THE CROWDED BUSINESS OF BEAUTY By Anjana Basu
SNAPSHOTS OF ELSEWHERE by Raymond Ramcharitar
Whose PPP? by Abbas Zaidi From: Nova Scotia LETTER FROM HALIFAX By Richard Cumyn From: Trinidad PRELIMINARY NOTES TO A MINOR FICTION a poem, by Raymond Ramcharitar
From: The PhilippinesA DEATH IN THE FAMILY
a story, by Arlene Ang
GRIM REAPER WORKING OVERTIME by Anthony Milne From: New Zealand THE WATSONS by Trevor Reeves From: Gowanus LETTER FROM BROOKLYN by Thomas J. Hubschman All GOWANUS works are Copyright © by their respective authors. Issues may not be archived on any machine and may not be used for any commercial purpose without written consent of the publisher. (c) Copyright 1998, GOWANUS
THE CROWDED BUSINESS
By Anjana Basu
The beauty business has finally hit Calcutta. Perhaps it was always there, but it went unnoticed: everyone was busy being conservative and pretending that studies were the "in" thing, two pigtails and a shoulder bag, walking demurely to school. But then Suzy Sen hit the Miss Universe headlines and the demureness was ruffled--after all, even though she was Delhi, she had the Bengali surname and relatives in Southend Park. And what Sushmita Sen failed to accomplish, Bipasha Basu did full force with her Ford Supermodel title in Mumbai. Suddenly beauty contests stopped being anti-cultural. Which brings us to the Miss India prelims--Calcutta's main taste of Mumbai glamour.
The first thing to do, of course, is get hold of a ticket. The word is out that the invitations have been sent and now you have to find out who you know who can organize you one. After all those parties around Christmas and New Year, this promises to be one of those things you shouldn't miss--at least, not if you want to be mistaken for 'somebody'.
It's such a small thing to make a fuss about, a blue card with a graphic white face and sweep of black hair, but it gets you into the third lap of the Miss India finals and that's the closest you're going to get to Miss India unless you happen to have contacts in Mumbai. Miss Beautiful Smile, Miss Personality and Miss Talent is what it says on the back, with cocktails starting at 6 p.m. Well, that's a terribly early cocktail hour, though it is theoretically after sundown, so you start scrabbling through your cupboards for a set of glad rags that aren't so well worn. The men have this notion that the dress is formal, which means doing the jacket and tie thing all over again, but everyone's willing to suffer a little for an evening of starlight and 22-year-old beauties. Especially the ones who went through Miss Beautiful Eyes at the Taj Bengal two years ago.
This time the venue is at a well-known country club instead of a five-star hotel. Chinese lanterns festoon the entrance, which is tucked discreetly down the drive so that curious passersby are not hanging outside the gates to see what's going on. I spent some time waiting for my companions near the club's Golf Shop so that I was able to take in a few unusual sights. Like a huge tourist bus which swept in and disgorged brown sweaters, children and shawl-wrapped wives. I kept peering into the bus, thinking that surely a few would-be Miss Indias were tucked in the depths and that the whole thing was some kind of elaborate camouflage, but, no. Instead, more brown pullovers congregated at the entrance, until you began to wonder whether a monkey cap would soon appear and the whole proceedings be transformed into a Food Fair or some other kind of melee. 'Very middle class ', muttered a few people near me who were quite ostentatiously sporting their blazers and designer wear.
Anyway, we all trooped down the designated gate wondering whether the description 'glitterati' had been changed for the evening, judging by the monkey-capped crowds. The cocktails were a fight all around the seating area with hostesses frantically diving to look for liquor glasses hidden under their noses. 'No, Madam, no glasses in the seating area, please,' I was told. Others who held their glasses lower were more successful or perhaps they were just ignored. There were snacks with the cocktails, but each bearer was promptly surrounded by fifty pairs of hungry hands, so it was best, taking into account the warning announcements that told you to sit down before the lights were switched off, to just sit down and concentrate on the feast of beauty that lay ahead. The food smells tormented you, but there were Celene Dion and Barbara Streisand soothing you on the muzak.
Twelve judges were announced by an LA Miss India who glimmered dimly on a distant horizon decorated with more Chinese lanterns. Shilpa Shetty had the men murmuring and thinking that their evening was made--never mind if they didn't get to see the Miss Indias. There was also, in view of the fact that the contest was sponsored by Colgate, a dentist on the panel. Then the pictures of the girls bounced on and off the screens--25 of them into three--Swarnima, Pranamika, two Shwetas, poor things, one with a 'v' and one with a 'w', what were they going to do if one of them won--all aged between 18 and 22. 'You mean to tell me she's 18?' muttered the 26-year-old at my side. 'She doesn't look eighteen from any angle.' I told her it was the make-up.
The unstated theme of the evening was, 'Making the Calcuttans feel Important'. Reshma murmured a, 'Kaemon accheyn babumoshai?' ('How are you, gentlemen?') and went on to hint at Tagore's contribution to the Bengali psyche. There was talk of all the important sons of Bengal: Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Leander Paes and Saurav Ganguly. Remo Fernandes, with his Microwave Pappadum band, announced that he had rarely met more sensitive audiences than the Bengalis and so what if Calcutta didn't have the glitz and the granite, she had soul. Raageshwari, of MTV fame, coming on later with Duniya, parroted the Bengali phrases she knew, while her father stole all pullovered hearts with three bars of rabindrasangeet.
In the middle was the bouquet of beauties in purple gowns flashing leg up to the thigh. 'Why on earth are they wriggling so much?' demanded the 26-year-old watching a tightly swathed purple derriere advance and retreat. She was, of course, a she. The men were gaping, in between passing rude remarks. I remembered Miss Beautiful Eyes in Arabian veils two contests ago. She lounged on silken cushions in a desert tent while the judges gazed soulfully into her deep lustrous eyes, all fifteen pairs of them. What did they do to Miss Beautiful Smile? Did the dentist pull out his instruments and tap 32 ivories? However, that was another country.
Miss Talented was, as usual, a strain on the judgement. They danced, they sang, they emoted. Some of them choreographed their own dances and performed in red and silver outfits. 'Shilpa Shetty should be pleased,' someone muttered. In the meantime delicate drizzle descended on the lawns of the Tollgunge Club and before I could ask, 'Is this dew?' a female voice said, 'My god, she danced and it started raining. What'll happen when the next one starts singing?'
The rain started a steady trickle of people for the exit--there was only one exit. Anticipating a stampede, I joined the departure. Cell phones rang as we jostled. 'Yes, yes, answer that phone,' said one of the pullovers. The organizers were undecided as to whether to offer people the blue slips again so that they could get back in if they wanted to, though by the time I reached the exit I was lucky enough to be given one. But it was getting late, too late to have had no dinner, and the car and driver were waiting streaked white with crow droppings in the parking space under the trees.
(Anjana Basu does advertising work in Calcutta. Formerly, she taught English Literature in Calcutta University. A volume of her short stories was published by Orient Longman, India. Her poems have been featured in an anthology brought out by Penguin India. Her work has also been published in The Wolfhead Quarterly, The Amethyst Review,The Blue Moon Review, Kimera and Recursive Angel.)
