“Coming from the canefields and rough dwellings of Chaguanas, the Capildeo family led by Simbhoo had little idea what to do with their new domain, which had been sold to them cheap by the Maillards because it was unprofitable. To the dismay of the people in the local village, the area around the house became squalid, in its beautiful setting. ‘They did a kind of peasant agriculture,’ said Vido later, ‘burning own the hillsides and planting corn, maize and peas. They pillaged the oranges from the orange trees, took the avocadoes. They planted nothing. They were camping…It was all so improvised, all so dreadful. We were given a very low idea of human needs. I think without anybody knowing, this was coming from Mother India, from a beaten-down, broken-down people. Trees were uprooted and the house re-worked. A big, unfamiliar brick oven was taken apart, and the area beside it roofed over in corrugated iron and tree branches. The verandah was used to store crops and old bread, which Nanie would buy in bulk from a baker in Port of Spain. The indoor water closet with its European cistern and chain was dismantled, and an outdoor latrine built in the woods…the WC offended the Hindu sense of cleanliness and so it was destroyed. It became a room where people sewed…I am talking about people who were close to immemorial peasantry. An ornamental cherry tree by the tennis court on the side of the main drive was turned into logs. ‘There was no reason to chop it down. Where we come from ancestrally, there are no trees – they think spirits hide in trees. While the children watched in excitement, Uncle Simbhoo supervised the destruction of the electricity generator, the leaves of lead being melted in a large pot and tipped into Ovaltine tins; pipes were put between the tins and the molten metal hardened, creating dumb-bells for the Mausas [maternal uncles] to use for exercise.’I think they played with them for a while and then forgot them’. The house was lit by oil lamps now, like the Lion House. Vido’s retrospective cynicism was matched by the memory of Margaret Maillard, the granddaughter of the vendor, who visited. ‘It was a roomy house. The Capildeos were very gracious to us when we came but we were horrified by the way they had partitioned it.” – The World Is What It Is by Patrick French pp 33-34.
VS Naipaul, for all his cynicism, has been for me one of the most insightful critics of our society. If you want a concise analysis of local politics, read The Suffrage of Elvira. If you want to understand the inner workings of the dispossessed post-colonial or of Hindu families, well the ones that identify as Brahmin anyway, read A House for Mr Biswas; if you want to understand the ambitions and machinations of the average Trinbagonian to get ahead in this post-colonial space, read Mystic Masseur; of course, if you want to understand the ambition of every single Trinidadian (not I didn’t say Trinbagonian) read Miguel Street….everybody here is a charlatan, willing to do a little or a lot of bobol to get ahead. And to understand the ambitions of this lot that we currently have in our overly large parliament and on every state board, read Mimic Men.
Since 1995, at the start of each election season, I read Suffrage. Since Kamla became Prime Minister, Mystic Masseur is on the home page of my Kindle, because I are prutty, prutty certain that the PM being very suckastic in my pussonal with every move that she and her small goal team makes. But this small goal team is beginning to remind me more and more of a horde of locusts, hence the quote from Naipaul’s biography. The very first time I read the biography it struck me that here was this prominent family moving out of a rural area into the more urbane Diego Martin, a kind of country bookie-come-to-town scenario and Naipaul’s depiction of his family is almost cruel, but since it is his account to give, I must assume that he has been truthful. Not more than a year after first reading this passage I would meet Patrick French and talk about this excerpt, and subsequently met a member of the Maillard family as well, who confirmed the horror and incomprehension at the destruction of the house in Petit Valley by its new owners.
I think it is with a similar horror that I am looking on at the governance of Trinidad and Tobago. In the first six months of the PP’s reign I held my peace, wanting to give them a chance to prove the naysayers wrong. Although from within a month of them taking over ownership of the Cabinet and Parliament I’d had misgivings, my attitude was that the PNM had done a lot of nonsense with their last 8 years of tenure, let’s see if this coalition would at least make an effort to turn things around.
And for me, I didn’t need ambitious gestures from this government. My wishes were simple: Equity, Public Consultation and Transparency with policies and the public purse. I didn’t expect crime to disappear, but I didn’t expect to see a man with allegations of corruption surrounding him being in charge of my security, nor did I expect that all the crime initiatives of the previous regime would be so unceremoniously dismantled with nothing new or viable put in place. I also didn’t expect that the government’s crime initiatives would all be ethnically driven. Now we have Hoops for Life in predominantly black communities, because I guess in other neighbourhoods there is no need for crime initiatives or basketball courts, yes? And hotspots and Orange T-Shirts are only for economically depressed areas like Beetham and Laventille, while in other areas we give out Food Cards and CEPEP contracts. The country is now in the National Security latrine pit and Kamla couldn’t give a hoot.
I had hoped that this government would move away from welfare, and actually make good on its 7 Pillars of Sustainable Development. So I waited on the diversified economy, only to realise that tar sand from south Trinidad, and Tobago’s territorial waters are their new areas of exploitation. So screw the environment and eonomic diversification, we are still going for bust on a fuel economy. Interestingly enough, our non-fuel producing neighbours higher up the Caribbean are less and less interested in buying our fuel and have begun exploring water, wind and solar sources of energy for when it’s no longer economically viable to purchase fuel. Here in Triniad we wave beakers at the cameras and say “God is ah Trini”. We keep cutting down the trees around the estate with the hope that without replanting they will miraculously replenish themselves. Or maybe the current owners don’t really care about the future of the estate, so why bother to plant new trees, just migrate to a different estate…riiiight? And in the meantime, while we here, keep all the useful resources within the family.
Education and healthcare are two other areas in which we seem to be regressing, and I had thought we’d hit rock bottom under the previous owners of this estate, but the People’s Partnership have really surpassed my expectations. Where I had hoped to see a cleaning up of the inefficiencies of the education system: delinquent staff; cluttered and inefficient administrative system on Alexandra Street; a phasing out of SEA and better use of National Tests; technical and vocational programmes that cater to alternate intelligences; a wider implementation of teaching styles and equipment that will enable students with varied learning abilities, instead what we got was the wholesale giving away of laptops to an education system wherein neither the teachers nor the curriculum was adequately geared towards proper incorporation of the technology.
So while it sounds good to say every child has a laptop, how exactly is it being deployed and how effectively……and why are laptops being put in schools at the expense of text books?
Then you have a Minister of Health willing to scrap a nursing exam, instead of reviewing it, in order to allow more individuals to qualify as nurses. Now, with all of the concerns we have with our healthcare, all the casualties and tragedies for which no one is ever held accountable, add to that concoction nurses who don’t have to meet any criteria nationally to be allowed to give you medication, injections and patient care. Scared yet?
When you look at the present condition of the estate and the policies and attitudes of its owners, is it any wonder that we want to get rid of them? The question is, who to put in charge?
De Vice Cyah Done!