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You know that saying if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all? I always wondered what made some people so deliberately…..nasty towards others. As an author, in order to have some insight into the world in which I and others live, try as I must I can’t avoid the news. My home page is set to MSN so once I get on the internet, that’s the first page that comes up. Let me be honest from the get-go. I’m a comments reader. I like to see what reaction people are having to what’s going on around them and no, I don’t go lurking on the internet prying into other people’s thoughts. I don’t fancy being one of the “shit stirrers” or being stirred for that matter. I pretty much do the same thing at the cinema. I note the reaction or non reaction of others to certain scenes that may be funny, scary, vexing or sad to me. I know what you’re thinking. I spend too much time paying attention to others. Well, in a way yes. Being observant, as I like to call it, have pretty much helped me to keep my hide safe from predators and the like. Anyway, that’s for another topic.

I’m bringing this up because as our world gets smaller; as lines become blurred; boundaries are erased and walls are knocked down, our penchant for intolerance, fear, prejudice and downright hatred of anything unfamiliar has become more obvious. Don’t get me wrong, the human race has a disgraceful history of what fear and/or hatred of the unfamiliar can bring about. Out of respect for the victims of that dark history, I will not mention them here, but you’d have to be living under a rock to not know to what I’m referring.

You’d think we would have learned from those days and try our damnedest to avoid leaving a stain like that on our species but nope. If I had the power to communicate with every one who posted a snarky, insulting or beastly message on Twitter, Facebook or any social media (YouTube is the prince of them all. You should see what goes on in there), I would ask, “Is it so difficult to present your opinions and thoughts in a respectful manner? Does it hurt to utter words that are not dripping with bile and venom?”

We’re supposed to be creatures of higher intelligence. We’re supposed to be able to present our thoughts and ideas with respect for ourselves and those around us. At school, in English class we learned to write argumentative essays. A good essay was one that presented both sides without demeaning one or the other.  Similarly, in debate competitions, any attempt to make derogatory comments about the opponent would immediately get you and your team and your school disqualified. Politicians are the worst examples at debating. I don’t know about the rest of you who may or may not be reading this, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who spent more time mud-slinging instead or trying to convince me that he/she is the best person to manage the country’s affairs.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we were to shut down all social media outlets, barricade the invisible doors, build back those walls between races and cultures. Would we be better off? Would we be nicer to one another if we only  had to deal with that which is familiar? Or is it too late?

The human race has already clocked past 7 billion. The world is getting smaller. I don’t believe we can afford to create conflict when really none is necessary. Imagine two hundred very angry people in a room the size of your bedroom. Care to guess what kind of experience that would be? Of course if your bedroom is the size of a football field then you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Those of you who can imagine this, expand your eyes afield a bit. There are 7.2 billion people living on a planet that’s choking and suffocating under our collective weight. Add the weight of our malcontent and you have a disaster waiting to happen. I don’t think we can stop wars by simply being courteous. I’m idealistic, not delusional. But it’s a start. I’d prefer we start somewhere than go nowhere.

We’re a difficult species you know. Complex, brilliant, inspiring and deadly. That’s a lot to deal with.  The hard knocks of human co-existence can be softened by just saying something nice. No need for sonnets and poems and ragas and ghazals. You can keep it simple. And if it hurts to be nice or polite or respectful, just say nothing at all. Trust me, no one will mind.

I don’t know why I bother reading the news. It’s like a smack in the face every time. But what is one to do? Remain ignorant? Pretend that we’re not self destructing? I wonder if the earliest humans thought we’d come to this. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of good people out there, you just have to look carefully and not be blindsided by the idiotic reasons some people use to destroy – everything around them.

I had a dream, (no I’m not going to quote Martin Luther King’s speech), I really  had a dream to travel the world and indulge my curiosity. I remember I got my first set of social and geographical encyclopedias. It wasn’t a complete set, there were certain letters missing and they were fifty years outdated, but hey, since my parents couldn’t afford  brand new books for school, I wasn’t picky. These weren’t your usual encyclopedias though, they were books about countries; Europe, Asia, Australasia, Africa and they were in alphabetical order (minus the odd few). I pored over these books, soaking up each word in each description, turning the black and white images into full colour in my mind as I travelled through the pages to places I’d never been before. I couldn’t be there….yet, but I told myself some day I would.

Now, the thought of stepping onto foreign soil fills me with dread. I still love travelling but it’s gone from adventure to added security. That dream is dying as countries I’d dreamed of visiting no longer hold that mystery and romance, they no longer entice with the unknown and the untried, instead the unknown in the 21st century can give you an ulcer between journeys.

