Is ah mental block
Dat hard to unlock
It hard like ah rock
an wid it yuh doh wuk
yuh go live wid illusion
Tryin to be another man
And if a man want to set
false standards for you
To he, wha yuh say?
—Blow Way, Lancelot Layne
Here’s the thing. I can’t say I’m a fan of the fellar. I can even safely say that I find his writing overbearing, condescending and other words ending in ing that I can’t be bothered to list right now.
Hell, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were in the same position he would write a sarky column listing in brilliant detail why it was a good thing that a feminist, Africanist socialist—three strikes and you’re dotish—no longer had column space in a national newspaper. But the truth is I get no joy from the news that Newsday hasn’t run Kevin Baldeosingh’s column for the past three weeks, leading to speculation that he has been fired. You attack one, you attack all. And when the neighbour house on fire, Jah know you better start wetting your own. Or so it is in my book. Perhaps I am being presumptuous to imagine that this lumpy bumpy awkward thing called the media, when you get past the big business media house petty competition nonsense, well we have each other’s backs.
Perhaps I am wrong to think that I should be blasted vex at Newsday’s limp-wristedness. Vex at how they are taking the side of the wrong people. Not vexed as much as shocked at how it’s so easy for people to defend the indefensible. But perhaps it is wrong of me to think that the Newsday people are any different from all the other scared conservative people walking around Trinidad afraid to say boo to anybody. Who would rather hold their corner and hold a safe line instead of rocking the boat. At how integrity means nothing and those who stand up in defence of the truth are the ones who does get their throats buss. Time and again. I, quite frankly, am growing bored of it. My right to speak is something that I am prepared to defend with my life. And a threat to anyone else is an indirect threat to me. But this is unfamiliar territory in this country. This is why anti-smelter protesters can be labelled as outsiders if they don’t come from the communities that are being directly affected.
There is no solidarity among any other group in this country. Perhaps I have no right to use my own column space to speak out on behalf of another columnist. We are worlds apart ideologically but I imagine that we share one commonality. And it is that we who have opinions and are arrogant enough to believe that other people want to hear them, have a right to say what we have to say, in whatever way is pleasing to us. Well as long as it doesn’t involve borrowing from other writers. Part of the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from being a writer comes from the assurance, real or imagined, that someone out there is reading what you have to say and if not identifying with it, at least feeling something. Or so you hope. It is difficult to gauge what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It is difficult to know what has an impact and what doesn’t in this nation of armchair revolutionaries where everyone can speak eloquently about what the problem is but nobody actually wants to get up and do anything about it.
It’s not just about free speech. It is about undermining investigative journalism. Intimidating other journalists who might want to put God out of their thoughts and try to expose some injustice. It is a warning to others to not step out of line. Who wins, then? Who wins when voices are silenced? Who wins when a priest can get away with lifting some copy from another writer but teenagers are on trial for buying copies of exams? Who wins when a journalist gets fired from a newspaper for daring to challenge a holy man even as children’s jhandis are under threat at Barrackpore West? We have lost track of reality. We have lost a vital voice in our national conversation. We have lost our sense of perspective. Nobody wins. We are all losers in a race we are not yet equipped to run.
It was a classic case of me making myself angry.
It was a classic morning when I got up hopeful. Greeted the dawn. Thanked the gods that it’s zaboca season.
Walked down the hill, into the heat. No scene. Jump in a maxi riding east. Say a soft Bless! To the rasta man sitting next to me. Radio blasting some inanity. I’m quite proud of myself actually. It’s one of the rare mornings I’ve managed to not be sucked into working before 8 a.m. And I’m actually going to make it to yoga on time. All is well with the world. Of course I still wish I could ride a bicycle but everything in time. After I master a headstand, anything will be possible.
I’m buzzing today. I look around at the other passengers who look zoned out.
We get to Roxy roundabout. The traffic slows. No scene. Traffic is always there. I’m still on time for once.
We creep onto St. Clair Avenue. Inch past the lot where my dream house used to stand. Now in its place is a big pile of sand that’s been washing away with every shower. Sun just shining on George V. I smile as we stop outside the Oval. Good times in there.
At the traffic light now. Traffic still slow. Up ahead I can see cars turning around. Passengers start to look antsy. It’s not usually this bad on this route.
Rasta man is checking his time every couple minutes, though the radio announcers titter on incessantly about the time.
A maxi going in the other direction slows down. Everybody has to turn around, he says. Savannah on lock down.
A chorus of steups. At the same time, callers are on the radio. They are raving about the traffic. Rasta man shakes his head. Who knows how much money he will lose for getting to work late.
We inch forward more. Head up Elizabeth Street. Back across Hayes. Not a police officer in sight. Drivers looking bewildered, angry and helpless.
Nobody knows what the hell is going on. I hope for the sake of decency that there is some kind of emergency. A huge secret national emergency that justifies closing down the nerve centre of the city at peak hours on a Tuesday morning. Something so big that might soothe the anger of employers to their late employees. Something so terrible that small business owners won’t feel so terrible about losing money.
No, silly me. I call the traffic branch when I hear that the army has decided that Tuesday morning is the best morning to have a rehearsal for the Independence Day parade.
As if I didn’t have enough a problem with country’s celebrating their independence by showing off their military might.
As if that is anything in the face of economic colonization.
But I digress.
I don’t know why I am surprised. You see every time I try and get some kind of warm, fuzzy feeling about Trinidad, somebody comes along and does a big crap right on top of it.
I get on the phone. I call the Traffic Branch. By this time we’re reversing down Maraval Road.
Cars are zig zagging past us. Not a police officer in sight.
The Traffic branch is rather pleasant, all things considered. They say it’s not their fault. They tell me to call the City office. So I call the City Office.
I am casually told that the Head of State was the one who made the decision. Not on a Saturday afternoon. Or a Sunday morning. No sah. Tuesday. Because that’s what Presidents can do. They can just willy nilly decide to have a rehaearsal. And send out a bulletin the night before. And act very surprised at the fact that no, you weren’t glued to your television all night waiting to hear that the Savannah would be on lockdown so that you had to spend an extra hour and a half in traffic, breathing in those lovely greenhouse gases, accruing an extra hour of road rage so that he could practice his wave. I guess he forgets what it’s like to be a commuter. When you’re the big boss you forget what it’s like to be the small man. Oh, they’re all such a long way from the days without outriders and screaming sirens.
Oh, it’s such a wonderful thing to live in a banana republic. So reassuring that we have leaders that remind us that no matter how independent we think we are, they can do what they hell they want and z’affeh you if you have a problem.
The sad thing is that our leaders have worked out our banana republic mentality to such a level of science they know that we’re too lulled into a false sense of patriotism. We will shake our heads and quarrel a bit and take our boof when we get to work.
Is no scene, a little extra traffic on a Tuesday morning. Who vex lorse and who lorse, well they might have to tief. No scene, ras. Like everything else in this independent nation. No scene at all.