Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gandhi, Martin Luther King and me

It is the current fashion to throw "inspirational" quotations from famous people around in lieu of actually taking action. Before you get upset and tell me that the devil makes work for idle hands before flouncing off to read some more worthy blog, take a moment and think about it. We see these quotations up everywhere, on coffee mugs, office signs, training manuals, bumper stickers and most importantly, social media memes. Most people don't even know who the "famous one" is, but they repeat the quote, nodding and marveling at the worthiness of it. 

One of my favourites is attributed to the Mahatma M. K. Gandhi " you must be the change you wish to see in the world". How often have you seen that one? People use it on their email signature, instant messaging app id, one notable placement, the back of a bathroom door in London, England. Considering that Gandhi-ji has been deceased for more than sixty years, it's quite legacy that stuff he said several generations ago still has currency.  Gandhi died almost before my mother was born, and yet, in my family, he was spoken about as if he were someone we knew.  His untimely death remained fresh in the minds of my maternal grandparents and he was considered a hero for his Quit India Movement, which by the way, was anything but non-violent. 

Those words have long been attributed to Gandhi, it even sounds like something he might have said in a sage-like moment. As far as anyone can tell from hours of research, he never actually said them. What he said, probably most went something like this, " if we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him..... We need not wait to see what others do." Big difference huh. It's easy to SAY things, much harder to change yourself. 

And then there is Martin Luther King. Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech remains one of the most inspirational, motivational talks in recent history. Recorded for posterity it is a little harder to bastardise into a bumper sticker. Dr. King said a lot of things, some of them right, some of them a little off base but he was a man who to all intents and purposes stood for the courage of his convictions.  

The interesting thing about these two gentlemen and others like them, their words relate specifically to their circumstances and the times in which they lived. Their lives remain a symbol of purpose to many people throughout the world. These two men are considered exceptional and have earned their place in history, even as we continue to distill it down to cute little bumper stickers while blithely continuing on, business as usual. 

Perhaps it's easier to paste on a bumper sticker or click "like" on Facebook but these are not actions, they are activities. Unless you plan to change your behaviour to make a change in the world, shut up and move along. Don't say it if you don't mean it because then it's just a bunch of words. No one says that you have to go out and start a revolution, but revolutions have been started as simply as women banging pots in the road and marching for food. Human beings are the only species who pay to live on this planet and yet we treat it with scant respect. And yet, all change starts with one person. To paraphrase Dr. King, "faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase".  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mystic Masseur Redux

All apologies to V.S. Naipaul

The irritating nasal voice, amplified courtesy of the "mic" aka, the loudspeaker system that traversed the back roads and alley ways of the sprawling hamlet of Chowhan in the Republica de Estupido, heralded the latest political salvo from one of the three parties competing for the seat. One night! Three political meetings! Come and hear us! Then degenerating into, "Dan is the man", "the political Goddess" and on and on. All punctuated by the ear splitting, window shaking, boom boom of the larger music trucks playing songs of exhortation while slowly trawling the neighbourhoods, designed of course to ensure that babies and by extension their parents got no respite, the old and infirm begging for deliverance and the rest,  well, either get with the programme or get out of Dodge my friend.

One could be forgiven for thinking it was an election on national scale. And perhaps it will be a harbinger of things to come. But the scale and proportion seemed somewhat distorted as under a full moon, the werewolves, vampires and fey came out in their guise of "normal" people. Actually, that's just the author being fanciful, though perhaps not.  The narrow streets were crowded, folk irritated by their stressful day at work, crawling along streets chock a block with bodies, vehicles and the noise level was that of a Carnival fete. The ancestors shrank back into the shadows and waited for it all to subside.

Loud were the protestations, exhortations and exhalations. Who was bad, who was badder, who was useless and who was dishonest. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Consider this, party #1 - in existence since independence, party # 2 - a breakaway from the party that defeated party #1 four elections ago, party #3 - a breakaway/rogue (depending on whom you listen to) from party #2.

