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Raffique Shah


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Wining president chooses mob over masses

February 19, 2006
By Raffique Shah

MINUTES before I decided to attend last Sunday's Panorama, and that was around 4 p.m., as I watched television and listened to the medium bands make sweet music, I witnessed yet another amazing political scene. The cameras shifted focus from the bands and the wildness among patrons to the arrival of the President and his entourage. And there were President Max, his wife and others, making their way through the thick, sometimes unyielding, crowd, to their seats. Even as the Grand Stand remained partly filled, Max's party headed towards the already overcrowded North Stand. I watched in disbelief as his security detail, no doubt sensing the nightmare on their hands, shepherded the Head of State and his guests into a seemingly secured area.

Many people might ask what problem do I have with the President "mixing with the masses", especially on a Carnival occasion. Firstly, by the time Max arrived at the Savannah, police and fire officials had already declared the North Stand overcrowded and closed it to ordinary patrons. By then, too, the unruly behaviour of patrons in that stand had created virtual bedlam for the organisers and judges. Despite numerous appeals for them to stop their "rhythm sections" from disrupting the music on the stage, in their drunken stupor they carried on as if it was their show, not that of the 42 bands that qualified for the "Savannah Party". And an even worse possibility was that of the Stand itself being unable to cope with the gyrating-overload, or for something untoward to happen and cause a stampede.

From any angle one takes it, it was unbecoming of the President of the Republic to deliberately choose the North Stand over the Grand Stand. And this is not a "class" issue, although, when one examines it more closely, it seems that way. Time was when the Grand Stand catered for the upper echelon of society, for older people (in the main) who wanted only to listen to pan music, not to enjoy themselves in the effusive manner North Stand fans did. In those days-the early 1970s into the '80s-I was part of a mainly young crowd of pan fans who made the annual pilgrimage to the North Stand. Oh, we behaved badly, if one could so describe us loudly singing the tunes to be played, beating rhythm out of those steel chairs (no "rhythm sections" in those days), and jumping and wailing - as being unruly.

But there was an unwritten code of conduct among us, which held firmly, especially during the semi-finals (held then on the Thursday night before Carnival). You could jump and wail and shout and misbehave as much as you wanted - but in between the bands' appearances on stage. Once the band, and it mattered not whether it was Despers or Claytones, began playing, a deafening silence fell in the North Stand. It was broken only when a piece of music was so moving, one just had to get up off one's chair and move to the music (oh Gawd, All Stars and "Woman On De Bass"!). But there was no shouting, no interruptions by noisy patrons who prevented others from listening to the bands play. After all, that was why we went to Panorama-to listen to good music, to judge each band by our ears.

The glory of the North Stand disappeared many moons ago. Interestingly, its demise came not from the ordinary pan lovers who had made it their domain. The Stand was taken over by unruly elements from the middle-to-upper echelons of society. They came loaded with booze, were drunk even before the show started, and unless we diehards wanted to fight to remove them, we opted for the next best thing-The Drag. The North Stand had degenerated into an upper-element den of misbehaviour. In fact, most of those who occupied the Stand thereafter had never been to a panyard, they did not know which band was playing what, and they couldn't care less. They were there to have fun, to get drunk, not to take in good pan music.

Thereafter, real pan lovers drifted either to the Grand Stand or to The Drag. I chose the latter, since one could listen to the bands play from close up, and really enjoy the music. If President Max wanted to "mix with masses", The Drag was the place for him. If he wanted to listen to the bands play, he would have gone to the Grand Stand. But his choice of the North Stand showed him for what he really is, and what so many people have branded him - "De Wining President". And that is not a compliment. It's a condemnation of someone who should be an exemplar in society, not someone who would mix with the mob rather than the masses.

But why am I not surprised? Having been blessed with presidents like Noor Hassanali and ANR Robinson, men who could mix with the masses but retain their dignity, Max pales by comparison.