SNAPSHOTS OF ELSEWHERE
By Raymond Ramcharitar
Of the adjectives that could elbow their way into a definition of New York City, "elsewhere" is probably too reticent to make its way to the front of that line. Garish, graphic, vulgar, vile, fucking fun--you get the picture. And yet in this reading it remains there, hovering, vorpal feet barely touching the ground.
So start on the ground. In the city, day one, slightly exhausted. The exhaustion is of the long, malevolent kind: the susurrus of a disease of the mind. You who already feel constrained in your small island, weary of the endless, meaningless struggles to reconcile grinning, opulent evil and unassailable poverty with the fineness of your nature--effete, helpless against the rush for the trough. The suspicion that the fineness is just weakness. All this put away for ten days. Curious feeling. You try not to think of the obvious things. The order, the freedom, the hugeness. The contrast, most of all, with the smallness, restraint, chaos.
At the Trump Plaza at Columbus Circle. The buildings go up vertiginously for miles. The wide streets, the people, the surreal variety of humanity--sooty-faced bums, busy working girls in Prada pumps and black tiny backpacks, cops, old ladies, black men, old, young, seething with rage. Wall Street types in $900 Versace suits and an air of impregnable smugness and contentment. Masters of the universe in the centre of the universe. You think of this as you record this last image--nine-hundred-dollars, mouthing the words...is all I brought with me. Exchange rates.
Wandering around the city brings little joy. Looking into uptown windows adds to the feeling of removal. Outside looking in. Meeting your own insubstantial reflection. In the bolge of Greenwich Village the world becomes funky, fierce; the faces: young, pierced, studded septa, ringed eyebrows, wild clothes, impenetrable ice-blue irises cold-burning through you. This used to be the arty part of town, till the stockbrokers from below Canal St arrived, waving money and put a price on funk. Now 19-year-olds off the bus from Minnesota pay $900 for a broom closet in Manhattan. You think this and stop. Why think on it? What reason could you have? Who wants to hear it? Walk through the rush dazed, flickering.
Things strike you at unguarded moments. "The president is a lying sack of shit." Christopher Caldwell, columnist in one of the weekly papers talking about Bill Clinton. A few pages in, a cartoon showing the president butt-fucking Uncle Sam. The president is a lying sack of shit. Can they say that?
You resist the urge to hold up your images of home to the picture that surrounds you but they come anyway. And there, in the middle of those pictures, aware you belong in neither, there the city becomes elsewhere. Linear narrative, rather than an encompassing unquestioned paradigm, an extension of linear theocratic dialectics, is a single--and rather pedestrian--choice among many here. Choose one, or two or ten. Hear Armond White, a film critic for the New York Press. "Playing a transfusion addicted underground hero who defeats a nefarious corporate like breed of bloodsuckers makes a handy political allegory of dependence and resistance."
The film is a futuristic shoot-'em-up, Wesley Snipes taking out the bad guys with extreme prejudice--the Green Corner synopsis. The wonder is the energy and depth given to something so inane. Here in Trinidad the very word "review" or even "critic" elicits an involuntary snarl of contempt from almost every editor you've ever worked with. The act of criticism is inevitably personal, never detached. Each statement is part of a sublimated dialogue of the collective voiced by the individual about the world we live in. No wonder we despise it.
In the Village Voice Literary Supplement: an interview with Irvine Welsh, a former heroin junkie turned writer. Responsible for Trainspotting. His latest book, Filth, begins with or contains a policeman orally sodomising an underage girl. Reading in Barnes & Noble at Union Square. Attended by red-faced woman, short curly hair untidy but comely who still manages to look motherly, maternal, in the corporate battle gear--navy pinstripe skirt suit--among others: "....dos fockin cunts...". Nobody is offended. Astounding, the capacity, the capaciousness, the range. Or perhaps not. The voices are so eloquent, but so shallow, narcissistic, nihilistic. Does anyone actually listen?
Richard Foreman is a playwright who has staked out "ontology", a little known transit system between Freud and the behaviourists to the Greeks, as his domain. His plays are dense, illogical, surreal, impenetrable. Winner of several awards. His Angelface in a small space in the Village. A pale girl in a pale pink dress who might be an angel. A young handsome man in black, another woman, a door, another man, other people. The dialogue is hopeless, unyielding, but strangely soothing. These are our choices: oblivion or an endless night of despair.
The city by night in the Village is a river running, past evening and without a damn for time of day--if narrative genres change, so do lives; if lives change, time changes. It's all relative.
At the Royale Theatre, 45th and Broadway, Art, by Yasmina Reza, French play, gadfly literariness. A huge hit. Wednesday matinee. Me and a thousand other tourists. Packed theatre. Fifty bucks a pop--after discount. Clean, smart, slick. It's all relative.
Comedy club on MacDougal St. College kids in the front row. The headline comic, Italian man, short, vicious, bored, is on. "So where're you kids from?" "Jamaica." Smooth black face, expensive sport coat. Wide grin. White girl at the side. You do not know what to make of yourself for noticing this. It all has to do with fitting in, you rationalise later, staking a claim. Join the party. Fuck a blonde. "Jamaica, huh? You know what a West Indian is? A black guy with a job." Everyone laughs. I laugh.
The New York Times, September 18, 1998. Page one (below the fold). Headline: "For Affluent Blacks, Harlem's Pull is Strong." "Black professionals are snatching up 5,000 square-foot brownstones off avenues named for black leaders....what started as a flood of young African American lawyers, doctors, professors and bankers moving back into Harlem and other historically black neighbourhoods seems now to have reached flood stage. "Howard Sanders had...a degree from Harvard Business School, a position with a high-powered Manhattan investment firm and an apartment on Central Park West.... 'I don't want to live next to a white family,' Mr Sanders, 32, said. 'I have effectively integrated. I've gone to predominantly white schools. I work in a white firm, and I can live anywhere I want. It really is psychologically soothing for me to be back in Harlem.'" 'I don't want to live next to a white family'... you reread it several times over several days. In the sedulous Times style-book prose it doesn't sound terrifying, I suppose.
"Anybody else here from the West Indies?" The comic is trying to find his stride. Not in the mood to be a good sport. Sit quietly. An Indian girl sitting at a table with a white man smiles and waves at him. "Where you from? "Trinidad." She sounds very happy. "You know what a Trinidadian is? A black man with two jobs." Laughter.
Perhaps the most pleasant ritual in American urban life is a coffeshop breakfast. Old place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The New Purity Cafe. Community bulletin board in the vestibule. Formica tables, four-person booths. The day's Times. Old waitresses, thick legs, short skirts, blue veins showing through the skin, watery blue eyes. Calling you "Honey". Not like the busy, contemptuous Manhattanite maedchen waiting tables with one eye on the tip, the other on the road opportunity might walk by on. Ready to slam your two-over-easy-with-ham in your face at the slightest. (What was the line from Cummings? "They kill like you would take a piss".)
But Brooklyn. Relaxed, cool mornings. The good that came from the spillover of all the New York-obsessed white kids who would skip meals for a Manhattan address. Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Park Slope. Mainly white, black yuppie, starter yuppie, low crime, coffee shops, book stores. East of Flatbush Avenue it's all hair salons, cheap Chinese takeouts, grime, dealers, dangerous-looking black young men, dangerous-looking cops.
