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.

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A tale to make you weep

We got to build a better nation
Clean up Jah creation
Or there will be no future for you and me

Fools Die, Peter Tosh

What good is a community without stories? What value is a society without storytellers? I mean beyond crick crack. Beyond the loss of douens to electric lights and Anansi replaced by the World Wide Web.

The carrier of the stories is the carrier of the wisdom and a sensibility that you can’t and never will get from the Red House.

The carrier of the stories is both the revolutionary and the peacemaker. Who shows the community its beauty and its dirt and its light.

A storyteller is a shape-shifter who uses every tool, every image, every sense to draw you in, capture your imagination.

So where the hell are our stories? Who is fictionalising our lives? Who is fashioning our superheroes?

All these questions plagued me before, during and after I went to see A Winter’s Tale, which everyone should see really.

Because in the absence of our own storytellers our children grow up in awe of someone else’s mythology.

Imagine in all my 30 years on this island, this is the first time I was sitting in Globe cinema to watch a local film.

And it might be set in Canada but I have to take ownership of those emotionally scarred men and the women shouldering too much weight of dying boy children.

And we have too many frustrated artists walking around this town to not understand that the loudness of our self-doubt has a startling ability to drown out our desire to speak our truths.

Aside from the embarrassment, aside from the frustration, I am so glad that A Winter’s Tale is being shown here and now.

And I’m glad too that they chose the Globe, in the heart of my beautiful stinking city, to show it, as opposed to going to that place in the murdered mangrove.

It’s not a pleasant film. It’s not a kicks t’ing. It’s not the loud, effects-filled, slap-stick foolishness that usually numbs our brains.

And this is not a review but a Winter’s Tale is bloody brilliant. Especially because you’re not going to leave the theatre feeling all warm and fuzzy.

And especially because you will weep for a fictional dead child in ways that you do not weep when you watch the news.

Frances Anne has all the marks of a good storyteller in that you will feel more sorrow for a place and time and people fashioned out of living truths.

Because everybody knows our men are in crisis. Everybody knows but who wants to take responsibility for finding or creating solutions?

The audience titters uncomfortably at inappropriate times. They steups at the gangsta boy who falls apart when the little boy dies.

They are scandalised at two beautifully naked bodies embracing in grief. They have a problem with the cuss words as if the F word is more obscene than a generation of boys who will never know what it is to be men outside of owning a gun.

We should feel more scandalised by the fact that we have a nation of children growing up absorbing somebody else’s mythology. Who do not know that they too can be superheroes, let alone be on a big screen, playing themselves with a depth and truth that is just plain shattering.

The procrastinating writer in me winces because there are so many other stories like this that need to be told.

And I hear a lot of talk these days about developing a film industry. And it’s important, yes, to industrialise the way we operate our creative potential. Beyond oil or gas or goddamned smelters, our creativity is our real nation-building potential.

But we also have to be able to see the value of the stories that we have to tell and train our storytellers wisely so that the films we make don’t end up looking like the Port-of-Spain waterfront. Tall and empty and bright imitations that are irrelevant to the landscape.

A Winter’s Tale is now showing at Globe, Cinemas 8, MovieTowne, Hobosco until Tuesday