What have we walked into? Is this the price we pay for being an advanced species? Has the world gotten so small that we can no longer tolerate one another or have our egos just gotten too big for common sense to have any effect on us? Will our futures end in fire before it even begins?

Perhaps someone out there knows the answer. I certainly don’t.

 

 

The evolution of the human race has come to a grinding halt. That should be a headline for a newspaper article. Perhaps I should start one. The Daily Human, now there’s a title. We have grown by leaps and bounds as a species but as humans, our humanity is quickly drying up. In a conversation from Gene Roddenberry on his reason for creating Star Trek, he talks about a utopian planet where as a species, we as humans can learn from one another and grow to become mature and wise. Well, if only he could see us now. We’re far from where he envisioned we could be. In fact, I think we’re in reverse.

Right now, we’re in the era where politicians can thump their chests and say ‘my bomb is bigger than your bomb.’ The human race is still fighting over swathes of land and water than none of us can take to our graves.

We live in a world where it’s acceptable, nay, fashionable to ridicule and mock excellence and hard work, but it’s perfectly fine if you revere mediocrity. Just look at how many ‘reality’ shows there are out there and many if not all are rooted in materialism because after all, why work when you can rake in the moola by dehumanising yourselves for other people’s entertainment? That was a stupid question right? How dare me.

Then there are the ones who don’t care. They don’t care if the polar caps melt and the human race has to resort to living on ships or ark like vessels. They don’t care about stripping the planet of much needed forests. They don’t care because as far as they’re concerned, they will be dead by that time and won’t have to suffer. Their descendants on the other hand will have to revert to the days of Noah’s Ark or just save time and money and grow gills. Oh well, our species first germinated in the sea, so we might as well go back.

Now we come to science and technology. What’s that? Shouldn’t these be a sign of advancement and evolution? Well, you would think so. Of course, as a species we have gone to the moon and back, we can see the vastness of the universe courtesy NASA and the Hubble Telescope and we have been able to plumb the depths of the ocean. We’ve advanced as a species but as humans, we’re slipping back into our basest instincts. Let me say this, science and technology should be and should have been paired with a generous dose of common sense and compassion. We can make life in a test tube, we can make life last longer, we can save lives but with one fell swoop of a missile or bomb we can also take it away and for what? Because your religion is better than mine? Because your skin colour is better than theirs? Because you are so superior to others that you are completely oblivious to the fact that when you die you too will rot and disintegrate into dust or ash? This is the year 2016, we should be past all that by now.

With all of our advancements, many still fight and kill over that which cannot be proved 100%. As long as proof isn’t tangible, then there is always room for doubt and debate. So why fight? What’s wrong with being different?

Billions of years ago, when Earth was first born by the cosmic energies in space, according to scientists, microscopic organisms were transported to her by way of continuous meteoric bombardment, possibly from another planet which was destroyed earlier. From this happy incident, all living species came to be on Earth. We’ve all evolved from something that was once something else. We’re all different and similar at the same time. There should be no reason not to appreciate these differences and in so doing we can celebrate the similarity in our humanity.

Our humanity is what sets us apart from all the other species. We have the ability to empathise, to care and to be compassionate. What can be seen today is apathy, the sense of ‘it’s not my problem so I don’t care’. Not everyone is like that though. There are many of us who are still fighting the good fight. Some will inevitably weaken and join the hoards who whistle and walk away and act as if nothing is happening and there are those who will fight for as long as it takes. I hope I can remain a fighter.

For those of you who have forgotten, we are not renting this planet, we’re not borrowing the time we spend here, we’re visiting a home that belongs to many others. As visitors we need to respect our hosts and hostesses as we would want them to respect us.

It would be a really sad day if and when the human race falls from grace and return to clubbing one another over the heads and squabbling over territory. But then again, how far away are we from that?

I’ve given myself the title of the worst blogger in the world. I’ve been away for many months and I don’t feel guilty…well maybe a little guilty. I’ve been busy with my other writings you see. I joined the Playwrights’ Guild as a Supporting Member a few months ago, so not only am I writing a novel (one of a trilogy) I’m also writing plays for competitions in the hope that I could really make my mark with one of them. Now you see why the blog got elbowed aside. On top of all that, I joined Twitter (heh), like I know how to tweet.

After such a long and partially inexcusable absence from blogging, I really considered shutting this down. Then I thought after all this time, this has got to be the more successful attempt at social media interaction because honestly I’m horrible at the whole Twitter business. Why say something if you have nothing to say? I’m still trying though because apparently to become a successful author/playwright, one must develop a following of admiring readers.