Mudslinging, finger pointing, accusatory piccong, ah, Naipaul would have had a field day. His novel, The Mystic Masseur, published in 1957, chronicled the exploits and evolution of Ganesh Ramsumair into G. Ramsay Muir. Sadly, it would appear we have learnt little in the fifty-six years since it was published. Trade the American town car for a green Hummer, printed vinyl banners for bills and ad spiffy power point presentations and voila, G. Ramsay Muir lives! In several guises! Take your pick! Vote for me and I'll set you free!

We must like it so eh. And the good folk of Chowhan will in another week decide who their chosen one will be, the rest of the goodly Republic will murmur and talk behind their hands until fete season rolls around again, and we forget the storm in a teacup, business as usual.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hot enough for you?

It is that kind of hot, not the humid, stuffy, cloying kind of heat that comes in the rainy season. That heat makes you sweat but you grin and bear it knowing that when it rains, the heat goes. This is dry season hot, where the hills are brown and crunchy, as though someone deep fried them overnight. The green is faded and the plants flower in desperation, as though giving it their all to prove that they are still alive.

This heat makes you drink copious quantities of water that leave you unsatisfied, makes you think twice about going out to get lunch and three times about lighting the stove. The sun is merciless and you risk getting a tan from slinking out to close the gate or go to the store. The breeze when it stirs swishes around bringing temporary respite.

The temptation to fight the dog to lie on the cool tiles of the bathroom is strong, but he eyes you somewhat quizzically and you settle for a space in front the fan that circulates what else, hot air. Your brain chugs along, enervated, so that you drowse lazily,  loath to move unless you have to. Good for all those people who paddled furiously at this morning's Dragon Boat meet, they have much more will power than the rest of us.

The hillsides have burnt this dry season. After three years of mostly wet dry seasons this year it is truly, well dry. The choking smoke as the flames lick across miles of hill are a constant reminder of how easily things burn. And when the rains do come, so will the floods from the run off of the denuded hillsides.  But until then, we watch as the heat shimmers across the way and think longingly of cool fruit pops, cold drinks and deep, shady rivers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Confessions of a Coffeewallah

Most mornings, driving to work is an experience in the fine art of defensiveness. The traffic, the irate drivers, the ever present  vehicle with mounted flashing light and siren wailing - essentially bullying their way through. It all adds up to stress on the go. Even those of us sans children look forward to school vacations where the traffic falls off, sometimes to even manageable levels.

On those few mornings, when there is the possibility of paying attention to more than just the road, I sneak glances at the buildings and image what it must be like to occupy some of them. I wonder about the people who inhabit them. Are they  happy? What are they like? What is there history? I love a good story and many of the houses that line a particular street are older, and like most older folk, they look like they have many to tell.

Two women who greatly influenced my life died this week. One was much heralded and much vilified depending on whom you spoke to. That would be Margaret Thatcher. Baroness Thatcher came to power in the UK about the time I was heading off to High School, it was the end of the 70's and I, an impressionable young person seeking my own identity, separate from that of my mother and grandmother before her. My mother was already a professional women, though I somehow doubt she saw herself that way. Unlike many other other mother's at my primary school, mine worked, if she had not, we would have starved so it was never an issue of if I would get a job, it was a certainty. Just the same way that I was expected to pass exams and attend university before acquiring some worthy profession. We were women hear us roar and all that.

Ms, the groundbreaking magazine touting working womanhood featured the business suit for women on its front cover. A boxy, somewhat ugly creation with a large bow added on for it to be less threatening. Looking back now it seems rather funny. And there came Mrs Thatcher, a ballsy woman with two kids who strode like a colossus among the men. Heady days. You did not have to like Mrs Thatcher's politics but you could admire her sheer gall. That generation of women understood duty, determination and were not apologetic about their choices. Thirty some years later, people are still rabidly divided on the Thatcher legacy but one must consider, she was a product of her environment and the choices she made were the result of those experiences.  But women like Mrs Thatcher lowered the glass ceiling for my generation of women, and for this we are all eternally grateful.

The other woman who influenced my life was much less famous but no less celebrated by the people who knew her. My aunt Enid was not my family at all, she was the aunt of the X-man but for the time that I knew her she was extremely kind to me. Auntie Enid was what used to be called a spinster, she never married but lived with her sister and family. She too was a professional woman who worked within the public service. To the end Enid was always immaculately turned out with beautifully done hair. She and Mrs Thatcher were of the same generation so her indomitable spirit was no surprise.

