By Raffique Shah
January 16, 2024
Trust Trinis to set the stage for another type of public misbehaviour. It’s as if the near-collapse of good manners and social graces that have led to a behavioural pattern that span the spectrum of classes from young miscreants and criminals, to parliamentarians and holders of public office, have become the norm.
At the state funeral last Tuesday for former prime minister Basdeo Panday, we witnessed some spectacles that would cause shame and disgrace in the average society anywhere in the world. Here in Trinidad, though, we have once again managed to make everything into a joke.
To see a former president of the Senate bearing the lofty name Hamel-Smith and former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira, “storm” Mr Panday’s funeral service by jumping over the barricade, because they had not been invited to sit with the VIPs, tells a sad story of the collapse of class and standards in Trinidad.
Look, we probably started the trend of storming—by jumping the fence/gate—at big people party, “fetes”, many moons ago. Indeed such were the skills of stormers, bets were taken on who among the nation’s top stormers would get past the invited list checkpoint, and have a whale of a time inside the people’s party.
A few media persons became notoriously famous while others of similar ilk, especially those who were after food and liquor, made storming almost a competition with more liquor included as prizes.
It’s one thing for “professional stormers” to invade people’s parties, refusing to pay entrance fees that mostly go to charities at such fetes, but quite another for anybody to storm private occasions such as weddings, birthday party and similar celebrations. That happens here, I am told, quite often. In fact, there have been some nasty incidents arising out of clashes between security guards hired by the hosts and stormers, with a few ending with some measure of violence.
But I am not about to preach on the good, the bad and the ugly sides to storming. Despite Mr Panday’s unconventional nature, he would never have involved himself in such low-caste behaviour by storming a funeral, upsetting mourners and the bereaved families and sinking to new lows, the behaviour one expects at such a function, even when they are open to the public.
As I happened to glance at my television from time to time and saw some of the activities televised live, I began thinking that this man must be going through real horror being paraded from town to country on an open gun carriage and hearses.
Ah mean, Bas and I had many differences in our years of knowing each other, but never would I dream of subjecting him to indignities—which is what they seem to me, not to add discomfort. The family, in retrospect, may have regretted agreeing to a state funeral which makes the corpse public property on loan to government agencies until the final rites are finished.
That Nunez-Tesheira and Hamel-Smith decided, likely after serious consideration, to do what they did—storm the funeral, in full view of media cameras and the public—was nothing short of heartless. I cannot imagine in the remotest part of my mind that I could have come up with such atrocity.
There were enough differences between us and I felt myself a victim of Panday’s propaganda and lying machine many times. Often, I responded. I’m sure I used harsh language here and there, but mostly I responded in a tone that was fit for public consumption, not insulting to the target, but always extracting some humour from my intervention.
I still cannot understand why Karen and Timothy did what they did at the funeral. That they adjusted it and upgraded it to allow full media coverage, interview, et al, is shameful beyond description.
There are some politicians—and I shall not say here whether I think Mr Panday would have been one—who dive into murky depths to score points.
But storming a funeral which thousands of people here and abroad would have been watching live? Such a spectacle would have left a sour taste in many mouths. The government of the day offered it to the Panday family and they seemed to have accepted with all the normal frills and thrills.
How Karen and Timothy, who recently launched a party—acronym HOPE—could conceive of popularising “jackass” behaviour, winning votes from the whites, off-whites and reds and other well-placed people in society, which is where I slotted HOPE, they now leave no hope for their potential supporters, no class in their CVs and big spaces in their heads: a cartoonist delight, their only legacy.
What a disappointment.