There's no bookstore past Grand Army Plaza, where Park Slope meets the Brooklyn Museum. Plenty of beeper shops and nail salons and accents. Trinidadian, Jamaican, some ineluctable, all harsh, the first world's Third World. This is exactly the America they wanted: no civic responsibility, no thought for the apparatus of the state that preserves the order they feed from and shit in, the order that makes it possible to exist here in extravagant squalor, breeding, feeding. Cockroaches. Further evolution unnecessary. Remain in this form until nature loses patience.
The week after Labour day. Reported a few months ago, or maybe just overheard somewhere. Some West Indians complained they'd been bilked of $300-$400 for Labour Day mas' costumes. They couldn't go to the police because they were illegals. Three hundred dollars is a month's rent for these people. For Carnival. Carnival? This Labour Day a freak storm hit the parade, the last gasp of one of the early hurricanes. They partied through it.
Pockets of chaos exist as entropy in any huge system. Large numbers lessen the value of each unit. Economies of scale. Who pays for all this and how? The Strand bookstore. Hardcovers, brand new, half off the cover price. It is astounding to you that a business could actually be in existence for your benefit. Somehow, you feel this is all a mistake that you could be given such variety, such consideration. You run out laughing with the bounty. You realise this, and your mind returns home.
Final day. Four am. Awake. The airport, still bleary-eyed. The line to the Bwee counter snakes outside the cordons. You are the only one with two normal-sized bags. Everyone else carries four, five, seven cases, boxes, huge, heavy, taped up. Tune out. Shut off. The last image, the girl in front of you in the white two-piece gangsta bitch number with the synthetic leather platforms with the barb wire tattoo on her arm turns toward you: "Fock, dreeaaddd, look at all these mudder cunt suitcase nah." Over and out.
The pilot's voice--bored, red, irritating--"'Proaching the east coast of Trinidad, 70 miles out". Then the beaches come up, the trees, long, neat swathes of road. Surprisingly, shockingly soothing. The carpets of green, the delight in the thousands of grades of it seen from above sitting calmly, patiently; the descent into order. From above, it looks almost real, the rectangles of cultivated land, gravel, the roads, out over the west coast, the Caroni pouring its shit into the Gulf, the water brown, dirty yellow, widening from the mouth of the river into the omnivorous sea. Over the Swamp, over bulbous, surly green clumps resting in pools of black, evil fluid; deadly still, a kind of ugly perfect symmetry about it, like a black zen water garden. Perfect, beautiful, home.
(Raymond Ramcharitar earns his living as a journalist in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. He has been published throughout the Caribbean and the United States. He has written a novel and a collection of poems. He can be reached at [email@example.com].)
"These aggregates are born and die. Intellectual associations are mere sums in the mathematical sense, varying by addition and subtraction, unless and until (as sometimes happens) a mere coincidence of opinion strikes so impressively as to reach the blood and so, suddenly, to create out of the sum a Being. In any political turning-point words become fates and opinions passions. A chance crowd is herded together in the street and has one consciousness, one sensation, one language----until the short-lived soul flickers out and everyone goes his way again." (Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West)
Pakistan People's Party?
By Abbas Zaidi
The recent indictment of Benazir Bhutto and her politician husband for money laundering by a Swiss court must have provided a sharp reminder to millions of Pakistanis of the day when in 1972 her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto announced, as the country's ruler, to the nation that he had ordered a crackdown on the 22 industrialist families who, for years, had bagged "Masses' money" which they were planning to transfer outside Pakistan. Benazir's perpetual unconditional support and justification of every American action plus her complicity in some of those acts----even kidnapping Pakistani nationals without observing minimal legal and ethical formalities in the name of combating terrorism----would also have reminded them of the days when in 1977, just before the imposition of martial law, her father openly denounced the US for its hegemonistic policies calling it "the White Elephant." This becomes all the more ironic for the fact that it was the US government that had a hand in her father's hanging.
I personally more than recalled: I re-experienced something. I re-experienced the pain that my calves suffered for a few days because being short----because being in early teens----I had to stand on my toes about threes hours to listen and see Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when he delivered his most memorable speech in Lahore. That was in 1977, perhaps February. Bhutto had called general elections to be held in March 1977. The major electoral attack that his opponents mounted on him was that he was a drinker. The main leaders of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), almost all of them feudal lords, were very apologetic on that allegation and could never satisfactorily tackle it while campaigning for people's votes. But that day in Lahore somewhere in the middle of the speech Bhutto referred to that always-leveled allegation,
"They say I drink."
There was a half- or one-second pause. Then he said,
"Yes I drink!"
Again there was a pause of the same duration. I would like to guess that the hearts of the PPP feudal leaders must have crashed into their guts after Bhutto's yes-I-drink locution during that second pause. But then all of a sudden there was such a tumultuous applause from the people that for minutes nothing but clapping, thumps of dancing and slogans were audible. Bhutto tried repeatedly to silence the people, but they kept on rocking, dancing and chanting "Long Live Bhutto!" "Bhutto is Our Lion, the Rest Never Mind!" When the applause subsided, Bhutto referred to his opponents,
"I do drink alcohol, but I do not drink people's blood."
Again the deafening encore echoed for minutes.
After Bhutto's public admission of his drinking his opponents, "the guardians of Islam" by their own definition, stopped accentuating his alcoholic sin.
A few days later Bhutto was in Lahore again. When his slow-moving motorcade passed by the Bhati Gate area I happened to be standing on a footpath like so many people. I saw him in front of me sitting in the back seat, his left arm out of the car window, his two fingers making a V sign to the people. From a sudden impulse, I just ran towards his car with my hand stretched out. He smiled at me and directed his hand towards me. I shook his hand, and returned. It happened in a moment, but for a long time I retained the feel of his hand. It was very soft. The feel was like the feel of a mother that offers every comfort and assurance to a child. I felt extremely bold, protected and strong. I also felt very surprised for days: I wondered that how could such a soft, frail man beat a formidable pack of generals, feudal lords, and mullahs. "He must be a great man", I thought. I was not very mature at that time, but slowly I was able to reason out, though rather vaguely, the source of his strength: the people ("masses" in Bhutto's most favorite word) were with him. In his absence or presence whenever the name "Bhutto" was mentioned or chanted, "Long Live" would sound somewhere nearby. But why would the people be with him so thoroughly and sincerely?
With slogans like "Bread, Clothing, and Housing for Everyone," "The Masses are the Source of Power," and "Democracy is Our Way, Socialism Our Destiny," the PPP took off in November 1967 with the promise to redeem the poor and the downtrodden. With the socialist ideologues like Dr Mubashar Hassan, Khurshid Hasan Meer and J.A. Rahim in the forefront, the original manifesto of the PPP had very explicit socialist claims and ambitions, and had no room for Islam as an ideology or a possible polity for the people of Pakistan: Islam was laconically mentioned as a "faith" and a "way of life". Justifying the establishment of the PPP Bhutto elaborated the PPP "ultimate object" in terms of "the attainment of a classless society that is possible only through socialism," meaning "true equality of the citizens, fraternity under the rule of democracy based on economic and social justice." Bhutto said that his only strength were the "Masses",
"….You cannot fool the people….I believe in socialism; that is why I have left my class and joined the laborers, peasants and poor students. I love them. And what can I get from them except affection and respect? No power on earth can stop socialism----the symbol of justice, equality and the supremacy of man----from being introduced in Pakistan. It is the demand of time and history. And you can see me raising this revolutionary banner among the masses. I am a socialist, and an honest socialist, who will continue to fight for the poor till the last moment of his life. Some ridicule me for being a socialist. I don't care."