As a self-confessed hermit with a small drop of paranoia running in my veins, I’m terrified of becoming too known out there in a world where people no longer have faces to go with the cruel, cutting words that they use to slash away at random victims. Why do I want to be a part of this? I resisted Twitter and blogging and Facebook-ing (don’t roll your eyes) for as long as I possibly could. Life as a nonentity suited me. I’m a Bilbo Baggins at heart with the occasional yen for adventure. Being a part of the social media revolution is to me, akin to walking into Goblin Town….alone….without Sting or Gandalf. It’s FRIGHTENING….but necessary it seems.

There you have it, my attempt to explain why I’ve neglected the blog. Apart from biting off more than I can comfortably chew, I’ve hindered myself by believing that being invisible is so much better and safer than being seen. I’m an author and playwright and some day I will have the published novels and the stage productions to show for it. But right now, it’s as difficult as it’s ever going to be. Writing is one thing, that’s easy – making people want to read is another. Gone are the days when authors simply wrote a novel and sold it to a publishing house. That’s not happening unless one is already famous. Well, enough talking and explaining, I’ve got some armour to dust off. After all, I’m going into battle with an unknown world and I still haven’t mastered my weapons.

All the best to me and you.

Wordcupid.

It’s that time again – the night before Christmas.

Christmas Eve, starting from morning to night was always a special day for me, more than Christmas day itself. There was something magical in the air as day turned to dusk. I came from a family that was never very rich or very poor, we sort of bobbed along in the middle, but my modest upbringing never put a damper on it.

I grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad so you know that meant no snow. A white Christmas was something I only saw on postcards and in movies. There were no carol singers going to door to door instead there was my dad’s boom boxes and ‘long horn’ which he used to play music for the entire village. There was no eggnog but there certainly was Ponche de Crème*, a more, ahem, volatile version of eggnog. Fireplaces were unnecessary since Trinidad was always hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement and Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were often gently nudged aside for Daisy Voisin, Flores de San Jose, Byron and so many other Trini singers. While the more traditional North American Christmas carols were played, the staples were parang* and Christmas songs injected with a strong dose of soca called, of course, soca parang.

I usually spent this day helping my mum. The fun really began in the evening just as the sun sank in the west and the last dragon flies flitted away to wherever they usually go. Baking would begin around 4 o’clock in the afternoon or earlier and this marathon baking session would run till about 11 o’clock. We baked everything; pies, cakes, tarts and bread. You could always tell what was in the oven.

While mum and I tackled baking, my dad and my sisters dealt with the decorations. Our Christmas decorations were more party like and jumbled with no particular theme or order. We had no hollies or garlands or nativity scenes. Instead we had lots of balloons and streamers. The Christmas tree was about three feet tall and was yanked out of a box every year before it was placed on mum’s sewing machine in the corner of the gallery. We had so many decorations, you had to duck beneath huge balloons and streamers that would never stay where you put them.

As evening slipped into night, our windows and doors would be closed. It was time to prepare for the transformation. In another country this night would be a silent night, in Trinidad there was the low throb of a bass somewhere. Someone was having a raging party. Our old dingy curtains would be replaced with new, clean ones so that come Christmas morning when the doors and windows were flung open again, our neighbours would be greeted with a different view of the house.

If I managed to stay awake, mum would tell me stories told to her by her own mother and I might even be able to help her put my sisters’ presents around the tree. Santa Claus was never a mystery to me. I was never idealistic and was very aware that it was my mum who bought presents, also, there was that one time when she forgot the price tag on this book that she gave me and then there were those times she would drag me along with her to go shopping and if I saw it in the shop window and liked it, I would expect to see it near the tree.

But above all of this, what I remember the most of this day was that there was the feeling that everything was going to be alright no matter what our circumstances were. Everything always worked out. I will admit that things have changed; there are no longer any marathon baking sessions, no more stories, no more balloons and streamers, there is a much bigger Christmas tree and we’re one family member short. There is a new magic though. It’s the magic of knowing that no matter how far away you roam, coming back home and being with family on the night before Christmas is magic in itself.

