic group in its appeal, it is refreshing to see the efforts that Rowley et al are making to appear more inclusive.

Indeed, since the PNM Convention on October 28 th The Keith has been quietly relentless about showing his many facets and in showing his softer side, he is attempting to show the PNMs accommodating side. But how accommodating is it?

Is it going to be a seasonal accommodation? One that pops up only during popular religious festivals? Will other less prominent ethnic groups also be a part of this new accommodation? Will other religious systems that are less prominent as well be welcomed into the fold? After all the PNMs mantra these days is ” Come home to the PNM”.

But what exactly are we coming home to? Is this new accommodation a pappy show to give an impression of inclusiveness, or is the PNM serious about turning a new leaf?

I am asking these hard questions because there are two major obstacles the PNM has to confront at some point in time publicly. Why? Because they are the obstacles that are thrown up all the time privately. The unspoken grouses the electorate has against the PNM as it were, and I think publicly confronting them will actually make the party appear stronger and serious about inclusion.

Right now the constant pictures of The Keith in koortah is window dressing for a deeper far more serious problem. Yes he looks very dapper and cuts a fine picture in ethnic garb. But as a half coolie that looks more African than Indian, I can tell you that there is far more to being Indian and winning the regard of the Indian community than donning ethnic garb. The PNM in particular and Afro Trinbagonians have always been viewed by the Indo community with skepticism and mistrust.

Social and political leaders of the Indo community have kept the mistrust alive with a constant reference to several grievances held against the PNM. There is the constant cry that the PNM has oppressed Indians, of course when you press for details and evidence the conversation always ends up the “recalcitrant minority” speech by Williams. A speech that happened. That it happened in reference to something else is irrelevant to the Indo community. What matters is that it was said and as far as Indians are concerned it speaks to the true feelings of both the PNM and Afro Trinis.
Go to any FB group, especially UNC focused group and that’s where all the conversations lead to. Pnm is a cult that don’t like Indians and trying to oppress us. Ask the right questions and it boils down to the comment that has had Indians toting feelings against both PNM and Afros for half a century.

The Keith has begun addressing this grievance, but obliquely. It can’t be a coincidence that at every opportunity he has been given in the last two weeks he constantly refers to the valuable contributions of the Hindu community. It is possibly a subtle, mea culpa….but this won’t do.

You see Indians want their pound of fle……sorry, bhagi. And given the public way in which Williams made the comment, any addressing of it will have to be just as publicly. The PNM must make it clear that it is not now, nor ever will be, the party’s position on Indians. It matters little that fifty years have passed since it was made. It matters little that much has been done to atone for it. Until the PNM faces that bogey head on, then it will always rear its head in quiet and not so quiet corners to be used against the party and Afro Trinis.

The tote is real The Keith, and the party must go on record as having addressed the issue. A simple Muje maaf kar do. To refuse to address it gives the comment and its offshoot behavior more power than it deserves.

When you go on record, you diffuse the strength of that comment made more than fifty years ago….and turn the tables on the whiners only intent on ethnic political mischief.

De Vice Cyah Done!

20121111-145758.jpg

Sari Optional

 

I won’t be wearing any Indian garb this weekend. And no, it has nothing to do with taking a backward stance like some members of Paliament who choose to be political, petty and petulant as they try to manipulate Indianness and Hinduness in their constant game of politics and identity. I am avoiding Indian garb this year because I am fed up of the pappy show. I am fed up of the absolute pretence that happens whenever there is a religious holiday in Trinidad, especially one that is linked to ethnicity and politically charged.

 

Divali is one such holiday. And what you won’t hear people say, but what will be apparent in all their careful gestures and words in this: we have an Indian government in power and must appear to comply or at least appear to be open. And therein lies our daily fiction. It can’t be an error that our watchwords say Tolerance. So we tolerate each other, we don’t accept each other, or even attempt to understand each other.

