PEOPLE HAVE been asking why they haven’t been seeing many articles or comments from me in recent times – on Sat Maharaj, say. There is some apprehension. I can understand why: they’re afraid I might have been intimidated by some powerful force, certainly political.
I quickly assure them that nothing of the kind has happened. (Or will happen.) Quite simply, I’ve been concentrating on my third volume of recollections. Last year I told Newsday I wouldn’t be sending many contributions in 2019 because I would be focusing elsewhere. That’s what I’ve been doing. I will still make a few sorties, like this one, from my main writing, but they will be very occasional.
I’m working now on my India experience, no easy task given the size and complexity of that fascinating country. (A former Indian high commissioner to TT did once tell me, though, that he found our society far more complicated than his. I often think so myself.) I travelled through much of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, a lot of it by road. Tiring but informative. I kept copious notes, on which I’m now drawing. And, of course, I have a lot of reading to do as well.
The final product won’t be a travelogue, however, even if touristic elements will sometimes appear. Rather, I will to a large extent be talking about issues that don’t generally get frontline attention outside India: caste, for instance, and technology, and Mother Teresa (whom I liked), and agriculture, and so on. Alas, I won’t be able to avoid the politics, though I wish I could. If you think we in TT are confused, you weren’t in India during the period of the Janata Party administration.
I’ve given myself a first completion deadline of end-September, but that might be optimistic. Certainly, I don’t intend to go past December, as I want to publish in the first half of 2020. I hope it will be an interesting book, but we shall see.
What I will say now is that India considerably broadened my perceptions. As someone from the developing world, I learned a great deal about the influence of cultural traditions-turned-imperatives, and about the trials of socio-economic development. It is a country for which, after all these decades, I retain deep affection and respect. But enough about India and me. What of TT?
First, there’s something I have for ages been neglecting to say. You remember that famously indiscreet remark by Mario Sabga-Aboud about his Syrian-Lebanese community being “the most powerful” in TT although it represented just “one per cent” of the population? Actually, it’s not even one per cent.
The 2011 census gives our population at 1,322,546, of which the Syrian-Lebanese are only 1,029. They aren’t one per cent; they are less than one-tenth of one per cent: a mere 0.078! One might reasonably wonder how such a tiny sliver of the population could have achieved the “power” of which Sabga-Aboud boasted. What is the precise nature of this “power?” How is it exercised, and to what end? By whom in particular? And so on. Our universities have some research to do.
Second, we witnessed Gary Griffith’s extraordinary media conference behaviour the other day, when it was indicated that he would not be taking any questions from the media. “Ask Omatie Lyder,” he petulantly snapped at a journalist as he strode out of the room. I emerged briefly from my India bunker to give my public views on his apparent media blackout, and for now I merely wish to support subsequent statements on the matter by Ramesh Deosaran, Ralph Maraj, Raffique Shah and others.
Third, David Abdulah announced at his media conference last week that, before the conference began, he received a telephone call from the police asking whether they could attend the event. He politely said no. But why such an unusual call? On whose instructions? What did the police want to monitor? Was the request linked to Griffith’s earlier performance? Or is Abdulah’s Movement for Social Justice being suspected of “naysaying” or “treason” or “unpatriotism” (to quote what, alarmingly, seem to have become favourite government epithets to hurl not only at those who disagree with government decisions and policy, but also at those who only ask questions about them)? My way or the highway? In a democracy? Is Orwell’s “Big Brother” looming over us?
I understand that, when asked, Griffith claimed ignorance of the call. Constitutionally, however, he has “complete power to manage” the Police Service. He can therefore easily brief himself on the matter and explain it to the public via – what else – a media release. He doesn’t have to take questions. From the media, that is.
And now, back to India.