 

*Ponche de Crème – a more milky version of eggnog – with a whole lot more rum.🙂

*parang – popular folk music brought to Trinidad by Venezuelan migrants of Amerindian origin

A House For Mr. Biswas


The first time I read A House for Mr. Biswas was in preparation for a class study at school and no statement ever resonated more than, “How terrible it would have been. . . to have lived without even attempting to lay claim to one’s portion of the earth; to have lived and died as one has been born, unnecessary and unaccommodated.” As humans we are programmed to want to leave a mark of our existence behind. A person’s legacy is proof of presence, of worth, of being. Mohun Biswas’ life was an unending quest to establish his identity and a sense of belonging. This unfortunately, was always met with failure and dejection as his dreams and aspirations proved to be too great for a reality burdened by the weight of religion, tradition and caste designation.

The life of Mohun Biswas is plagued by uncertainty and dread from the day of his birth. He is “six fingered and born in the wrong way” and as foretold by the pundit, not only would he be a liar, a spendthrift and a lecher, he would also have an unlucky sneeze. All of this was decided on the assumption that Biswas was born at midnight, the inauspicious hour.

It seems as if he is born to suffer the pain of being alive. In part one of the novel he is described as being ‘muddy’ and ‘dusty’. His body was stunted by malnutrition which caused “eczema and sores that swelled and burst and scabbed and burst again, until they stank.” Malnutrition also gives him “a shallow chest, thin limbs and a rising belly.” Mentally and physically, Biswas is completely at odds with this difficult world into which he was born.

Throughout the novel, Biswas is shunted from pillar to post and one cannot ignore his discomfort and resentment at having to be humbled by his destitution. But then again, one also cannot help but think that his predicaments are partly due to his notion that he is better than the everyday rustic Indian peasant. His brothers Pratap and Prasad, though simple and illiterate have made their mark in their small world. As young boys, they have already established themselves as labourers, just like their father and labourers they would continue to be. Mr. Biswas is not cut out to be a labourer, field work is not for him. As the only son who went to school, his mindset is altered. He is going to be a writer and not a labourer, no other alternative would be considered.

This theme of fantasy versus reality runs through the novel and it is very often tied in with alienation, marginalisation, the individual’s attitude to power and authority and family. Mr. Biswas is ambitious. He holds in his mind a clear picture of how his life is to unfold. But with no real plan and no solid purpose, his ambitions remain in his head and only surfaces when he needs to save face or mock those who patronise him. It is this ambition that leads to his alienation from a particular society to which he belongs and from which he is determined to escape.

Marrying into the Tulsi family is as close as he comes to having an identity. With his own family broken and scattered, the Tulsis become something of a surrogate. Yet, as much as Hanuman House becomes Biswas’ home for a while, it is also like a prison and he, merely another inmate. The sons-in-law are hostages by marriage and to survive in this matriarchal regime, the sons-in-law do as is expected of them. Since Biswas isn’t one to suffer pointless rules, he naturally becomes the clown, the buffoon and the rebel.

It all begins when his father Raghu drowns in the pond. As mentioned before, Biswas was gifted with an unlucky sneeze and when Raghu, assuming that his son is lying at the bottom of a murky pond, dives in to retrieve him, he drowns when a perfectly safe Biswas sneezes. He is naturally blamed for this tragedy and not the fact that his father was long past his prime and completely unfit to be diving for such a long period.

Immediately after Raghu’s funeral, Biswas and his family are driven out of their home by unscrupulous neighbours who believed that Raghu was a wealthy miser who hid all his money in bags beneath the earth in the yard. His sister Dehuti is sent to his well-to-do aunt Tara’s house to become a good servant, his brothers have also been assigned to another relation to continue their vocation as field labourers and estate workers. As for his mother Bipti, broken and defeated, she withdraws into herself leaving the young Biswas to process the break-up of his family on his own.

At the end of the first chapter, Naipaul writes, “And so Mr. Biswas came to leave the only house to which he had some right. For the next thirty-five years he was to be a wanderer with no place her could call his own, with no family except that which he was to attempt to create out of the engulfing world of the Tulsis…..it seemed to him that he was really quite alone.”

This cruel deprivation of home and family, like a spectre, haunts Biswas throughout his life thus creating within him this feverish need to establish himself as a person of worth.

Mr. Biswas’ father was a Brahmin (which is considered the highest level in the caste system which is still so prevalent in Indian Hindu society and was brought to Trinidad during indenture), he was also a labourer. This lowers Biswas in the eyes of others except on occasions of religious ceremonies where, being the son of a Brahmin, he is fed and pampered and given gifts of money and clothes. But once the ceremonies are over, he becomes once more only a labourer’s child.

