12 December 2003, 1062 words
I am indifferent to pan and cricket. I consider only a minority of living calypsonians worth listening to (Rudder, Shadow, Funny, Rio, and Scrunter). I played mas in my 20s but now rarely even go out for Carnival. I am not a fete animal. Nonetheless, I consider myself to be a true true Trini.
A large part of this sensibility comes from my being a Nowherian, as Lloyd Best calls that small group of intellectuals who are free of racial or ethnic loyalties. But it is also quite possible that my Nowherian nature is the result of proximate factors: my aja converting to Presbyterianism long before I was born, my deciding to be a writer at age 14, my naturally curly hair. Whatever the reasons, my personal perspective long ago made me aware of a central paradox of Trinidad society: that although the dominant culture is Creole and embraced most enthusiastically by Trinidadians of African descent, it is Trinidadians of East Indian descent who are more truly Trinidadian.
I suspect this is not an assertion many people would agree with, and perhaps the most vehement dissenters would be Indo-Trinis. Truth is, despite the term having been corrupted by Basdeo Panday, many Indo-Trinis did for generations feel alienated from the land of their birth. That changed when the UNC came to power, but then Panday and his cohorts showed that they were true Trinis in the worst sense: corrupt, fascistic, self-centered, just like the PNM before (and after) them. The sense of pride, of belonging, that Indo-Trinis felt rapidly dissipated.
But, before the UNC was even close to getting office, it occurred to me that, since the Trinidadian culture was defined by both its Afro and Indo elements, Indo-Trinis were in a culturally advantageous position: after all, it was easier for an Indo to experience the mainstream Creole culture than for a Afro to experience the minority Trinindian culture. I came to this realisation when I was still in UWI: a mulatto girl, who had grown up on the Texaco compound, came to a yagna my girlfriend's landlord had and, eating off the fig leaf, remarked to her friend (a red girl whose mother was Indo), "Isn't this exotic!"
Until then, I had not even realised that there were people in Trinidad who had never experienced this part of their national life. Yet the girl hadn't grown up exclusively on the Texaco compound: she had gone to Naps Girls and had even had an Indo boyfriend. In 1992, the year he won the Nobel Prize, Derek Walcott crystallised the idea: "It's wonderful to keep the heritage and even the distinction of identities in terms of culture," he said in an interview, "but when it's ultimately said...the composite nature of Trinidad...is what it means to be Trinidadian." Some years later, Radio Masala would be launched: a station whose format catered to younger Indo-Trinis and which played an eclectic mix of music from Indian classical to chutney to rock to reggae.
But all this was still mostly ideal-ology (for, being a Nowherian, I am also immune to ideologies).Then, a few months ago at a lime for the writers of the TT Review, Novack George mentioned a hard statistic: until 1951, the majority of the population of Trinidad was not born here, but were immigrants. My antennae immediately went up: Was that also true of Indians? Kirk Meighoo checked his files: by 1921, just four years after Indian immigration ceased, the proportion of Trinidad-born Indians was already 69 percent.
Still an insignificant minority, it would take just two generations for the Indos to draw level with the Afro populace in terms of numbers. But this wasn't due only to fecundity: both Indos and Afros went to the metropoles - first Britain, then North America - to study and to work. But it seemed that the Indo-Trinis were more likely to come back to Trinidad.
I do not know why this should be so. Maybe the Afro-Trinis felt only PNM-ites could progress here, although that should have been truer of the Indos. Maybe the Afros felt more at home in America where, despite or because of racism, Blackness was stronger: but then the Indos, being readier to identify with white culture, should also have stayed. Whatever the reason, the effects may have been significant: one study has found that, once the proportion of professional persons in a particular community falls below five percent, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and crime rates rise.
Another reason might be that Afro-Trinis have weaker family ties than the Indo-Trinis. Last year, a British pollster examined the Trinidad populace, finding that the two main racial groups were similar in most criteria, including education levels. But a significant difference was this: only 28 percent of Afro-Trinis were married, as compared to 48 percent of Indo-Trinis. I recalled this fact when reading about Arnim Smith's funeral, where he was described as "a family man": for, if an Indo man fathers children by four different women, as Smith did, there is no way he would be viewed as a good family man. And sociologists have found that there is a cross-country correlation between the stable nuclear family and low incarceration rates. Ironically, though, I suspect that Hindu traditions may be a key factor in Indo-Trinidadians having a suicide rate three times as high as Afro-Trinis: the family becomes an oppressive system and the belief in reincarnation lessens the fear of death.
So I find here another paradox: that it is precisely the growing civic consciousness which is making the society more barbaric. In his 1961 essay in The Middle Passage, VS Naipaul wrote, "Everything that makes the Trinidadian an unreliable, exploitable citizen makes him a quick, civilized person whose values are always human ones, whose only standards are those of wit and gossip. As the Trinidadian becomes a more reliable and efficient citizen, he will cease to be what he is."
Here, because of the groups' different historical experiences, lies the key difference between the Indo- and Afro-Trinidadian. It is the Afros who embraced these human values, while the Indo were more concerned with civic ones. Yet both are necessary to create a civilised society. And this is the real challenge, and the ultimate salvation, of douglarisation: to marry the better elements of both groups so, no matter what the race, we can create a true, true Trini.
Copyright ©2004 Kevin Baldeosingh