Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 1st 2014 Contents Attitudes to death, here in paradise,
are different from those back home.
In England, we struggle to cope with
painful realities. Grieving is part of the
national psyche and it goes on and on,
sometimes indefinitely in the cases like
the Hillsborough disaster and on
Remembrance Day for the fallen of both
world wars. We like feeling sad because
in great sadness and sobbing we find
Stoicism, once the reserve of the
English, seems now more of a charac-
teristic of England s former colonies.
Like the hotelier and manservant in
Walcott s play Pantomime, the roles
have been reversed. It s the Englishman
whose stiff upper lip quivers and the
Caribbean man who tells him to pull
I ve been to more funerals, in a pro-
fessional capacity, here in Trinidad than
I ve even heard about back home. A
British funeral is extremely private
(except state funerals, of course). Here,
they seem to operate more of an open-
door policy. They are more visible and
visual. Open caskets are a norm.
As a reporter approaching bereaved
families, like Sheilah Solomon s, for
example, I am constantly impressed at
their courage and willingness to share
private memories with me and the peo-
ple of Trinidad.
At the funeral of theatre stalwart
Stanley Marshall last year, I fought back
tears as the rain fell and the wind clat-
tered the shutters. I was there as a
reporter, I d never even met the man.
Last week, I attended an evening
dedicated to the memory of Norman
Girvan. Again, it was only the distrac-
tion of my notebook and pen that pre-
vented me from dissolving into tears.
"It s very sad," I said to a friend about
Girvan s death.
"Why?" he replied.
It was a uniquely Trinidadian
response to a passing.
I explained that Girvan and his wife
were the first people I met in Trinidad.
His wife, the brilliant artist Jasmine
Thomas Girvan, by lucky coincidence,
sat next to me on my migratory transat-
lantic flight from my homeland. We
talked for the entire ten hours, and
then, when we landed, Jasmine said
they would give me a lift to my new
home. Girvan turned up in his car and
chatted to me breezily about the
Trinidadian media and politics all the
I met him a few more times before
his ultimately fatal accident in Dominica
over Christmas. The time I kept think-
ing back to was turning up at Girvan s
home in Maraval and seeing him with
his feet up, smoking a cigar, watching
a quite terrible action film on television.
He knew it was awful but he had to
watch to the end, with a hilarious grin
of incredulity on his face.
I wanted to share this moment at
Tapia House, but I knew I would crum-
ble at the microphone and I didn t want
to look a complete fool. An English
friend said she couldn t stand up to
speak as she d have turned bright red
and forgotten what to say.
We English are not strong any more,
not like our forefathers whose cold,
forceful hands gripped the globe, crush-
ing and moulding it. Caribbean people
are strong, emotionally.
Sometimes that spills over into insen-
sitivity. Kevin Baldeosingh had no rea-
son to write a crass column rubbishing
Girvan s life work just a fortnight after
While the passing of Margaret
Thatcher moved people in England
because it made us remember things
many of us wanted to forget, the passing
of ANR Robinson feels more like an
event to be savoured.
Why the cultural difference in death?
Some might answer, simply, slavery.
That the history of cheap, uncounted
deaths has steeled slaves descendants,
psychologically. Slaves who died in the
Middle Passage met watery graves. On
plantations, their deaths were minor
events. Lost property. Replaceable.
But the answer "slavery" can be, and
is, applied too readily to almost every-
thing. In reality, what does slavery actu-
ally mean to a contemporary Trinida-
dian? Is it painful on a personal level?
Or simply history, like the English civil
war? How strongly does one feel the
ancestral tugging of the heartstrings
from centuries ago?
Is it that stoicism is related to modern
violence and the murder rate? No, atti-
tudes to that are more hard-edged,
I believe the philosophical attitude
to a death here comes from a more
simple reason---that the person lived.
And that they lived in paradise.
There s a BBC series called Death In
Paradise, described as a "crime com-
edy-drama." I m surprised CNC3 hasn t
bought the rights. It s an entertaining
programme but it does propagate the
idea that homicide and death here in
the Caribbean are somehow more droll
than an old lady dying in a cold ten-
ement house in Glasgow and buried in
earth frozen so hard with ice that even
mechanical diggers struggle to break
I ve mentioned paradise three times
now on purpose, not tritely. Because,
fundamentally, most people here believe
that not only does one live in paradise
but one ascends to Paradise upon death.
So what is there to be sad for? They
are still living.
In Hinduism too, death is simply
part of a great cyclical chain of exis-
tence, of becoming one with the world
and of rebirth.
So, in Trinidad, the dead are not
In the midst of life, we are in death.
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, May 1, 2014
Pakistani classical dancers perform in Karachi, Pakistan to celebrate the International Dance Day on
Tuesday. AP PHOTO
INTERNATIONAL DANCE DAY
It's called Death
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