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When limes go sour

By Terry Joseph
November 04, 2005

Saturday's brawl at Queen's Hall seemed like nothing more than additional evidence that Trinidad and Tobago is heading to Hades at the speed of flight but further scrutiny indicates a condition markedly worse; if only because it will strap us in and inflict protracted torture long before the hand-basket to hell is cleared for take off.

Sheer frequency of socially-crippling news increases risk of becoming inured to reports of lawlessness and parallel promises of a brighter day but when a police officer is the principal offender and one of his colleagues summoned to rescue us selects a frontier solution, the problem is rendered immense, affecting every silo of civilised interest and especially custodians of hitherto undisturbed cultural legacies like pan and calypso, or lovers of a good lime.

Now, this wasn't a minor scrape at a rural watering-hole where hardy men, having imbibed liquor to vulgar excess, engage in arguments that may come to blows. This was a potentially fatal fracas, taking place at the nation's premier performance facility, the local version of London's Royal Albert Hall, Sydney's Opera House, New York's Lincoln Center or similarly prestigious venues in Austria, France or Germany; mirrors of enlightenment in developed societies.

While we have long been forced to understand lawlessness is no respector of location, Queen's Hall, nestling as it does between the official residences of Trinidad and Tobago's President and Prime Minister, has historically been spared savagery but clearly, when times are a-changing, no previous concession is irrevocable.

After all, we have witnessed brawls in Parliament and this week a church counsellor was jailed for rape. At street-level, armed hoodlums routinely attack people and property so, inevitably, the only remaining new targets would be intangibles like heritage and culture and apparently, indigenous music and the harmless pastime of liming are now in the crosshairs.

Just two months ago, we awoke to news of the pointless killing of 14-year-old Anisha Simon and injury to nine others pursuing nothing more sinister than rehearsing music with Simple Song steelband. Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold described it as "the saddest time in the instrument's history" .

At the funeral service, Bishop Rodney Thomas noted parents were happy their children were involved with music as, by so doing, they escaped the alternative lure of crime and drugs.

On October 14, an explosive device detonated during a Friday evening lime at the sidewalk café outside the Smokey and Bunty Sports Bar and adjoining fast-food outlet, leaving ten injured. In its wake, entertainers and show-producers nationwide reported sharp declines in patronage. Reigning road-march monarch Shurwayne Winchester, a crowd-magnet by any measure, said all three fetes at which he was contracted to perform that night went bust.

On October 23, as the Bagasse Company production of Neil le Bute's laugh-a-minute comedy, Fat Pig, closed at the Central Bank Auditorium, the play's co-director, Christine Johnston was lamenting the suddenness with which box-office enquiries whittled after the St James incident and saying too that when another bomb exploded during the preceding week in uptown Port of Spain; patronage evaporated altogether.

On the evidence, liming hazards lurk even at home. Khaleel Danglade, 13, was shot to death on Halloween night, while passing time with his mom outside their Morvant home, as a power outage engulfed Chinapoo Village, the teenager a victim of random discharge of firearms by two men, who reportedly came down the street shooting indiscriminately; celebrating evil with a flourish on the night before we marked the triumph of light over darkness.

And the problem is clearly not limited to major cities. Reports coming out of Penal yesterday indicated Divali celebrations in Debe were nowhere near the level to which the village had become accustomed, waning attributed to the intrinsic peril of simply being outdoors at night. On Wednesday, the Mas Camp Pub was forced to cancel its weekly calypso show, a long-standing tradition, after only six patrons showed up for a concert that headlined former national monarch and continuing crowd-pleaser, Singing Sandra.

So the Queen's Hall brawl was not just another demonstration of senseless violence but a benchmark in continuing erosion of leisure-time enjoyment earned by hard-working people, a concept we can only hope will inform the report due for delivery today to Police Commissioner Trevor Paul.

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