 

This weekend, at the various programmes being put on by social or political groups, people will attempt to outshine each other with the opulence and complexity of the ethnic garb they are wearing. Many will jostle for media friendly pictures of themselves in said garb, possibly doing serenely spiritual things like lighting a deya or performing aarti at the many poojas that will be held. And many of us know the catch phrases surrounding the holiday: Mother Lakshmi, Lakshmi Mata, Hanuman, Sita, Ram, Ayodha, darkness, light, wealth prosperity, deya, prasadum, roti and curry.

 

And after the deyas are lit, the prasadum shared, the food eaten and the fireworks set off (always the fireworks in this place), come next Wednesday we take off the cosmopolitan masquerade and go back to our lives of ignorance. And fete.

 

Far too often in Trinidad and Tobago we are happy being ignorant about issues, but putting up the front of knowledge. Everyone knows when Divali will be observed next week; many of us think we know how it is observed; but few of us,if any, truly understand the tenets of the religion that underpins Divali: Hinduism. And that starts right within the Indo-Trinbagonian community. Thanks to the annual performance of the Ramleela we can know the story of Divali, but ask the average Hindu to list for you the main tenets of Hinduism and I guarantee you going to get a lot of hemming and hawing. Ask them too what strand of Hinduism they belong to and wait for the pause. Unless the person is practicing the teachings daily, there is confusion.

 

The Hindu community here has often claimed marginalisation. When you probe deeper the marginalisation is linked to political appointments and power. The grumbled comments have little to do with practicing their religion and having their marriages be legitimized or even being allowed to observe and practice their religions at schools. By the time the country got Independence those issues were ironed out. It wasn’t even a situation of not having outlets for expression because as far back as the 1920s there were numerous Indo-specific newspapers that catered to both the Hindu and Muslim community. I  remember  Indian programmes on television as a child. I do not remember the same kind of programming for other ethnic groups. The Hindu grouse about marginalisation has always been that before 1995 no prominent positions within the Parliament was granted to a Hindu. It is a grouse that is still vented today because some members of the Hindu community still feel under appreciated and marginalised.

 

In 1962 VS Naipaul talked about Hindu culture being unknown and misunderstood in Trinidad and Tobago. He also pointed out that even Hindus didn’t understand all the complexities of their religion. In 1987 Dr Bhoe Tewarie made similar comments. Hindus had come into their own, because it was on their voting strength that the NAR rode into power (according to Tewarie). He pointed out too that it was time for Indians to accept the responsibility  for letting the wider society know more about them and integrating themselves into the wider society.

 

Between 1987 to the present, public knowledge about some aspects of Indian culture, but not necessarily Hinduism, has increased, mostly through music, cuisine and politics.

 

As with all of the ethnic groups located here, Indians have been stereotyped, Hindus more so because they came with a religion that marked them as different, pagan according to the colonial masters of the time. Because of the mystery shrouding this foreign religion Hindus were considered devil worshippers and practitioners of sorcery; the food they shared out after a pooja considered tainted because it had been offered to gods that the Christian communities here do not acknowledge; their gods are equated to idols; the community is thought to be enslaved to money and financial pursuits. The average Non-Hindu Trinbagonian will calmly tell you Hindus sacrifice their firstborn for money during Kali Pooja: not knowing who Kali is or what worship of that particular goddess is about. There is rank ignorance flying about masquerading as knowledge. And sadly enough, little effort is made on either side to bridge the gap. Hindu organizations focus on educating Hindus, not the wider nation, on Hinduism. Non- Hindus are mostly interested in the food and little else. Ignorance holds sway on either side.

 

 

 

We currently have a government that boasts quietly of being a Hindu government in a multicultural country where religion and state should be separated. It is a government whose actions most of the population interpret as being typical Hindu behavior. And for the religion that is a dangerous thing. Why? Because this government has become a caricature of the worst stereotypes normally applied to both Indians and Hindus. Its actions in the last 2.5 years have done little to shed positive light on the religion and its practices.

 

As a result of this government’s behaviour and Sat Maharaj’s silly comments, nepotism, corruption and racism are considered to be part of the Hindu value system.

So until we take end the pappy show of tolerance, and begin the hard work of educating  ourselves about each other which can lead to acceptance, me wearing a sari and continuing the masquerade is optional.

 

Shubh Divali, folks. Keep it Safe.