It is his aunt Tara’s decision to send him to Pundit Jairam to learn the trade of becoming a pundit, after all, what else could he do? He is unfit for fieldwork and does have a basic education after all. It would be easy for him to learn the important scriptures and ceremonies required to become a respectable pundit. The episode where Jairam forces Biswas to eat the bananas until he becomes sick is a damning statement of the double standard of the pious Brahmins. Jairam would have preferred to let the bananas rot instead of allowing anyone else to eat them. As the son of a labourer, whether he Brahmin or not, Biswas is not at the same level. He is a ‘nobody’ who survives upon the charity of others.

His return to the communal home which he and his mother share is made only worse as Bipti seems less than welcoming. He wants some kind of reassurance that he was not at fault but that is slow in coming. It is Tara and not his mother who shows sympathy and recognises the injury done to him.

Tara’s husband Ajodha owns a garage and a rum shop. The rum shop is run by Ajodha’s brother Bhandat and that is where Biswas is sent next. He would earn money working there but not enough to strike out on his own. He has to live with Bhandat and his wife and his two sons in two rooms and he has to share one of these rooms with Bhandat’s sons. His only possessions are some books and enough clothes to hang on a nail on one wall. One day Bhandat and his family must attend a funeral and Biswas has the two rooms to himself but as the day wears on the thrill is lost. Aimless and purposeless he longs for the day to end.

When Bhandat beats Biswas and accuses him of stealing a dollar, Biswas runs back to the back trace where his mother lives and berates her for sending him away to live with other people but she only rubs salt in his wounds agreeing with what the pundit had said about him on the night of his birth. Just like before, it is Tara and not his mother who sympathises and tries to comfort him. But that only makes things worse. By then, Biswas realises that without his father he is an easy target for cruelty.

It is this particular injustice which makes it easier for the reader to understand why it is so important for Biswas to claim his children when they are at the Tulsi house. It is easier to understand that whilst he shuffles aimlessly through life, he tries his best to help his children establish their identity after he is denied his. What he does not realise in this quest of his to have the perfect life is that he does have a purpose. It may not have been what he envisioned, but his children are living examples of what he had accomplished.

In chapter three, the Tulsis are introduced by way of a description of Hanuman House. It stands “like an alien white fortress.” The Tulsis have the reputation among Hindus as being a pious, landowning, conservative family. It is rumoured that they are still in contact with relatives in India. There is very little that is known about them. The only thing that people saw of them was what was shown. The imposing fortress of a house with the equally forbidding ‘new room’, religious celebrations and the Tulsi Store make up the façade the family uses to impress others. What outsiders do not see is the squalor beyond those walls; the musty hall and sooty kitchen, the furniture-choked landing and the dark cobwebbed loft.

The Tulsi family is like an army. They are everywhere. The marriage which is arranged between Biswas and one of the Tulsi daughters, Shama, takes him by surprise. The full extent of what happens to him doesn’t hit him until later and by then he is trapped. With no job, no money and property of his own, he is expected to become a Tulsi. No other identity would be acceptable especially since he had nothing to offer and it is this identity that he continues to rebel against. The image that the Tulsis have of him conflicts with the image Biswas has of himself. As far as they are concerned he is just the son of a labourer, his caste grants him no special allowances. The Tulsis become the enemy, the indomitable force that threatens his ideal life. The only way he can undermine that force is to mock the hierarchy of the Tulsi clan and insult the “young gods” as he calls his youngest brothers-in-law.

He aligns himself with Punkaj Rai and the Arwacas Aryan Association in challenging arranged marriages and the caste system. He agrees with Punkaj Rai’s idealism, that “birth was unimportant; a man’s caste should be determined only by his actions.” However, Biswas only sees and agrees with one side of this argument.” Biswas is against caste designation and yet he resents the Tulsis’ insensitivity to his Brahmin status. His ungrateful attitude to the people who house, feed and clothe him is anything but admirable. Biswas’ mocking and disrespectful comments about other members of the Tulsi family bring full circle, the whole truth of Pankaj’s statement.

Before marrying Shama he reflects on his loss and the “despair of finding romance in his own dull green land.” What else is there for him? There is nothing but the reality of his limitations; his inherited class identity, a backward colonial society and Hanuman House. Apart from himself, no one else has any great expectations of Biswas and therein lies his greatest conflict. He wants people to see him for what he is capable of but all they see is what he shows them.

Even with all of that, he is still assigned work on the Tulsi sugar estate in Green Vale. As much as he hates field work, in this profession as a driver he must do what is equally distasteful. He must oversee labourers who are not unlike his own grandfather, father and brothers. He must subject the labourers he oversees to the same treatment his father and brothers would have endured. At first he is sympathetic but it doesn’t take him long before he becomes hardened and uncaring, identifying himself with the overseers of old.