The leadership of the PPP consisted mainly of middle class people who had seen enough of martial law in their country. With "The Masses Will Rule" Bhutto unleashed his campaign against President Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The people of East and West Pakistan----the present Pakistan was West Pakistan then (it must be clarified here that the PPP represented West Pakistan only; East Pakistan was represented by the nationalist Bengali Awami League which created Bangladesh)---- had been living under martial law for a long time. In Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto they (i.e., overwhelming majority of West Pakistan) found the person who they believed would rid them of the military-feudal tyranny. Bhutto promised them the same in lieu of putting their faith in him. Bhutto's opponents in West Pakistan kept on saying that Socialism was atheistic, and hence he was an atheist. During Friday sermons the mullahs regularly claimed, inter alia, that Bhutto's socialism would mean total destruction of Islam, that women would become uncontrollable and stalk the streets in bikinis making "haraam" propositions. They also claimed that socialism meant a ban on the Koran. But the people kept on chanting, "Let Socialism Come and Win." Himself a feudal lord, Bhutto promised to efface feudalism and poverty from Pakistan. What else the people wanted? They took him for what he said, and turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the feudal-religious and feudal and religious parties. The result: his party won the 1970 elections in West Pakistan with more than one-third majority. The powerful feudal lords and their Islamist lackeys were flattened through the ballot in a way not even the most optimistic of the PPP leaders had dreamt of.
In the 1970 General Elections the PPP won big majority in West Pakistan and the Awami League won almost all the seats in East Pakistan, which meant that the two wings of Pakistan were by all intents and means two different socio-political entities and their paths were separate. The Awami League should have been invited to form the government on account of its majority in the parliament but the martial law government was exclusively made up of the West Pakistanis. The Army and West Pakistani feudal politicians were not willing to accept the rule of the nationalist, secular Bengalis whom they considered beneath them. Bhutto, whose party had clinched most seats after the Awami League, was the rightful representative of West Pakistan. He threatened to boycott the convening of national assembly where Awami League was supposed to form government. The ruling generals had no way to stop the Awami League from forming government, but they started playing delaying tactics for months. In this non-democratic anti-Bengali game the overwhelming majority of the people and the elite of West Pakistan subscribed to the course taken by Bhutto, the Army and the feudal lords, which inevitably led to a civil war and then a war with India. The martial law government of Pakistan and the religious parties branded the East Pakistanis traitors and Indian agents. However within a few days the Pakistan Army was completely defeated and in East Pakistan they had to formally surrender to their foes. As a result of Pakistan's defeat by India in 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh, and West Pakistan became Pakistan.
Pakistan's defeat in 1971 demoralized the nation to an extent never known before. The myth of the Army's invincibility was smashed in a most bizarre and humiliating way. Even then the generals were not willing to give up power, but they had no way to retain it. So they had to surrender it to Bhutto, the only man who commanded a comprehensive majority in Pakistan at that time.
Early morning on 21 December 1971, people found a new power let loose when they were woken up not by the morning azzan, but by "Long Live Bhutto, Long Live Socialism." Bhutto was now the leader of "New Pakistan" and he said he would rebuild Pakistan,
"I have been summoned by the nation as the authentic voice of the people of Pakistan…. I want the flowering of our society…. I want suffocation to end…. This is not the way civilized countries are run. Civilization means Civil Rule…. We have to build democratic institutions. We have to rebuild hope in the future. We have to rebuild a situation in which the common man, the poor man in the street, can tell me to go to hell. We have to make our government accountable."
The new dawn infused a new life into the nation. The people knew that the much-desired time of political freedom and social equality was not far away, the time they had waited for since Pakistan's creation, the time about which a poet had written years ago:
Only a few days, dear one, a few days more.
Here in oppression's shadows condemned to breathe,
Still for a while we must suffer, and weep, and endure
What our forefathers, not our own faults, bequeath----
Fettered limbs, our feelings held on a chain,
Minds in bondage, and words each watched and set down;
Courage stills nerves us, or how should we still love on,
Now when existence is only a beggar's gown
Tattered and patched every hour with new rags of pain?
Yes, but to tyranny not many hours are left now;
Patience, few hours of complaint are left to bear.
With the Army down and out of the political arena, the feudal lords and the religious fanatics put down through the ballot, Bhutto was all-powerful and had every opportunity to actualize the dreams he had seen for the people. He pledged that the socialist promises he had made would be fulfilled shortly. "Everyone will be given Bread, Clothing, and Housing," his Finance Minister, Dr Mubashar Hassan, declared adding to the popular euphoria. Bhutto began by nationalizing industry, educational institutions, banks and whatever he could lay his hand on. Education was made free for everyone. Socialist student movements like the National Students' Federation (NSF) got momentum. Cafes and street corners became favorite haunts of the leftist intellectuals where dialectical materialism would be freely employed to analyze Pakistani society and politics. Moscow-published Marxist books were freely and inexpensively available, and cultural exchanges with socialist countries became a daily occurrence. Chou en-Lai, Kim Ill Sung and Nicolae Ceausescu, Bhutto's socialist comrades and "personal" friends, became household names. Not long after assuming power he visited China, "the Socialist friend". After returning from China he started wearing a cap that Mao Tse-tung had given him. Like Mao, Bhutto was "Chairman" now. His Bhutto Says: A Pocket-Book of Thoughtful Quotations from Selected Speeches and Writings of Chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was published and widely distributed in the tradition of Chairman Mao's Red Book.
The high water mark of Bhutto's governance came in 1973 when he gave a new constitution to the country. It was the first democratic constitution of the country to which every member of the Parliament had put his signature. He added two more feathers to his crown by announcing land reforms, according to which the landless peasants would own the land that they had been tilling, and arranging the famous conference of the Islamic countries in Lahore. He was the Chairman of the Islamic Conference. He was the first Pakistani leader who proudly declared that Pakistan was the castle of Islam. He had very close personal ties with people like King Faisal, Colonel Qazzafi, Yassir Arafat and President Hafiz ul Asad. He took full advantage of his friendship with the Middle Eastern rulers, which opened door to hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers. Till now the majority of expatriate workers in the rich Gulf kingdoms and Saudi Arabia are Pakistanis. The rich Sheiks gave millions of dollars to Pakistan as aid and loan. All because of Bhutto's dealings with them.
Bhutto's rule spanned about six years (December 1971-July 1977). Within that period everything was on his side, and he could have taken advantage of that fact. But he did not. He kept on chanting power-to-people slogans in every public speech that he made; but no more than that. His six-year rule is noteworthy for self-projection, high-sounding claims and humiliation of his opponents. Ironically within a couple of years he infused life in the vanishing ghost of feudalism by inducting big feudal lords in the PPP on key party posts though Bhutto kept on insisting that "You must not forget that the Party belongs to the working classes, students and the down-trodden." In Pakistan's history the religious fanatics had never enjoyed public respect and confidence. Even before the creation of Pakistan they had never won even a handful of seats in any election. The religious politics had been no more than agitational politics and the mullahs were never more than a pressure group. But Bhutto made them a part of national politics by, needlessly, sucking up to them and acquiesced to their ridiculous and inhuman demands. The leftist students had been instrumental in his ascendancy. But they became one of his first casualties. Bhutto actively promoted the ultra-right wing students to counter the progressive student organizations, like the NSF, and then used government machinery to crush them. Many were physically eliminated. Having done that he gleefully announced that he had constructed a permanent dyke against communism.
