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Raffique Shah


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Crime will not stop the Carnival

By Raffique Shah
February 18, 2007

It's the columnist's perennial dilemma: what topic to address on a Carnival Sunday? Who reads newspapers around this time anyway? Pan "peongs" in their thousands will be bleary-eyed and either celebrating the sound of steel or fuming over the judges' decisions from last night's Panorama finals. Many more who will have attended Friday night's cacophony, "Soca Monarch", rendered tone-deaf by noise boxes supreme, are too dazed to do anything but seek out more noise. And the few who have remained sober until now will be psychologically adjusting their systems for the stupor that will start by nightfall.

It could be that I have degenerated into "ole fogey" without knowing it, hence my cynicism towards the national festival. But I interact with many people, some my age or older, others younger, who think alike. One contemporary asked me recently: why have you stopped attending calypso shows? When I hesitated, she blurted out: what happen? You 'fraid to say all they singing is "ah set ah tatah"? I laughed. She was partly correct. Every year there are some very good calypsos, lyrical and melodious. But they are too few and far between.

Add to that parking one's vehicle in some insecure place, not knowing what you'd encounter upon returning to it. Motorists who attend Carnival activities are caught between police and t'ief, and often you don't know which is worse. Scores of people I know have returned from shows or fetes to find their alarm-armed vehicles missing-either towed away by the wrecker-cum-police mafia, or stolen by car thieves. Many more have had theirs broken into as thieves went after valuables. So you fork out your hard-earned money to be assaulted by "tatah-divas", and then find yourself minus a car or part thereof, and you ask: why should I take this crap?

Not being a masochist, I have drawn a line. I did make it to Panorama semi-finals as well as the single-pan bands finals and came away adequately entertained and fully intact, car et al. But I no longer challenge the madness that prevails from Sunday night through Tuesday. Time was when it was a joy to chip to the sweet sounds of pan on Jouvert morning, when noise boxes were not yet invented, when reggae and dub music did not encroach on what ought to be a kaiso fest, and when, even in the midst of musical mayhem, revellers respected each other's rights and freedoms. It's not that there weren't jackasses then who would want to fight if you accidentally touched them-or worse, their women.

Sadly, today you risk being shot by some milk-on-the-face youth for looking his way, or for just being you. Those who still make the Jouvert pilgrimage must have noticed, or been subjected to, marauding bands of young people running wild through thick crowds, licking down anyone who happens to be in their paths. Hey, I'm no angel, never was. I had my torrid years, but I don't think I ever disrespected my elders, even on Carnival days. Sure we youngsters would poke fun at drunken sods lying on the roadways or in drains or on sidewalks. But there's a big difference between poking fun and using a gun. Or on mercilessly beating up on some hapless person, young or old, as is the norm today.

This recklessness has also been a turn-off. But there are those who can still take the "jamming", and to them I say: play mas' and enjoy yourselves. I'm not about to be selfish, having enjoyed Carnival for most of my life. I must give thanks to "The Warlord", Blakie, for rousing my interest in calypso when I was but-what?-eight years young, with his infectious "Steelband Clash".

Freeport band "Sunny Side Kids" was no Invaders or Tokyo, but their music, as they practiced in the nights leading up to Carnival and on Jouvert morning, was compelling. The "Croisee" at Freeport, where I cut my Carnival teeth, was a focal point for activities, from stick-fighting in the run-up to the festival, through robbers and bands of colourful Indians and Jab Jabs on the actual days. Now that famous junction is a ghost-town for Carnival, a manifestation of the centralisation of the festival, with only small pockets-Carapichaima, Rio Claro-surviving the Port of Spain onslaught.

On a final note, let me add that I agree with Works Minister Colm Imbert when he argued against a claim that 55,000 people fled the country for Carnival because of crime. While it's true that more people are staying away from the centre of activities, this trend has been in the making long before crime became an epidemic. The numbers of those who opt for the beaches instead of the city streets have grown each year, and the reasons are many. To suggest they are fleeing crime is an outlandish claim. What happens when they return on Ash Wednesday? Their fears will evaporate? Or crime will disappear?