Sacred Waters

To touch the river is to understand her divinity. You must walk the path of the river to pay your respect. You must experience the shocking coolness of the water in the early dawn, the sharp jab of stones, the yielding softness of mud. The sun barely peeps through the thick forest cover in those early dawn hours when the only noises are forest ones: raucous birds and a whispering river.

 

Excerpt from a short piece I wrote on the Hindu River festival Ganga Dhaaraa in the current issue of Caribbean Beat. 

Splitting of Her Breasts.

One of my favourite people in the world, Uncle Ravi-ji, told me this story one day. It was raining that day two months ago. I was sitting with him after the Ganga Dhaaraa celebrations up at Marianne River in Blanchisseuse. It was one of those perfect Trinidad days, with a perfect dawn, and beautiful children and music and rain and mangoes and a river.

When Hindus came to celebrate the connection between ecology and spirituality. Because if you see the river as sacred, you wouldn’t put the goddess out of your thoughts and pollute it, right? I was telling Uncle Ravi-ji about all the potential environmental disasters this country is going to have to confront in a few years time. And how important it is for people like him and other well loved and respected spiritual leaders to come out and condemn some of the things that are going on in Trinidad. And in that way that I love about people who have a lot more sense than the politicians, he started to tell me a story. The story is about him and his grandfather.

He paints a picture and I see it clearly; him as a young boy, among the first children in his village to go to secondary school. And one day a man from Neal and Massy turns up. He comes to talk to these children of indentured labourers about purchasing tractors. The salesman’s pitch is slick. The salesman paints a picture of an easier life, of children like Ravi-ji who will be able to study in peace without having to engage in the backbreaking labour that brought their ancestors here. Of no more hungry children in their village. Of profits from sales of all their agricultural produce.
Ravi-ji’s aja (grandfather) listened at the meeting. His father was excited and so was he.

When they got home his grandfather spoke up. And here Ravi-ji quotes his grandfather in Bhojpuri and for moment the old man is there with us. Ravi-ji’s aja was against the purchase of a tractor. He said, the tractor would split open Mother Earth’s breasts. How can a wounded breast continue to sustain life? And Uncle Ravi-ji admits to me that he was angry at his aja, because all he wanted to do was go to school and have a different kind of life. The tractor represented to him all that was modern, different and progressive.

His aja was keeping him back. The villagers got their tractor in the end. And Uncle Ravi-ji went to school. His aja went the way of all flesh. But the tractor did split Mother Earth’s breasts. And now there are more tractors, but as Uncle Ravi-ji concludes his story, he observes that even today there are still starving children in that village. How did his aja know and understand the effects that industrialisation would have on the environment? Without all the book learning and the slick facts he was able to articulate a concern for nature that none of them could understand? The simplicity of that story reverberates now with me as I look around at a society that is eagerly chasing after more tractors. And those who share a concern for Mother Earth’s split breasts are sidelined and silenced. They are unwilling to pay the price of progress.

We live in a society where decorum and decency and adherence to laws are upheld as benchmarks of the good citizen, but the reverence we feel for the things that sustain us, well you could get laughed at for expressing concern. It’s not that the tractor is the only alternative now. We’ve come a long way from those days. It grieves me that it is the tractor that still represents modernity when it is our ajas and our grandmothers and our tanties whose ideas are timeless and more sustainable. I wish some people had even one millionth of Uncle Ravi-ji’s aja’s wisdom. Then they wouldn’t write bizarrely stupid headlines like “Are environmentalists anti-people?” Because they would understand that it’s not how many tractors you have or how much oil you drill or how many smelters you build. But the humanity and the humility of what you do with your knowledge and your resources.

That progress and destruction don’t have to always go together and the destruction excused as some kind of by-product. Like all those ads for drugs on cable TV whose lists of side-effects seem to far outweigh whatever benefits the drug was intended to have. That it’s not about financial profiles and projections but how the people of your country are coping under the crushing weight of your greed. How your gluttony looks to those under you who have less than nothing. How your excess feeds their resentment and how ultimately they will be made to pay for your gross and sloppy mishandling of Mother Earth’s breasts.

Love and Baigan – A Maticoor Meditation

Republic Maticoor

When Gab, my sistren from the year nought jokingly suggested that I organize and host her maticoor at the Republic a month ago it didn’t seem so odd. 