Bhutto's another unique step was that he restored the image of the Army amongst the people. After what the army had done to the Bengalis till the 1971 war, the people of West Pakistan had only hatred and derision for "the men in khaki." They Army officers were so much hated that they stopped wearing uniforms when visiting outside cantonment areas because people would shout satirical remarks at them. But Bhutto started a wholesale media camping on their behalf and repeatedly claimed that they were the best soldiers of the world who would smash all the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. "We are determined to have a new vigorous institution of the Armed Forces. We are absolutely determined to have invincible Armed Forces…. This is a sacred task," he said. Their salaries were increased in disproportion to other service groups of Pakistan. The generals were the real beneficiaries of one privilege after another on the generals. After retiring they were given highest diplomatic assignments abroad, or they were given highly paid headships of big corporations. The junior officers were given "plots" of land almost free so that they could build houses for themselves for "their continued services to the country". During Ayub Khan's martial law regime (1958) a number of civil and army officers were given vast tracts of land on throwaway prices. When Bhutto assumed power he confiscated all those tracts from the civil officers in the name of social justice but happily allowed the army officers to hold onto their possessions. When India in 1974 exploded an atomic device, Bhutto announced that Pakistan would do the same. For that purpose he had to increase the defense budget enormously, which only increased perks enjoyed by the armed forces, and not their capability. The increase in the defense budget undermined the economy of Pakistan. The trend set by Bhutto is still going on and has crippled the country's economy.
After believing that he had that he had got the Army, the feudal class and the fundamentalists on his side, Bhutto started booting out his time-tested comrades, and if someone dared protest, they, along with their innocent relatives, were kidnapped, jailed, and subjected to humiliation. For that purpose he created a personal army----called Federal Security Force (FSF)----whose very function was to harass those perceived to be turncoats. The way Bhutto had J.A. Rahim brutally beaten up by the FSF cops is one of many examples. Moreover he turned a blind eye to the fascist deeds of his ministers, governors and Party officials, who had their dissidents jailed, kidnapped and beaten up. Most of the dissidents were the same people who had been the backbone of the PPP when in its infancy it was confronted by a formidable martial law regime.
In politics both fair and foul operate. But there is limit to everything. Bhutto, however, went beyond every limit on at least two counts: (i) the 1973 constitution; and (ii) his surrender to the mullahs on the Ahmedi question. The 1973 constitution of Pakistan that he created was a great disservice to the secular/socialist cause for which he had been elected: the very first sentence of the 1973 constitution read that Pakistan was an Islamic state. From day one Pakistan has been a multi-ethnic, and multi-sectarian country. Sunnis, Wahabis, Shias, Ahmedis, Zikris, Christians, Hindus, inter alia, make up the religious landscape of Pakistan. The creator of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah, was aware of that and he warned immediately after its creation that Pakistan would never be a religious-ideological state. Jinnah was a Shia and a number of Sunni and Wahabi religious leaders had declared him a kafir (an infidel) on that account. Hence he was aware that "Pakistan is an Islamic state" would beg the question: Who is a Muslim? Because every Islamic sect regards the other as non-Muslim. Even within the Sunni sect there are many sub-sects which call one another heretical. But Bhutto, the self-claimed student and lover of history, failed to understand such a simple thing. Rather, he was proud that his constitution started with "Pakistan is an Islamic State."
Secondly, in order to become the leader of the Islamic bigots he practiced Machiavellianism at his foulest by doing what they had not been able to do for decades: he declared Ahmedis non-Muslims. Like Jinnah, Bhutto was a Shia. Some time before assuming Pakistan's leadership he had accused the mullahs of planning to have the Ahmedis declared non-Muslims and segregating Shias, and consequently, "bring chaos to Pakistan". But despite that he failed to understand that by declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims he would be opening Pandora's box of sectarian persecution. He could not understand that history is full of instances that nothing but the total destruction of their foes satisfies the religious bigots. His progressive comrades tried their best to dissuade him from declaring the Ahmedis non-Muslims, but he was coveting the religious leadership of the country. In his blindness he did not realize that his own minority Shia sect would be in the line of fire after the Ahmedis. (That is happening in Pakistan now.)
The 1974 Lahore Islamic Conference was also his great political stunt and an ideological transition: from "Chairman Bhutto" he became leader of "Muslim World" guarding "the castle of Islam." In order to give credence to his leadership of the Islamic world, he declared Pakistan would provide an Islamic bomb to the Muslim world. His land reforms also proved to be no more than paper work. No tiller was given ownership of an inch of land. The PPP governments in the provinces passed new laws so that the feudal lords could continue to hold on to their lands
When Bhutto declared 1977 an election year, the PPP was a completely transformed party. Most of the PPP runners for national and provincial assemblies were the very feudal lords, or their scions, who were routed in 1970. Obviously he thought that with the Army and the feudal lords on his side, and the mullahs gratified, he would win the elections. But he forgot that the very trinity of ghosts that he had revived wanted their power back. It was not Bhutto but they who were using him to bounce back to power. Now they wanted power and believed that Bhutto was the hurdle. An anti-Bhutto, and not anti-PPP, alliance, Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), was formed whose only objective was to get rid of him using Islam as a slogan against his "un-Islamic" government and calling Bhutto an "infidel." During the election campaign the mullahs openly issued fatwas in favor of the PNA, one of them being that voting for the PNA was worth praying to Allah for one hundred thousand years. The PPP won the elections against the religious coalition of the PNA. But the latter refused to accept the results, started an agitation and openly urged the Army to overthrow him. Bhutto tried to outsmart them by imposing "Islam": prohibition on alcohol, gambling and declaring Friday a holiday in place of Sunday. But his "Islam" fell through, as his opponents wanted power, and not Islam. On 5 July 1977 he was overthrown and an "Islamic" martial law was imposed.
Two years after his dismissal Bhutto was hanged through a kangaroo court on the charge of masterminding a murder. After he had been sentenced to death, a number of people started burning themselves to protest his innocence. The martial government started losing courage, but Bhutto's feudal comrades came to their rescue by misleading Bhutto's devotees. They told people that Bhutto would never be hanged, that a secret deal had been reached between General Zia and their leader. Even after his hanging they did not allow people to carry out an anti-martial law agitation: this time they assured the PPP workers that Bhutto had not been hanged; he had been allowed to escape to Libya and would address the people in due course of time. This misleading was greatly enforced and propagated by the martial law-controlled media. Within months of his hanging the PPP leaders were enjoying perks of their friendship with the generals, whereas the ordinary workers were rotting in jails.
After Bhutto's hanging, Benazir was given the PPP leadership. It would not have been possible for her to withstand the might of General Zia, but for the sacrifices of the masses during the 1983 and the 1986 anti-martial law movements. During these movements scores of people were killed by the army, but not a single feudal lord or ex-army officer belonging to the PPP lost his life. Most of them were living outside Pakistan "in exile."
