Quite by chance I came upon a commentary being done by Inshan which made me pause as the topic was about Chutney’s George Singh being given $900,000.00 by the government as a monetary reward for his recent hosting of his Chutney/Soca competition.
According to Inshan, this competition is a money-making business which attracts as much as 20,000 fans who pay hundreds of dollars for tickets and which also receive a fortune in corporate sponsorship from BMobile, the rum industry and others who see identification with the show from a birds-of-a-feather-flock together perspective.
From an entrepreneurial point, George Singh is a boss. Obviously, he makes a fortune from this business, but when government goes and injects another million dollars into his personal coffers then are we really confirming that the wise shall live off the fool and those responsible for this largesse to Singh are the embodiment of who the fool is?
When I lived abroad – in the US, Canada and Guyana – And was asked where I originally came from and I said Trinidad – almost always the immediate response to my answer was: “O, Naipaul, Biswas, CLR, Selvon” …Literay names were evoked just to let me know they knew my country and that they knew who mattered.
If, however, an elongated conversation of Trinidad started then the name of Sparrow, Sundar Popo or, later on Lara, might come up. Point I am making, is on the international front, this country is seen as a literary bastion – not as the Carnival /Calypso country we are made out to be by the marketeers of that art form. Seriously.
My other point is while George Singh could collect a cool nine hundred thousand dollars in addition to his ticket sales and his million-dollar sponsorship deals (and Machel too) the writers of this country don’t receive a black cent from the government, the corporate business or just the reading public which pukes on the writings of local authors.
Abroad, writers have access to all kinds of million dollar grants, bursaries and governmental and corporate support but here, we are treated as the interlopers who have no right to write. Example, Trinidad/American writer Arnold Rampersad received a McArthur prize worth $500,000 US for a bio he wrote and it’s no way better than the bio I did of Jai Ramkissoon – which many consider to be the definitive bio. Further, Arnold also got $50,000 a year for the rest of his life. Prior to my Jai Bio, I produced Dictionaries of Hindi, Muslim and African Names and I can boldly say they have been extensively used by all three communities adding a sense of beauty and pride to how we call ourselves.
To my point that we are supposed to be literary, Eric Williams did give a grant to VS Naipaul out of which came the Middle Passage and what influenced Williams’ writing thereafter proving that the scholar in Dr. Williams saw his appreciation and recognition of VS. Williams, however, was an aberration, it seemed, and sadly this has become a most, non-literary society with the media people, for example, who are supposed to be our exemplars where language is concerned treat it in the manner of mouth open and ‘tory jump out.
In the meantime, one hopes some foreign government or corporate body or even individual shall give us the recognition we deserve – I for the three books I have produced in the past three months – all of which, I dare say are of international standard.
L. Siddhartha Orie.