Arts & Entertainment

Few good , most bad - such are politicians


Bernard Heydorn

By and large, I have little use for politicians and those so inclined. With few exceptions – Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela, Kennedy, Trudeau, Clark, Jagan, and a sprinkling of others, history has shown that politicians do a lot more harm than good.

Wherever they originate, whatever their colour, class, creed, or gender, they are all basically cut from the same cloth – parasites who seek political office not to serve others but to serve themselves and their cronies. In essence, they have as much dedication to the common good as the man in the moon. Each political scandal that is unveiled simply comes across as "deja-vu" - no surprise whatsoever. And why should there be? The politician is just one of us, pretending to be otherwise.

Why do we have politicians? It was Aristotle, the Greek philosopher (384-322 BC) who said "man is by nature a political animal". Most people, it seems, would prefer to be led than to lead. Politicians and political posturing show up in just about every aspect of life – at work, at play, school, religious institutions - you name it. Like the cockroach, they have been around from the beginning of time.

They are the bold, the brazen, the bully, the manipulator, the self-server who needs no invitation. Their agendas are very often the same – ego and empire. Their dictum - "numero uno" - look after yourself, and to hell with the rest. They capitalize on the meek and the weak, on the gullible, the ignorant, on the belief that the masses are the asses. Some even know how to quote the Bible when it suits them.

The political lifespan, like the life of a cockroach, can be a short one. Yet that does not deter individuals from seeking political office. Think about it. What qualifications do you need to be elected to office? What skills or attributes? As little as having good looks can take you a long way. The right connections don’t hurt either. A platform that can stir some passion, rouse some emotion, offer some promise can launch you into high office. You don’t have to be clever – you just have to sound clever. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1890) said, "He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career."

The writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) said "Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary". The gift of the gab, some grooming, some backers, and you are ready to face the tape. The prize is such that politicians who win are most unwilling to let go. Why?

Which job do you know where your ego is being stroked constantly by fawning hangers-on and sycophants? You get regular attention and airtime in spite of having nothing worthwhile to say. You are given front row seating at events; complimentary passes; you have a budget for work, play, travel, and an army of assistants and aides for your every whim; the media at your fingertips, a robust salary and perks? You set your own terms of employment, pension, tenure and dismissal; receive consultations, directorships and other job offers, power and priviledge that one can only dream of – the world at your feet?

The common people give politicians their sweat, their taxes, their purse strings, their lives (in times of war) and what do they get in return – scandal after scandal, cover up after cover up, lie after lie. Thank God for reporters and the free press whose brave voices attempt to call politicians to account.

It was Charles De Gaulle (1890-1970) French General and President who said, "Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him. In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant." He should know.

Politicians in their defense say that it is a thankless job, involving long hours and little security. e.e. cummings (1894-1962) the American poet said ‘A politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man." Some may enter politics with good intentions but many get corrupted along the way, even if they are not already that inclined.

I believe that the world will be a much better place without politicians. They seem to be forever caught between a lie and an indiscretion. It was Napoleon (1769-1821) who said "I still love you, but in politics there is no heart, only head". Ronald Reagan topped it when he announced, "I used to say that politics was the second lowest profession. I have come to know that it bears a great similarity to the first."

Politicians who have the opportunity to do great good often do nothing, or worse yet, do great evil. There has got to be a better way if we are to survive as a civilization. My mother-in-law (God bless her soul), used to say, that the world would be a much better place if it was run by women. Although not a Thatcherite (far from it), she might have agreed with Margaret Thatcher (1925 - ) British politician and former Prime Minister who said, "In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman."

For myself, I would rather be a poet than a politician. Power corrupts. But in essence, you don’t have power when you sell your soul. You have political office. Ah gone. If the creeks don’t rise and the sun still shines, I’ll be talking to you.

‘Finding a Place’ seeks literary

Indo-Trinidadian centre

Kris Rampersad, Finding a Place: IndoTrinidadian Literature, Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2002.

A Review By Frank Birbalsingh

Finding a Place: IndoTrinidadian Literature is something of a breakthrough insofar as it acknowledges ethnic roots in West Indian society and literature.

In post-colonial societies world wide, whether in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ireland, Bosnia or the Caribbean, ethnicity has been regarded as an obstruction to nationality or nation building. So far as the Caribbean is concerned, because of their Indian ethnicity, Indo-Trinidadians and Indo-Guyanese have been regarded with suspicion as a group with divided loyalties, not fully committed to true West Indian or Creole nationhood.

Dr. Eric Williams, first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, once made an infamous remark about Indo-Trinidadians as a "recalcitrant minority"; and, in Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan whose political party relied mainly on Indo-Guyanese for success during elections, had to temper his support for West Indian Federation when he realized that Federation might encourage an influx of Afro-Caribbean immigrants into Guyana and alter an ethnic ratio that brought him success.