After Zia's air-crash death in 1988 democracy was restored in Pakistan and Benazir swept to power in elections. People voted her in because of her father, the man she had invoked again and again during her campaign. After she became Prime Minister it was expected that she would learn a lesson from the past. But every day of her government was a botched execution. She did not honor the people who had struggled for democracy. She was surrounded by a bunch of sycophants and the tales of her and her husband's corruption started surfacing not long after she had assumed power. She did not show any maturity as a politician. Most of her was spent appeasing the generals. One of the greatest ironies of the modern history is that she gave a Medal of Democracy to the Pakistan army for its services to democracy; the army that has imposed martial law on the country whenever it found an opportunity, the army that hanged her own farther, an elected prime minister. Like her father, Benazir's immature efforts to please the religious bigots became a matter of jokes and ridicule: as prime mister she would repeatedly be shown on the TV silently reciting prayers while working on rosary held high in one hand! As prime minister she also got the reputation that if an educated Pakistani wanted to meet her, it was an impossibility, but she was too quick to respond if her visitor was even an American janitor, or a petty soldier of Pakistan army. She has never criticized the US despite the proven fact that the US government was involved in the overthrow and hanging of her father. It is taken as a truism in Pakistan that whereas Pakistani Muslims go to Mukkah to perform haj, Benazir goes to Washington. She is not known to be tolerant as a leader, and she has kicked out everyone who has tried to reason with her on the issues on which she had made her decisions. The casualties of her dictatorial mindset include her own mother; as co-Chairperson of the PPP, Benazir had her mother sacked as Chairperson of the party. During her first term as prime minister her husband was known to "Mr. 10 percent," and during her second term he was known to be "Mr. 50 percent," meaning thereby his share in any deals done by anyone with the Government of Pakistan. Her both terms as prime mister ended in her sacking by the President on the basis of her corruption. Benazir always denied that she or her husband was corrupt. She challenged the authorities to prove her wrongdoing, but every Pakistani knows that in Pakistan no one can prove anything given the extent of corruption in every walk of life in the country. Her and her husband's corruption in Pakistan will remain a nonstarter even if all the proofs are available. Because those who are supposed to charge her are having as many, if not more, skeletons in their cupboards as Benazir and her husband. The verdict of a Swiss court that she and her husband be tried because there was ample evidence that she and her husband have been involved in money laundering is supposed to be only the tip of the iceberg. But that will not change Benazir's stance. Whenever a story of her corruption comes to the fore, she goes on counteroffensive and diverts popular attention to non-issues, or very sensitive national issues.
Whereas no one credits Benazir for anything substantial, a great number of people believe that Bhutto was the greatest leader in the history of Pakistan. That is way he has become a kind of saint for millions in Pakistan. His grave has become a revered shrine. He is loved for many reason, two of them of prime importance: he was the one who started Pakistan's nuclear program, recruited nuclear scientist wherever he could get and oversaw transfer/smuggling of nuclear materials into Pakistan. Even his foes concede that Pakistan's present nuclear position is entirely for his efforts. Secondly, he is revered for giving political consciousness to the masses. Before him Pakistan was a martial law-ridden country and the people in general could not even think of participation in the national decision-making process. Bhutto was the one who told people that all political power belonged to them, that laborers and landless farmers were to be respected as any other human beings. Had it not been for his leadership, the masses would not be able to walk on the street with their heads erect, and Pakistan would forever be a martial law state.
In Pakistan's history no political party has been as much singular, crucial, adored and maligned as Pakistan People's Party, better known in Pakistan as the PPP. It goes to its exclusive credit for starting a movement in the late 1960s that lead to the establishment of democracy in Pakistan. Also, it is the PPP that has undermined democracy in Pakistan more than any other party. No other political party or movement in Pakistan's history can claim to be spearheaded by the leaders of as great national and international standing as the PPP. Not surprisingly, the memory and postmemory of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto rests on two strands: he is either revered as a demigod or derided as a devil. The standing of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's successor and the current party leader, Benazir Bhutto, is not very different from her father, though on a far smaller scale. Bhutto's status remains----and surely will remain----as an archetypal folk hero amongst the masses. Hence writing about the past and the present of the PPP is not exactly documenting the ups and downs of a political outfit but about blindness and insight of its supreme leader(s ). Carlyle's dictum that history is the biography of the hero finds its validation in the history of the PPP.
This brings us to an inevitable question: What future does the PPP have? The answer is that it will survive as a political party despite being ridden by problems at present. Even if it does not clinch majority in future elections, it will remain a political power because the dream given by Bhutto to the masses is hard to die. Benazir might disappoint them again and again, but the dream will live on as it exclusively belongs to millions of people. So the votes.
[Note: Some of the quotations in this article have been taken from Stanley Walpert's Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan. For the involvement of the US government in the overthrow and the hanging of Bhutto, Syed I.A. Tirmizi's Profiles of Intelligence, Lahore, is worth reading.]
(Abbas Zaidi <firstname.lastname@example.org> was editor of The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore.)
Letter from Halifax
By Richard Cumyn
I remember hearing, long before I had even visited Nova Scotia, this fabled province of schooners and pirates, smuggled rum and buried treasure, that Peggy’s Cove, a half-hour’s drive south of Halifax, had been chosen the most picturesque place in Canada. More breath-taking geography can be found elsewhere in this country, in the high Arctic, the Rocky Mountains, Cape Breton, the Gaspé Peninsula, or Newfoundland. To try to describe it--a few brightly painted houses, some fishing boats beside a seaweed-covered dock, a tall white lighthouse anchored to a mooring of granite jutting into the entrance to St. Margaret’s Bay --beggars the beauty of the place. Nor do color photographs do it justice, although a plethora of these bucolic stills, with their Crayola reds and blues and salt-bleached whites, adorn calendars and coffee table books a mare usque ad mare. No, you have to walk up the hill into the village, past the carved granite memorial to those lost at sea, and then down beyond the lighthouse and onto the smooth rock--not too close, for every year someone is swept into the icy swell by a rogue wave--to be fully romanced by Peggy’s Cove.
The sign says that only sixty people live in the village now. Not many earn their livelihood fishing anymore. The restaurant, which boasts the best clam chowder in the region, serves a steady influx of tour bus travellers year round and, along with a craft shop or two, is the main employer. The residents grumble quietly about shutter-bugs tramping through their flower beds in search of the ideal camera angle, but they don’t complain about the intrusion as much as they used to, back when the spot first became a destination. The place has become somewhat of an artificial construct in the last twenty years, not quite a theme park, but not quite a real fishing village either. Without paying visitors it would surely cease to be populated.
For the first three weeks of September 1998 Peggy’s Cove became something it hasn’t been in a long time. The waters in the area are notoriously dangerous to ships, and there are wrecks spanning centuries strewn across the floor of the continental shelf. Over the years many people have made unintended landfall there, to be ministered to by doctors, priests or undertakers as the case demanded. The sea in its bounty and its rage has left its indelible mark, on the rock and in the faces of those whose people are buried in the thin soil. These are no strangers to calamity. A stretch of good weather, like a run of good luck, is usually tempered by the remark, "Ah, yes, but we’ll pay for it soon enough." They know well the late-night vigil for a missing boat or a ship in distress.