Auntie Enid always made me feel special, that was her gift. I knew how much she cared about me when she subtly took sides one day against her beloved nephew. In her own way she too was a ground breaker and our conversations in the car on the way to the hairdresser were always interesting, we shared many things including a love of cooking. She made the most sublime brownies and her Sunday lunches were legend.  Auntie, gave me a sense of family at a time when I needed one, she will be sorely missed by all.

But I digress, we were talking about the stories houses tell. There is a particular one, the style is like those of the estate houses built in the forties, chocolate bar bricks, sweeping porch, long stairway to the upper floor. Sloping galvanised roof to facilitate rain run off but to remain cool during those long, hot Caribbean days that toast your brain in the shade. This house has been on the corner of French and Robert Streets for a long time, I wonder at the things it has seen. A gentrified neighbourhood on the Woodbrook estate that turned to a bustling business area as the city crept ever outwards to encompass the surrounding neighbourhoods. The building has been a family home, a pre-school, at one time some or other business occupied the downstairs while the upstairs retained its mysterious facade. The house looks truly lived in from the outside.

Like a fading older lady she now sits somewhat abandoned, no signs of life as I drive by. The roses in the garden look a little beaten up and faded, as though they too are tired. The surrounding buildings are being done over, the latest hip colours, burnt orange, dark purple, iguana green and yet she retains her gentility with dirty white walls and green trim...fortunately the blue flirtation that the owners tried previously went away. Perhaps her day has passed and like many of her contemporaries she will make way for a spiffy new office building or yet another blah concrete box or perhaps someone will admire her fine bones and re-make her into something new. Only time will tell. But every morning as I drive by, I salute her for standing another day a reminder of things past and lessons learnt.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Life's perfect moments

As a writer you often forage your own life for material, anything is fair game despite what we tell you. While it is true that fiction is often the result of fevered imaginations, those musings come from taking perfectly ordinary events and building a framework around them.  But really, life is, mostly, more bizarre, entertaining, whichever adjective you find that fits than fiction. 

Last week a "perfect moment' came when spending an evening with an old friend. As we stood together in balmy night gazing up at the crushed velvet sky, he motioned over the roof of his house. And there, shyly peeping over the rim of the Maraval Hills, were a diaphanous group of clouds, reflecting the light of the rising full moon. In the dark, stillness broken only by the sound of the crickets and the occasional passing car, we were enclosed in the loveliness of the moment, watching and waiting as the moon, like a lover, shed its cloud cloak and rose to its fullness, suspended against the starry sky. No need for words, surrounded in the moment.

Lately though, has anyone noticed that our quality of communication is diminishing. Instant messaging, emails etc while giving the appearance of being in touch with the "peeps" have made communication more impersonal, removed. We miss the nuance of actual speech, through tone, intonation and body language. And though, more people are using "apps", like Facetime, Tango and Skype to speak to each other, it's just not the same because it is easier to hide who you really are behind the mask of who we want you to see. And so, the quality of our relationships also diminishes. We have more methods of communication and yet we do less actual communicating.  

Ask yourself this, how many times do you find yourself re-reading an email? Those of us who remember actual letters can also tell you about the time it took to construct one, the painstaking putting together of ideas, experiences and events so that the person on the other end felt like a part of your life. Now we dash off emails to document every waking moment, pictures etc but do we revisit them or even remember them? Do we go back and read them over and over savouring the telling the way we did with letters? Mostly, no, who has the time right?  

Ever notice we spend less time with our family and friends because we're "too busy"? But doing what exactly? Our grandparents had less time saving appliances, no internet, less transport options, a whole lot of lesses actually and yet they seemed to have more time. Perhaps because they were less concerned with filling their every waking moment with "meaningful activity" and more concerned with building a life.   

Several years ago, a workaholic boss of mine decided, somewhat abruptly, that she was going to turn her not inconsiderable energies upon herself. A parent had died and she realised that her life was passing her by inexorably. So she went from 2:00 am emails and leaving the office late every night and weekends, to taking a yoga class, planning a cruise with several friends and eventually, a significant other. After several years of small, significant changes, making memories as she calls it, we noticed that she had become less edgy, her life didn't revolve around the office, it revolved around her.  