Given that I am a post modern Orisa/Rasta ecofeminist and Gab is a Rapso feminist activist, former Miss Mastana Bahar and her family is actually Muslim Indian via Afghanistan. AND she was getting married to an African man in Christian ceremony.

I engaged in the process the same way I engage in any kind of celebration, with wild abandon and excitement.

This was not to be a regular maticoor by any stretch of our imaginations.  It was less than rites but more than tradition.  But that is the Trinidad experience — creating new interpretations of old things, making culture relevant  and current and alive and vital.  

 It didn’t matter that I’m not Indian or Hindu or a family member.

In our reasonings about what we wanted the maticoor to be, Gab and I agreed that to call it a maticoor was to take the name with its local cultural and social significance specifically to women and make it our own.  

As women confronting this Trinidad landscape, claiming space, expressing views, thoughts, dreams, desires we know the restrictions on this freedom.  The maticoor then becomes that last chance for us to come together and surround our sister friend with all our light, all our hope and all our admonishing that this mouth called marriage doesn’t swallow her up, consume her so totally that she no longer is the person we knew.  A better stronger person perhaps. Because what is love if it doesn’t give you the energy to be an amplified version of yourself?

On the day of the maticoor I ended up in a shop in San Juan market with the mother.  I bought some coconut oil and wicks for the deyas I planned for Gab’s circle of light.  I stood there talking with the female shop owner, asking her about the various puja items on sale.  We chatted for a long time too about the similarities between Hindu rites and practices and Ifa/Orisa rites and practices.  About the late Orisa priest Baba Sam who often said his prayers in Sanskrit, of Ravi Ji who I call Uncle.

An Indian man,  a Jehovah’s Witness tried to engage me and the mother in a conversation about Christianity and why the Bible is the only truth.  There was a lot of snorting and steupsing from us at this point.  A few shoppers stopped their shopping to hear how the conversation was going.  Anyway to cut a long story short, the mother shouted at the man ‘Conversion is the worst crime perpetrated against people like us.  A lot of Indian people had to convert to Christianity, change their names and their way of life to keep their jobs, to send their children to school.  Orisa people used to have to run from police for playing their drums.  Pay respect to your ancestors who sacrificed so much for you to be here!’

In our circle later that night, after Burton had sung his ribald maticoor songs and then orikis to Orisa goddesses Yemoja, Osun and Oya and of course Sparrow’s Maharajin and we sat watching our mehendi’d hands dry, we all dressed as our personal sheroes – I am Phoolan Devi, in a circle of Parvati, Gaia, Winnie Mandela, Artemis, Athena, Yemoja, Osun… 

I spare a thought for the Jehovah Witness man who must still be scratching his head over the encounter with me and the mother.  I spare a thought for his version of the story which can only ever be one way.  That his worldview is limited by his belief system that says there is only one truth.  

We gather there in that circle giving Gab our love and advice.  The melongene comes out and we collapse into giggles.  Love and baigan are things that we all know. Experiences that we all share.  We give our best ideas and advice.

Trini men are special enough for us to try to figure out how to love them and demand that they love us in ways that are affirming, empowering, enlightening.

In a place and time when we presume women are disempowered, whether by marriage, religion or just the goddamn competing patriarchies that battle for women’s bodies and minds in this country, the maticoor then is a space of power for women where they can celebrate themselves, their femininity, sexuality freely.

 The maticoor is a moment of woman obeah.  To remind us of our power and how to use it.  That setting of a stage where the bride knows that the women have her back.  

Trinidad is such a subtle, nuanced place.  It’s easy to get it wrong. It’s easy to think that race divides us, which it does in bizarre ways.  That we succumb to the politics of nigger and coolie paranoia, which we do in the worst of times.  No mistake, there are a lot of people in Trinidad for whom that is a reality.  There are a lot of people in Trinidad who fully and committedly engage in the politics of resentment.  Who use difference as a dividing line.  

But it is never that simple.  So it is up to us who have had this upbringing that is all of the above: Indian and African and western and Baptist and Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon and Viv Richards and pan to develop the capactity to deal with our cultural schizophrenia rather than try to disentangle it and try to construct some singular identity.  That’s not just impossible, it’s impossibly boring.

