Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Monday, October 03, 2005  

In his column (link good for a week) in today's Guardian, Fr Henry Charles muses on what it means to be a republic; specifically what being a republic means to us here in sweet T&T. He finds he can come up with no better definition than that of Ramlogan, in VS Naipaul's novel, The Suffrage of Elvira:

In the novel, Ramlogan and Chittaranjan are neighbours, and trading insults across the fence is their daily routine. Sometimes the volume of insult increases, as it does one day when a breadfruit from Ramlogan’s tree lands on Chittaranjan’s roof. A window pane breaks, and Chittaranjan is roused to eloquent fury.

Ramlogan gets the worse of the exchange, until it occurs to him to attack Chittaranjan through his wife. “Chittaranjan,” he says, “the next time one of your wife chickens come in my yard, don’t bother to look for it. Because that night I eating good…everybody chicken think they could just walk in my yard, as if my yard is a republic.”

To the Trini, in Charles' estimation, a republic is a place where anyone can do (and these days, more and more, is doing) whatever he likes, just like Mrs Chittaranjan's chickens.

And he comes to the depressing conclusion:

How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 different kinds of cheese? Charles De Gaulle of France once famously asked.

It’s manageable, compared to governing Trinidad, I sometimes think. This is a republic where everybody is a nation, and the motto is Napoleonic: the state is me!

posted by Jonathan | 10:07 AM 0 comments


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