The longer he stays at Green Vale the more that dream of becoming more than a Brahmin son of a labourer recedes. Animosity increases between himself and the labourers and once the sun sets, he retreats like an exile to his crowded, shabby room of the barrack house.

Becoming a reporter-journalist is the closest Biswas ever came to fulfilling his dream of becoming a writer and yet there is something pathetic about the whole thing. His articles are ridiculous and sensationalised, his correspondence course with the London Ideal School of Journalism remains unfinished and the typewriter he buys in anticipation of a successful career remains idle, even his stories remain unfinished.

Even though his job as a reporter becomes tedious and pointless at times, he has made a name for himself and establishes himself as a professional and in so doing attains some freedom from the Tulsis. Eventually though reality takes precedence over fantasy. He realises that his job at the Sentinel is taking him nowhere closer to owning his home so he quits and gets a better paying one at the Welfare Department.

Once his son Anand begins to show promise at school, Biswas begins living through him, transferring all his energy and attention towards helping Anand prepare for his future. He bestows upon his son everything he believes he should have had, delighting in his easy success.

The house Biswas finally owns on Sikkim Street is again a partial fulfillment seeing as he buys the house without previously knowing of its faults. But it is still his. It is the one thing he ever wanted. Ownership of this house represents more than just shelter, it is freedom to do as he pleases, it is his mark upon the world never mind the debt that in his last days he is burdened with – a financial debt that he will pass on to his family. Even in his death, Biswas gets only a partial recognition and not the gallant, self-mocking one he had imagined.

At the end, Biswas’ fantasy just did not match the reality of his society and circumstances. Perhaps had he not been so deceived and burdened by his fantasy he might have recognised his true purpose and left a legacy that wasn’t so tainted by his fear of living in and leaving this world “unnecessary and unaccommodated.”

Works Cited:

Naipaul, V.S. A House for Mr. Biswas. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1961

Weiss, Timothy F. On the Margins: The Art of Exile in V.S. Naipaul. The University of Massachusetts Press, First Edition, 1992

Well it’s been a while. I’ve been, for the most part, uninspired. I took this time to do some reading and then it all started coming back. This one is being posted as part of the Superstition and Folklore Chronicles, however, it’s not exactly superstition, it’s more tradition and culture.

For Hindus, Pitr Paksh (the fortnight of ancestors) started last week. During this time, we pay homage to our ancestors. It is said that the souls of our ancestors, I believe it’s the three preceding generations reside in the realm between heaven and earth. This realm is called pitru-lok and is ruled by Yama, the God of death. During this fortnight, there is a connection with past loved ones as they are remembered and treated with honour. It’s much more complex than this and to explain it fully would require me to read and study the whole Garuda Purana. This is a book which breaks down, step by step, the journey of the soul from death to the unity with God.

I remember being at home back in Trinidad and hearing stories of past uncles, aunts, grandparents and even my father being present at the home. For Hindus, as far as I know and I’ve seen, when a body is brought back to the home, it is taken inside the house for the last time thus making the ancestral home the last earthly place the soul will ever be before it has to move on. I remember also the familiar scents of that person wafting before my nose, the footsteps, the creak on the floor boards, a sigh and the brush of a hand over my forehead as the curtains float above the floor with the wind.

Below is a poem that I’d written when I was seventeen, for want of something better to do. It must have been around this time too. It’s a more playful approach to the walking of spirits amongst the living.

 



Spirit Games

Night pushes the day away

And the stars wink and blink

The sleepiness out of their tiny eyes

The moon, she will not reveal her

Full beauty tonight

She’s a real tease

I daresay.

Fireflies glow bright

Like flying Christmas lights

While the mosquitoes

Buzz and bite away

I shall not stay outside

But go in and try to hide

From the spirits

That come out to play.

They blow out the candles

And turn the door handles

While making funny noises and sounds

And someone once said

They can wake up the dead

And imitate the cries of hounds

They rattle my windows

And tweak my dog’s nose

Making him bark like mad

But I still won’t go out

And quarrel or shout

At those spirits who are so very bad

I hear soft whispers and laughing

And whistling and tramping

All around the house

Knocks on the door

Creaks from the floor

I don’t think those were made

By a mouse!