That is why, since Independence in the 1960s, there has been a trend among West Indian commentators to champion a species of West Indian culture or nationality in which post-slavery, minority ethnic elements are considered as inimical.

The achievement of Finding a Place is that it bucks this trend by contending that established Indo-Trinidadian writers like the Naipauls (Seepersad, Vidia, Shiva and Neil Bissoondath), Ismith Khan, even Samuel Selvon, did not function within a putative, composite Trinidadian culture formed out of a blend of original African, Indian, French creole, Syrian, Chinese, Portuguese and other ethnic elements, but out of a more concrete and specific background of Indo-Trinidadian social and cultural expression which, while it did not coincide exactly with other forms of culture in Trinidad, had more in common with them than with cultures anywhere else. According to Rampersad, indentured Indians who first arrived in Trinidad in 1845 soon began to write in English and, by the 1930s, had produced several newspapers, journals or magazines in English. Rampersad’s contention is that by establishing this fledgling, social, cultural and literary tradition, Indo- Trinidadians had done much the same as other groups in Trinidad: they had faced up to the demands of their ethnicity, and greatly advanced the process of indigenising themselves in a new homeland, different from that of their ancestors.

Nothing confirms the originality of Rampersad’s contention more than her examination in Finding a Place of eleven IndoTrinidadian newspapers, periodicals and magazines published between the 1890s and 1950s. It is worth listing these publications since they are rare documents, some of them so frail and tattered that they are ready to crumble. Rampersad takes this into account in quoting extensively from the more fragile documents since it might provide future researchers with their only chance of seeing such documents. Described as "the first formal literary product of Indo-Trinidadians" (p.82), The Indian Koh-I-Noor Gazette (1898-99) was edited by the India-born Effendi Bey. Other publications were The East Indian Herald (1919-21,1922,1924), The East Indian Patriot (1921-25), The East Indian Weekly (1928-32), The West Indian Magnet (1932), The East Indian Advocate (1934), The Indian (1937), The Minerva Review (1941-43), The Indian Centenary Review (1945), The Observer (1941-58), The Spectator (1948-65). Some publications are also examined if they include work by Indo-Trinidadians although they are not owned or edited by Indo-Trinidadians, for example, The Trinidadian Presbyterian (1860-1960), The Beacon (1931, 1933, 1939), The Port-of-Spain Gazette (1850s-1900), and The San Fernando Gazette (1850-54; 1865-96). As the main printed sources in Finding a Place, these publications are examined chronologically, in separate chapters, with numerous sub headings that clarify and simplify our reading of the text.

As one might expect, these publications all gave voice to typical preoccupations of Indo-Trinidadians: the preservation of their ancestral languages and culture; the urgency and necessity of learning English; feelings of divided loyalty to India and Trinidad; conflict between Indians who had converted to Presbyterian Christianity and their original Hindu/Muslim community; admiration for the heroes of Indian Independence, for example Gandhi; the ethnic pros and cons of West Indian Federation; and the historical (economic) contribution of Indians to Trinidad. But, not only in the editorial columns and letter pages of their publications did Indo-Trinidadians get an opportunity to air their opinions and preoccupations: by the 1920s, literary clubs had also sprung up, and publications like The Herald and The Patriot encouraged informed analysis and discussion in these clubs, while it promoted Indo-Trinidadian literature in particular.

From its coverage of Indo-Trinidadian publications up to the 1950s Finding a Place gives an impression of Trinidad and Tobago as small islands with a mixed population of ethnic groups in vigorous, dynamic movement and interaction, both within themselves and with other groups. So rapid is the movement that although, by the 1930s, most Indo-Trinidadians still remained agricultural labourers or artisans, many had become merchants, shopkeepers, and landowners, or had entered the professions; and the result is that hotly debated issues such as rival claims of Hindi versus English, or the claim of repatriation to India gradually lost their strength, as time-expired Indian indentured immigrants gradually died out. This transformation of an ethnic group from being temporary immigrants to permanent residents in Trinidad and Tobago is what is sometimes called creolisation, a term usually taken to mean Africanisation because Africans form a majority in most Caribbean territories and are seen to provide a cultural model for other ethnic groups in the region. If all it does is provide solid proof of an ethnic Caribbean group achieving creolisation by transforming their ethnic inheritance into a creole model that is similar to other such models, without coinciding with any of them, Finding a Place has performed an invaluable service to Caribbean history.

The volume also provides a service of recuperation in restoring attention to publications which, in the early decades of the twentieth century, provided a vehicle for discussion and debate that spurred on Indo-Trinidadian creolisation, but which, by the closing decades of the same century, had been almost entirely forgotten.

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