So in giving myself the gift of a perfect moment, will hit post and then go cuddle with the dog who patiently waits next to the chair. His soft fur feels like silk beneath my fingers and it is soothing. Meditative petting leading to a long gusty sigh, he is happy and me too. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

As the world turns

Sometimes, in making a decision to change our lives we forget the most important thing, to change. In moving on, we must let go, turn the page or whatever cliched phrase that we choose to insert, to really have meaningful change in our lives. Often, we go weeks or months wondering why nothing seems to be working the way we think it should, or we get frustrated because it's like banging your head against a brick wall.  Because we have clung to the very things that we wanted to leave behind. The lesson when delivered, is usually so obvious that we feel dumb. 

Case in point. In turning my back on a lifelong career, even though I didn't really see it as a career, more a series of jobs that made me proficient at a lot of seemingly useful things, I was ready to move on to something new. Except that some baggage managed to travel with me. 

I forgot the change part. Change is hard, it requires thought and effort on my part, which I'm exceptionally capable of...but usually only apply to my work. And so, in taking up the new course, I threw myself into it, loading up on responsibility, the whole nine yards. And was heading down the road for what I was so trying to leave behind. 

And then, a series of happenings held up the stop sign. What! Wait! Not again! Because you see, in moving on, I hadn't really let go of some stuff that had to go. Opening the newspaper today was the biggest reminder. A random advertisement. The department that I'd spent the better part of a decade building, honing, mentoring and supporting was being advertised. Every single position. We were all gone. Time marches on and things change. Seeing that, knowing the sacrifices, the long hours that cannot be retrieved, the acid reflux disease that still lingers, the lost relationships, missed occasions, all for what? 

In the end it was not ours, we invested heavily my bunch and me. And in the end we were shoved out, unwanted and mostly unappreciated. We've now all gone our separate ways and are a footnote, found on documents or things we worked on. While we left our footprint, that too will soon be gone, swallowed up by the new. And that's ok, because that's life. But it is to remember that we have a life, to live it best we can. 

So today, in moving on, my gypsy soul rejoices at the possibilities, they are endless and they stretch before me. As long as I am brave enough to reach for them and remember the lessons. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A love affair in 200 words or less

Its a love affair, the kind that makes you hunker down in the sheets, be resentful when the phone rings or you have to get up to walk the dog. With my lover, I have travelled to exotic locations, had adventures, both in and out of the bedroom....met a whole lot of people. Some days am left breathless by the endless possibilities this affair presents. It is starting to take over my life. My former loves are probably getting pretty resentful. 

Consider that one of the things I'm referring to is an inanimate object that I spend way too much quality time with, a MacBook Pro and the other is my best buddy who, coincidentally cannot speak though he conveys disapproval pretty clearly. Having discovered that mostly people annoy me, my most meaningful, long standing relationships other than a handful of really good friends (who are very smart, fun people), have been with said dog and of late, an Amazon Kindle. 

Having been an avid reader ever since my parents first plunked my sulky, anti-social behind down on my little blue rocking chair and handed me a book, my various living abodes have been overrun by shelves and shelves filled with rows of delicious books. I am the kind of person who reads, re-reads and generally gets good value. Books are my escape and I have been known to lug them everywhere. Looking at kids today, thumbs poised over gaming consoles killing the latest alien or whatever, I can only feel sorry for them, because how boring is that. 

Technology has become my friend again, now I can walk around with many books, flip back and forwards between them anywhere! WOW. In my limited time off, I hustle the housework, resenting each moment I spend cleaning the bathroom before I can get back to my latest download. No need to wait for trips to the bookstore anymore, once the WiFi is up and money on the credit card, whoosh. Printed books are still wonderful, you can after all drop them and not have to worry too much about breakage, you can read them when the power goes and they don't require WiFi but, they do sometimes require reading glasses. And to be honest, bookstores are still fun places. 

And so my lover beckons, am off to resume my adventures. What will it be this morning? Wizards and vampires? Murder mysteries or the latest Man Booker award winner?