And then it gets quiet

So very, very quiet

My heartbeat I’m sure I can hear

I uncover my head

And rise up from my bed

And take a deep breath to

Smother my fear

I pull the curtains aside

And open the windows wide

To see what they’re up to

But there was nothing I could see

But the half naked moon, stars winking at me

 And spirits that had nothing to do.

So bearing in mind

That the good Lord was kind

Enough to keep me from harm

I jumped back into bed

And slept like the dead

Until dawn wrapped me up

In its arm.

Her Fury

This weekend, for want of something better to do I sat and watched surfing. I must have skipped past the channel in my quest for something entertaining that wasn’t reality t.v. Honestly, trying to watch television today is like wading through muck with flip-flops. I gave up and finally settled down to watch grown men tackle the one woman they could never really conquer.

I have a pathological fear of the sea. My dreams have been plagued with walls of water approaching, threatening life and limb. I once thought if I learned to swim then I could overcome this fear. Hah! Fat chance! I paid for the lessons but spent most of the class cowering and whimpering in a corner of the pool where I could easily cling to the bars and so keep myself from drowning….in my own fear. I justified my cowardice with the fact that I’m only 5′ 5″ and they put me in water that was five feet deep. Really? I loved the baby pool though. I can swim in three feet of water, start me off that way.

There’s something about water, well any element actually. It’s unconscionable and uncontrollable. There’s also something beguiling and comforting about water. She can be seductive and vindictive all at once. I find myself drawn to her beauty and repelled all at the same time. Recorded images of the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis still haunt me. I could never imagine how it must have felt as that wave came thundering towards them. I fly into a panic whenever I see fast flowing water. Then you see those surfers who frolic amongst walls of water that would give me a heart attack in installments.

This weekend I watched as the surfers tumbled and crashed into the waves. I’d like to know how many millilitres of adrenaline were being released into their bloodstream during that activity. And if that wasn’t enough, I went onto YouTube to hunt down more videos of waves.

You’ve got people who are drawn to fire, those who chase the wind, those who study the earth and then there are people like me who have come too close to being swallowed up and spat out by the sea. As a human being, there are many things in this life to be afraid of, but never have I felt fear such as this. For me there is nothing more terrifying than gasping and clawing for air as your own frantic heartbeats are magnified by the volume of water crashing over you. There’s nothing to grab on to except the very water that slips through your fingers. Salt water burns like hell when it is forced down your throat and nose.

It’s like a game that she plays with you. Each time you gain firm ground she creeps up behind you and pulls you back. If the sea could be painted as woman, I envision her laughing as she tosses the hapless human about, eyes sparkling at the joy of her own power.

People have asked me if I can swim and when I say that I can’t they look confused. “But you lived on an island.” They would say. “Yes, but I lived on land, not in the water.” I would retort.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sea but only when there are no waves at all. Only when the water is as flat as a table, then and only then will I go near. I was a regular beach bug when I was a kid, water did not frighten me much then.

There’s a poem that I had written when I was younger . Again for want of something better to do, I wrote about an experience at the beach in the hope that I could push past it. But it looks like I haven’t.

 

 

Her Fury

 

I sat upon the shore one day

And looked across at her and

Wondered how it could be

That one with such calm and beauty

Could possess such fury.

 

I sat upon the shore that day

As I watched her foam and fret

Lashing and thrashing away

At the rocky sentinels

Which guarded her.

 

There was once a time when I skipped

Happily into her voluminous midst

Unaware of a treachery beneath

A beguiling surface.

 

She took a deep breath

Sucking me in like paper into

A vortex of rage

And then she let it out,

Wave upon wave of unbridled cruelty

Madness had come over her.

 

Her fury kept me down

And we struggled,

SHE, For supremacy,

I, For what was mine.

 

And then,

Clawing, crawling and gasping,

I coaxed the bruised

And battered shell of myself

Towards firmer ground

Praying that my retreat

Would signal defeat

and she would leave me be.

 

With one last act of

vindictiveness

Her foamy fingers pushed me forward

And like driftwood

I floated towards shore.

 

As I gaze from upon the shore this day,

I wonder,

How one blessed with such beauty

Could be cursed with such fury.

 

Marking Time

Seven years ago I left my home in Trinidad and immigrated to Canada. I never thought I’d do something so bold. I never thought I’d leave my comfort zone, my safety net and my support system behind. I wanted to be a writer. I still want to be a writer, hence the blog. It’s been a little over seven years from the day I set foot on Canadian soil and I’m sitting and wondering where did it all go? I feel as if I’m nowhere closer to what I want. Or perhaps I am and I don’t know it yet. How far I have come from the original path I had set myself.