Maybe it is up to the women to lead the way to this easier understanding of this country’s complexities.  To an acceptance of how we mix and mingle and our sharp edges become softened by a constant rubbing against the Other. Until the other is yourself and you are the other.  And maybe a dougla maticoor is not the answer to all our problems.

 But surely love and baigan are key ingredients in any effort to bring us all a little closer.

RIP Grace Dolsingh

Funeral pyre of Grace Dolsingh, anti-smelter activist

Went down south this weekend for the cremation of an old soldier from Cedros, Grace Dolsingh. It was a sad weekend for lots of various reasons but I feel like I’ll emerge from this fog of sadness stronger, lighter and more focused on my life and what I have to do.

Check out pics and post over at my much neglected Rights Action Group blog. At least I’m blogging there again….

Fools in the Temple

Love if you’re there come save me
From all this cold despair
I can hang when you’re around
But I’ll surely die
If you’re not there
Love come quick
Love come in a hurry
There are thieves in the temple tonight

Thieves in the Temple, Prince

The smashed faces of gods I do not worship made my soul feel sore and tired.

And I spent several days trying to come up with the right words to voice a sense of deep regret and disappointment, without admitting to a guilt that is not mine to bear.

And in a way that didn’t have that insincere feel of the government jumping through hoops trying to distance themselves from what had happened.

And there is an eerie calm that has come after the events of last weekend when some angry men thought that the best thing for a fragile and wounded country was to go and destroy a temple.

I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand what gets into a man’s head.

I assume that most women have neither the time nor the passion to engage in such crass stupidity. But these days you can’t be too sure. Without betraying the sisterhood, there are lots of women out there internalising the bigotry of less enlightened men and making all sorts of dotish pronouncements in public.

As if we needed any further proof of what Indian commentators have been saying, that there is a deliberate plan to undermine the Indian community.

I don’t know if I’m actually allowed to acknowledge that, seeing as I belong to the other persecuted group and the common feeling in Trinidad is that we must all hold our respective corners and never recognise that there might actually be other people in our midst that are hurting.

Because of the state of relations between Indians and Africans I feel I should be apologising. Never mind I can’t bear such barbarism. There is guilt for crimes committed by little black boys, and guilt for the obscene dotishness of the PNM and guilt for not knowing how to solve our problems.

And I know that no matter what I write, it will be construed as insincere or racist and some angry person, African or Indian will write me some venomous email. And I guess that’s okay because I have a delete button and enough of a sense of humour to let people hold on to their anger if that is what they feel they should do.

Maybe what we all need to do is acknowledge that we, all of us, whether we like it or not, have some level of inherent racism.

The thing is, we all enjoy the picong until we become the subject.

And our racism is the retarded little brother kept in a cage in the mad house.

Maybe we need to spend more time healing our wounds than bringing attention to their sizes and depths.

Occasionally I mistakenly hope that if I live my life a certain way, if I see Shiva as much as I see Shango, then perhaps, other people will see things that way too.

But when you’re on pure hate, you see neither. You see your own anger and your own powerlessness and your own sense of redressing balance. You spend all your time engaging in the politics of resentment and paranoia.

Like pro-smelter black people saying that anti-smelter activists don’t want black people to strive. Or anti-smelter activists saying that Patos building a smelter to kill Indian people.

Jah knows, I am so bored of it all. I’m bored of dotish black people thinking I’ll agree with them when they bray about not letting the Indian and them come back into power. As if this so-called black government ever do anything for them.

And I’m bored of all the online discussion forums in my inbox going on and on incessantly about which Indian is more right and whether UNC or COP have undermined the Indian vote.

All of these things weighed on my mind as I tried to get my head around the murti massacre.

And I wonder if the gods are as attached to those material manifestations as we are.

I don’t know how much those who have not taken in the history of this place have a sense of ancestral memory. I don’t know how long it will take for us to understand just what went on. Beyond the clothes and beyond the dances, I mean. These are the frills, the surface manifestations of deep and dread stories of resistance and constant struggle.

And every smashed murti is as much of an insult to my ancestors.

And I wish I could find those fools and explain to them that the murtis are not the material things we should be smashing. I wish we would turn our attention away from gods and smash the misguided policies of our leaders. We should busy ourselves with smashing the high walls we’ve built between each other. Burn down all the edifices of our self-contempt instead. And find time to pray to whatever gods we see fit that one day we will wake up and realise that It’s the land and not the buildings that are sacred.