For all this, their knowledge of pain, their long history of loss, nothing could have prepared the residents of St. Margaret’s Bay for their recent role as salvage workers. And nothing suited Peggy’s Cove less than did its transformation into an impromptu command center for the various armies converging there: police, armed forces personnel from Canada and the United States, journalists, politicians, doctors, forensic pathologists. When Swiss Air flight 111, en route from New York to Geneva, went down in waters 10 kilometers off the Cove in the late hours of September 2nd, all 229 passengers and crew perished. In the first hours after the crash, so loud it shook houses and woke residents up and down the coastline, local news coverage used the term "rescue effort." But as the light came up the next day, giving the motley fleet of small vessels a clear look at the debris field, and as the magnitude of the crash became clear, they stopped talking about finding anyone alive. The plane hit so hard that only the landing gear remained recognizable. The RCMP kept anyone not involved in the search away from the coastline as the gruesome task of retrieving evidence and determining the cause of the crash continued. Peacekeepers returned from Bosnia, seasoned police veterans of highway accidents, and doctors whose job it is to reassemble mangled bodies were shocked speechless by what came ashore bit by bit.
Much of the plane has not yet been retrieved even as I write. The heartrending task of identifying body parts, mainly through DNA matching, continues. Both of the so-called black boxes, the flight data and voice recorders, may have stopped working before the plane’s crew knew anything was wrong with the electrical system, before the cockpit began to fill with smoke and then caught on fire. The theory that faulty wiring insulation caused a complete electrical failure has yet to be proven conclusively. An eye witness said he saw the plane’s cockpit on fire as it passed overhead. Retrieved pieces of melted metal from the cockpit suggest that intense heat and smoke concentrated there were such that the flight team could not have been sitting at the controls for the last few minutes of the flight, that they either succumbed at their places or fled aft. After jettisoning fuel before turning towards Halifax International Airport to attempt an emergency landing, the plane suddenly dropped, hitting the water nose-first and disintegrating on impact.
Swiss Air paid to fly the victims’ relatives to Halifax so that they could see the place where the airplane went down. They were put up at hotels in the city and driven out to Peggy’s Cove. All along the route were makeshift signs expressing condolence. One was a simple Swiss cross, white on red, and the number 111 written below it. Even as the salvage operation continued, news coverage showed small groups of people, dressed in dark suits, standing, holding onto each other for assurance and stability on the bare outcrop, and gazing far out over the waters. We knew them the instant we saw them coming out of the Lord Nelson Hotel not far from where we live. Such a loss marks a person, sets her apart in a protective bubble of grief and detachment. They had a gravity, an air of nobility about them. One of the mourners said on television that she was happy--happy!--that the last thing her father saw before he died was this magnificent meeting place of land and sea. The water was surprisingly blue and calm that day, the sky clear. Later, bad weather would hamper the efforts of the divers to raise parts of the fuselage. But to look out as they did that day, shading their eyes from the warm sun, upon a grave site so glittering and smooth and unmarked by what it contained, must have been for them a baffling experience. Better to have had driving rain and howling wind. Better for their comprehension, for their eventual acceptance of the incomprehensible, to have faced down inhospitable Nature, to have spit all their anger into the teeth of a gale.
The families attended church services in Peggy’s Cove and Halifax. The names of all 229 were read aloud. Some family members rose to speak about those who were now so suddenly and inexplicably absent from their lives. As one woman waited at the front of a church for her turn to speak, she tried to hold back her tears, and began to search in her purse for a handkerchief. Those who had congregated, as much to address their own grief as to show support for the grieving, waited, held their collective breath, watched her dissolving by increments in front of them, were impotent in their silent concern, until a little girl came forward with a tissue, and she handed it to the woman, and all walls came down.
In 1912, many of the unclaimed bodies from the Titanic were brought to Halifax for burial. After the release of the James Cameron film last year, someone discovered that a Titanic seaman, one J. Dawson was buried here, inspiring pilgrimages to the grave site from around the world. The fact that Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in the film, Jack Dawson, was a fictional steerage passenger, made no difference to the pilgrims, many of whom were teenage girls. The unexpected influx of tourist dollars so inspired the mayor and city council that they began talking about ways to fully exploit the Titanic craze. Restaurants began featuring the menu from the Titanic’s last night. An entire store on Barrington Street is devoted to the wreck. The Marine Museum expanded its already considerable Titanic display. Signs appeared directing tour buses to the Titanic grave yard. Only our thirst for recently discovered Sable Island natural gas seems to match the desire to cash in on this connection to history and Hollywood.
In 1917, when a ship loaded with munitions collided with another in the harbor, Halifax was devastated by the largest man-made explosion ever experienced, one which would not be surpassed in magnitude until the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima in 1945. One of those giving a eulogy to the Swiss Air dead reminded his listeners of this point to say that Nova Scotians can offer, if not the comfort of a miracle, then at least empathy. We--or rather people two and three generations removed from us--have endured many such tragedies on these shores. We know about loss. We will never be hardened or insensitive to grief. Nor is ours a morbid fatalism. Just as Peggy’s Cove will never again be just a picturesque fishing village, Swiss Air Flight 111 will never become just another plane crash. Any pilgrimages to this watery grave will be quiet, anguished, unprofitable ones. Who would willingly profit from such sadness as this?
TO A MINOR FICTION
By Raymond Ramcharitar
To start, you need a place, a man, a woman.
You may acknowledge a debt to older fictions;
for, remembering the first story, we would
tell a timeless story to those who are blind
to eternity; restore the mystery
of the real for those who have lost mystery
to faith, and wonder to belief. (Does this
answer your unasked question? 'The God. Where's
the God?' .
You need to select a voice.
will never speak. The voice will remain silent
directing each thing but showing itself
to nothing. The voice will resound everywhere,
as my voice resounds here, but never speak.
This is important. In silence is totality
In speech nothing is total, not even this fiction.
(There is much here, in what I have told you,
but fictions, like our lives in the sensual world,
are like great engines moving to sanctuary
Up an ever-steepening slope. Until
we arrive, the only wisdom is action.)
The man is always first. He wakes alone
in a strange place. He remembers nothing
because before him was nothing. After
the first flutter of fingers and eyes; the testing
of the memoryless texture of new earth;
will come a moment.
In everything you make,
this moment will be the most precious: here, in
this instant, he will understand your aloneness.
Your resolve must then be strongest: this instant
is like your own existence: an infinite
point; itself an infinity, itself complete;
but fictions are never complete nor end perfectly,
This you taught me, this you will learn in time,
Let the moment pass.
He will call out: you
will teach him how to dream in answer. When
he dreams a world, you will make the world he dreams
and thus created your meeting becomes your place.
(There are other ways to make a place. You may
bring it about by words alone (borrow
a place from an older fiction), or you
may conceive every part and make it. It does
not matter which you choose, the end will
be the same no matter what you do.)
Once the silence and dreams have passed he will
become aware of his body; the hard ground
it rests upon, the newness of each sense and then
of each thing before his senses.
will open, the perfect head will turn (your breath
will slow at the sight, the wondrous sight of your life
racing through something so perfect: your image;
but reconsidered, refined; shaped to what
it was made to be) then the soul's machine
will start, and shadows will fall upon the world,
and with the shadows, distance, separation.
Solitude will turn to him like a body
in his own likeness, and slowly, uncertainly
his hands will reach for a waiting opposite
Fully formed; and knowing the way with a knowledgeIII
that will astound you and the man forever;
The woman enters amidst swirls of scents
and colours that will, for as long as the world lives,
be remembered with wonder.