It was all planned out. I did very well at university. I had a job that paid extremely well and my status in society was confirmed. I was going places. In ten years I would have gotten my PhD and applied for a position as a professor in the same university I would have attended. So what made me change my mind? What made me turn another corner when I was on a straight road and the finish line was just ahead?

A restless child I always was. There was nothing that didn’t interest me. As long as that subject could provide a door out of my safe but humdrum life, I would be interested. My father used to find these books on the side of the street. One day he came home and in the trunk of the car there was an old suitcase and in it there were books. There were so many the suitcase could hardly close properly. To my astonishment many of these were new, like they hadn’t been used yet. The price tags were still on them.

“Who on earth would throw out new books?” I squealed with delight as some of these books became much sought after treasures, after all, my school had provided me with a lengthy book list for the upcoming school term and those books did not come cheap. It never mattered to me if they were tattered and torn, they became auxiliary reading material that I relished regardless of the topic.

I remember one time during an English test. The teacher was passing out the exam papers and I couldn’t wait. When we were instructed to turn over the paper I noticed that ALL of the sections were taken out of books I had read, those same books that my father picked up off the side of the street. Tattered and torn as they were, I read the comprehension passages and answered all the questions simply because I needed something to do. I tried my best to drag out the exam for the hour and a half allotted, but I couldn’t. I finished in twenty minutes. It wasn’t cheating. Technically I had done the exam over and over in my mind. One might call it luck.

Anyway, I digress, but the abovementioned is a memory I carry with me always just to remind myself that one man’s rubbish can be another man’s treasure.

Here I am in Canada and even though I’m inching my way towards a career as a writer, I find myself swimming in self-doubt. Even this blog takes a lot of effort. It’s been three almost four weeks since I’ve posted anything and it’s not for want of anything to write, it’s more of, “why am I writing this?” “what purpose will this serve?”

I should have started this blog from the time I landed in Canada, perhaps I would have had more purpose – or perhaps not. I still don’t know if Canada is the right place for me. Sometimes I feel as if I’m where I’m supposed to be and sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice. The temptation to turn back is great but the motivation to go forward is even greater. I’m at war with myself and I don’t see an end in sight. Someone told me, time will tell and everything happens for a reason. Well, I’m still waiting for that reason and I’m still waiting for time to tell me the truth.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, playing in the rain has got to be one of the most satisfying things to do whether you’re young or old. Growing up in Trinidad it was not uncommon to see children playing cricket or football in the rain. Nor was it strange to see people walking through blinding rain to get where they wanted to go. It was never cold. Water brings out that gay abandon in people. After all, before we began looking the way we do now, we crawled out of water millions of years ago. Our bodies consist of nearly 70% of water – depending on size and body mass of course. My point is we are drawn to it as a moth is drawn to a dancing flame. There is no better way to enjoy water in its natural form than straight from the heavens, aquaphobe or no.

I have cousins who live in Gasparillo. It’s a small town and for those of us who lived in cities around Port of Spain, Gasparillo would be considered ‘south’. In fact anywhere beyond the city of Chaguanas was considered as south by the rest of us. Gasparillo was very hilly and my cousins lived on a hill – quite a steep one too that one needed to lean forward on the way up and lean backwards on the way down to prevent from toppling over in the opposite direction.

When morning dawned and the dew was still wet and like diamonds on the grass, the sun rose over those dewy hills and poured gold over them, a signal to the living to come to life. In the rainy season everything would be lush and green. Flowers showed off their brilliance and vied with the trees and the grass for admiration. After a very hot day, usually around midday, the rain would come down like bullets from the heavens, pummelling everything with wet, warm drops of water. I would lie down on the slope and just let myself become one with it all; the warm rain, the earth and the heat emanating from it as if Mother Nature herself was breathing a sigh of relief. I marvelled at the simple wonder that is nature.

The ground would soon disintegrate into a mixture of mud and grass as we slipped and stumbled in our attempts to make enough runs to beat the other team in a game of cricket – in the pelting rain. Electrical wires that ran above our heads would be lined with pigeons or keskidees and they too would be enjoying the rain, their chests puffed out, their beaks busy with the business of grooming.

If we were lucky the sun would come out as well and in the distance a rainbow would appear. I liked it better when there was a double rainbow. In my entire life I’ve only ever seen two of these; a young vibrant rainbow being cradled by a lighter almost faded one.

Days like the one I just described came only for a time. Things change, people change and we must move on. But these are the days I remember mainly because they were at a time when being a child was all that mattered.

David Gaughran

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