caribbean pelau or cook-up

This blog is not about food. I recently travelled to Guyana-Trinidad-St. Lucia and thought about a title for this blog which may be compared to a Caribbean dish: pelau (Trinidad) or cook-up (Guyana) or whatever the version across other Caribbean islands. Each Caribbean island, though, would claim that their version is not only the best: it is also unlike the others. The meal is a one-pot dish with a combination of the week’s left-overs (the original idea) and flavoured with all sorts of improvisations (including spices, aromatics and even Caribbean rum). So here is a collection in this one-pot offer, left to you, the readers’ imagination.

the BREXIT despair: Take heart, I have been duly informed by my historian son that historically when the English ever talked about pulling out from a place – it always takes time (not less than 40 years in the case of pulling out of India from when the idea was mooted). This is not to mention the screwed-up state of affairs, after any English withdrawal. Even with a change of Tory leadership (and a dead-duck labour one), the whole debacle brings to mind the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, The Birds (414BCE).Two middle-aged men, Pisthetaerus (trusty friend) and Euelpides (Good hope), stumbles across a hillside wilderness in search of Tereus (the legendary Thracian king) who was once metamorphosed into the hoopoe bird. Disillusioned with life in Athens and its law courts, politics, false oracles and military antics, they hope for a new start in life somewhere else and believe that the Hoopoe/Tereus can advise them. Peisthetaerus persuades the birds to join him in building a new city to be suspended between heaven and earth. This city is named Nephelokokkygia – the original cloud-cuckoo-land. The city is built and Peisthetaerus and his bird comrades must then fend off the undesirable humans who want to join them in their new Utopia. They even starve the Olympian gods into cooperating with them! You may read this as pure fantasy or as a political satire around imperialistic dreams: current Brexit realties could not make this more relevant for our times. There is, though, one thing about the play we should take heed of: this play was imagining the impending decline of the then Athens!

speaking in tongues and cognitive boost: Pulling up the drawbridge on Europe and erecting walls around us to keep out the bloody foreigners may be tangible evidence that we are heading for neurological decline.  Research by neuroscientists have shown that multi-linguistic abilities contribute to one’s cognitive abilities, influencing and shaping the way the brain develops and how we think (I wish I could have been more discipline with languages). To put simply, these experts contend that multilingual abilities can result in multiple minds operating in the same space with ease. I have also read that bilinguals are better placed to empathise with people having developed very early an ability of putting themselves in other’s shoes. Can it be that because of the arrogance of ‘English’ (the language) that we will end up with ‘little Britain’ becoming narrower and speeding up such neurological decline? I hope the neuroscientists are wrong.

the ease of normalising hate:  Those of us who may wish to take a ‘high moral ground’ about so much that is wrong around us, may do well to contemplate the story of Patrick Hermansson, a Swede who went undercover to infiltrate the British alt-right. In his piece ‘After a while nothing shocks you’, Anoosh Chakelian points out that Hermansson was struck by the scary fact that: “in the beginning, you are shocked about everything. And after a while you are shocked about nothing…how easy it is to normalise is one of the scariest bits.” A closer look around us and what now passes for acceptable discourse especially through our media would underscore this fact. As the first General Secretary of the WCC puts it years ago: ‘hate is made a national duty’. Because of historical amnesia it is easy to forget and not discern that what we are confronted with “are very old ideas…. repackaged by the alt-right and taken up again by mainstream politicians” [The New Statesman (2-15 August 2019), 15]. Can it be that it is now necessary to put ‘democracy on hold’ to address this current trend, not to mention the ongoing cancellation of our future (ecological crisis)?

designed disruption and my gadgets: Currently on holiday, I am finding it very challenging to keep away from my gadgets. While conscious of so many glued to their mobile phones while walking or sitting at a table in a restaurant, I am finding my commitment to not get distracted, bordering on gadget withdrawal syndrome. I tend to reason that the act of checking my e-mail account, face­book, the news headlines is no big deal as it is typically brief. No harm done. This is how I rationalise my addiction. My son has pointed out that I am rationalizing the frequency with which I check my devices by citing the lack of time needed, noting that my comment of ‘just checking’ is as revealing as it is enslaving. What keeps gluing me to my devices? Why, with all the promises to stay away (especially on holiday), I am returning again and again to these gadgets. It has been suggested that we have been sold and we have bought into a new pursuit: the ‘caffeine of interruption’. We have become so hooked on wanting something to happen that we are now producing an array of self-made interruptions. Can I counter this demon or obsession? To an extent, my venture into upcycling things (a rediscovered hobby) is helping me. But then again – is this another distraction, albeit one away from my gadgets? I can hear Kierkegaard whispering in my ears: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true”.

‘eat da rich’ – a telling graffiti: Travelling into London Paddington on GWR rail, if you are not glued to your mobile device, you will notice as you near Paddington a stand out graffiti: ‘eat da rich’.  I suppose, depending on one’s station, that telling art piece would evoke different thoughts. Was it intended to shock, engage or amuse? My own thoughts oscillated from the earnings and wealth of the 1% to amazement of the possible acrobatic feats of the artist to get those words on such a high wall and under high voltage wires. Like other unwelcome, staining deposits, graffiti has always polarized people into defenders and aggressors, neighbourhood-watchers and anarchists. Whatever our view, why not see such reminders as the powerless saying to daily travellers: ‘remember – I am here too’. I would suspect that writings on walls (without permission) have been with us from way back and will continue to be with us. “Eat da Rich” is clearly aimed at something systemic. Every time, I see it, I secretly wished that the words would instigate some form of insurgency. I am still waiting for the uprising!

© jagessar – August 2019

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