Yesterday, today, tomorrow

By Raffique Shah
June 23, 2012

Raffique ShahYESTERDAY, David Abdulah was a darling of the People’s Partnership. To hear it from the mare’s mouth, David worked tirelessly to forge a working relationship among disparate elements whose commonality was not so much the love for country or liberty as it was their hatred for Patrick Manning. Mark you, yesterday, even Patrick hated Manning for his uncontrollable appetite for wastage of a windfall that could have been used to bring a measure of social and economic equity to a nation mired in inequities.

Which was why, yesterday, Patrick, seeking to escape the agony of guilt, called early elections to bring relief to his tortured soul. David saw the opportunity to slay the balisier Goliath, harnessed the political skills he had honed, seized the time and almost single-handedly fashioned an alliance that could remove this obstacle to progress. When the Partnership triumphed in a way none of its constituent parts could, beneficiaries of the bounty hugged and kissed and smothered David with love and affection. It was an almost biblical moment.

But that was yesterday. Today, with the scales from his eyes removed, David sees Sodom and Gomorrah surrounding him and his comrade-apostles polluting the temple that his father built, and he thinks he must rescue the Partnership or his people from a fate worse than the PNM (People’s National Movement). Eh-heh! Who tell David he has the moral authority to cleanse the dens of iniquity? Bodow! Lash! Overnight, David has morphed into a monster, dubbed a power-hungry, self-seeking destroyer. Yesterday’s darling is today’s bobolee.

But this is Trinidad where yesterday was yesterday and today is today. In our fifty years as an independent nation, our political philosophers (or pretenders) have come up with some gems of wisdom that make Plato and Socrates and Burke and Confucius seem irrelevant to the development of thought. Politics has a morality of its own. One from ten leaves nought.

Yesterday, veteran trade unionist James Lambert was an “irrevocable fool”. In spite of his years of service in the labour movement, he did not understand the fundamentals of collective bargaining. Today, the glutton for punishment is forgiven by his abuser, elevated to the rank of senator, and is now described as someone with vast experience and knowledge, a man who can make a great contribution to governance. Today, it seems, the irrevocable has been revoked. Only in Trinidad and Tobago….

Yesterday, too, Wayne Kublalsingh, much like David Abdulah, was seen as a patriot who stood up against the might of Manning and his three aluminium smelters, his reclaimed island-in-the-Gulf and his absolute disregard for future generations. Politicians who stood against the PNM for whatever reason saw in the midget environmentalist a champion of the masses.

Today, those who hugged and kissed Wayne have drawn their daggers, ready to dispatch him to the hereafter for daring to “stand in the path of progress”. Where was he when Manning was making a mess, the hypocrites scream. Everyone who raises a voice to protest anything encounters a wall of ignorance, a blockade of human stupidity. And you think: haven’t I seen this before? Yes, I did. During the PNM’s hey-day, “de doctah” could say or do no wrong. The “marabuntas” would swarm out of their nests and, with vengeance on their minds, inflict harm on anyone who dared even to question “de doc”, far less challenge him.

That was yesterday. It holds true today, except that “bachacs” have replaced the “marabuntas”. And I dare predict it would be no different tomorrow.

Yesterday, I was a big fool—bigger than anything James Lambert could ever be. I dreamed of a Trinidad and Tobago freed from the shackles of divisiveness, a country in which people of all ethnicities and hues, of all creeds, would live in harmony. As a young man at the time of our nation’s independence, I envisaged the day when our people would rise above the din of race-politics that I found distasteful and unacceptable.

By Independence Day, when I stood in cadet uniform outside the Red House, I was stupid enough to dream of a great nation arising out of the ashes of colonialism. How was I to know that my people would view mediocrity as a benchmark, that the politicians would exploit their myopia or that we would remain the “Third World’s third world” as Vidia Naipaul disparagingly referred to us? I cussed Naipaul then, and with songs in my heart (Sparrow’s “Model Nation”, Brynner’s “My Land”), like so many others my age, I marched bravely into what I thought would be a new dawn.

I was a bigger fool when, less than ten years after independence, I joined with tens of thousands of young people, put my life on the line, quite literally, in our quest to give flesh to the words and spirit of the National Anthem. Yesterday, we were stupid enough to think we could change this country, we could usher in a better world. We paid a high price for our stupidity. Yet we continued to dream.

Today I’m probably the biggest fool around. I still believe that we can forge a model nation out of this badly fractured society. I feel that people can rise above the pettiness that is so commonplace. I think we can overcome the deceit that dogs our politics, the hug-me-by-day-stab-me-by-night mentality that seems all pervasive.

Tomorrow, I imagine, I would be worse off. They say age brings reason. Trust me—among idealists, it amplifies stupidity. As I survey the morass that passes for a richly endowed nation galloping into the future, I still hold hope for a better tomorrow. Fool that I am, I’m allowed to dream on…