The dark earth
each year will recreate her colours; which
without thought and from mute blackness she uttered;
(without thought! what glorious magic!
you will think, that she, created of imagined
need and will alone rules so completely
realms that you, the maker, could never approach).
The woman will enter and shadows will lift.
The light, suddenly aware of another
luminousness, will gather itself into a ball;
and each thing in every place will become
aware of its strangeness in the new light.
And thus your fiction will begin to grow
into something unthought of: coming into
its own existence without you.
will become a mystery greater than your
own mysterious existence, and will spend
the whole of her life enfolded in its white,
For she will never
understand her own emergence; apart
from the sudden wonder and joy of newness
of the first instant which will remain with her
always. And in time, she will turn to you.
And you will not answer.
Thus your silence;
a silence of awe and helplessness;
will be mistaken for majesty
and this will be
her moment of separation
will make your fiction complete.)
emptiness will draw them away from you
And thus, your fiction will have its reason.
Through time, the pain will pass; its layers will
cover the pain, causing its points, covered
first with flesh, then later with memory,
to come to mean hope.
And towers will sprout
and men will look outward, to your domain,
forgetting the great silence that awaits them.
Many times, seeing their pain, you will think
to destroy the earth you have brought, but
silence must be your shield,
for the only law
which binds us is that perfection may
only come from the fiction we first create.
(Raymond Ramcharitar <email@example.com> earns his living as a journalist in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. His work has been published throughout the Caribbean and the United States. He has written a novel and a collection of poems which includes "Preliminary Notes to a Minor Fiction.")
A Death in the Family
By Arlene Ang
When I think about it now, everything started when Eldest
Brother died. He was thirty-four years old and drunk that
night he smashed his car into a wall. Dead drunk, as they
would say. During the funeral we threw roses onto his coffin
before they sealed him away forever behind a slab of marble.
I had picked the lot because it faced the east. Mother had
coached me endlessly about how important it is that the
morning sun shines on his grave and that I must specify that
we wanted a Chinese burial--that Eldest Brother must not be
buried beneath ground.
It was raining that day. Looking up from my muddy shoes, I
glanced at the family and friends who had gathered in
sympathy. At least my parents had not had to hire
But my parents themselves were noticeably absent. Father had
locked himself in his room in silent outrage. Mother
reluctantly decided to stay with him--for propriety's sake.
It was considered a slapping insult if a child should die
before his parents. And so they could not attend the
funeral. I never questioned these customs. I had heard my
parents claim that our traditions made us the most cultured
race in the world. Though I secretly believed that most of
these traditions were mere superstitions and old wives'
tales, I didn't dare challenge my parents' beliefs. I
endured them without question.
Such as the pains they took to follow every geomancer's whim
in the construction of our house--which eventually meant
reconstructing everything from scratch because one of the
geomancers decided that every overhanging beam would bring
about a death in the family, and there were forty beams in
all. I didn't dare to mention the fact that there were only
ten of us, including my sister, her husband and their
I don't even mind celebrating Chinese New Year, the ban on
wearing black shirts, working eight hours a day seven days a
week, and only going out with Chinese girls (as far as my
But their not attending Eldest Brother's funeral grated. He
may have had his weaknesses, but he was still their son. And
I knew he loved them and did his duty as Eldest Son more than
I myself can ever imagine doing. The old excuse of saving
face angered me tremendously. The day of the funeral,
looking at the guests tiptoeing through the mud, I wondered:
Can this be all there is to life? Going through the motions
because custom demands it of us. Wouldn't it be better to
live life in a box?
I've watched friends and relatives, always Chinese, even
though we are by now the second generation born in the
Philippines, stick strictly to the dictates of a Sino-centric
life: attending Chinese schools, speaking Chinese, eating
Chinese food, working for the family business or for Chinese
corporations, marrying fellow Chinese and in the end even
being buried in the Chinese way.
In my anger, born partly out of panic and partly despair, I
thought about going back to my old job as a journalist. It
seemed a waste to throw away my degree in Journalism. I had
a good position at one of the national newspapers. But the
family business now needed me and, young and dutiful as I
was, I thought I had all the time in the world to go back to
my career. I thought bitterly, Eldest Brother finished a
degree in archaeology at the university but, being the eldest
son, the responsibility for the family business was turned
over to him and he never got to pursue the real passion in
I phoned my old editor, who luckily still remembered me. I
asked if he had any vacancies. He immediately offered me my
old job back, and I gratefully took it.
That night I told my parents I was going back to work as a
journalist. Father exploded. "You are not thinking of your
family! With your worthless brother dead, you must now take
care of the business."
I tried to explain about wanting to do something on my own,
that I never liked running the family business, that taking
care of his broken-down supermarket depressed me.
"It's not about liking it. This is business--you're not
supposed to enjoy yourself! And what kind of job is it being
a journalist? You won't earn your bread that way. You have
no future there. How can you get married with a job like
that? No woman would accept you! Think how I sweated to
keep that supermarket alive, you ingrate! You can't throw
away everything that I've worked so hard for. "
As a last note, he threatened darkly, "If you go back to your
job, I'll disown you. You won't get a cent out of me. You
will be nothing."
"So be it," I replied.
I went to my room and started packing. Mother stood by the
door watching me. "You're so young, Youngest Son," she
whispered, tears in her eyes. "You don't know yet what you
want. Apologise to Father, he will forget and take you
"No, Mother," I said, "I don't want to do Eldest Brother's
work and end up dissatisfied like him. I'll be all right."
I kissed her awkwardly on the cheek, "Go to bed. It is late.
I'll be fine."
Early the next morning I left the house before anyone else
was awake. I closed the door behind me and never looked
(Arlene Ang <firstname.lastname@example.org> was born in Manila of Chinese parents. She writes poetry, short stories, articles and translations. Her work has been published in LiNQ (AUS), RE:AL, Black Bear Review and is forthcoming in Oyster Boy Review, American Tanka and Dandelion (CAN).)
Grim Reaper Working OvertimeBy Anthony Milne
FIFTEEN years ago I began to see that my own friends were getting married and my parents' friends were getting divorced. Today, the stakes are up. My friends are getting divorced and my parents' friends are dying.
Suddenly, within the last month or two, the deaths have been getting completely out of hand. My parents have been to a dozen funerals or more, two on one day last week. They, at 69 and 76, are the fittest people their age I know, and I expect them, without complacency, to be around for another 20 years or so. (So much for inheritance).
Yet they speak now of being, like their friends, in the "departure lounge". But death holds no fear for them because of the unwavering intensity of their faith in God, the afterlife, and devotion to the teachings of Roman Catholic Church.
"Once to dead," my father says fearlessly, "and after that the judgement." He is without doubt now and I see no reason he will not be the same when the moment comes at last.
MR BARKER of Point Cumana, best friend of Mr and Mrs Mayyou, my former landlords for many years, who is Mrs Mayyou's cousin, enjoys funerals immensely. Perhaps it is the religious ritual, or a means a preparing for his own moment. There must also be genuine sympathy for the bereaved and the opportunity to meet fellow-mourners he hasn't seen for some time.
Mr and Mrs Mayyou, to whom I too am related, are also funeral-goers. Social decency demands it, as does genuine concern for the fate of the soul of the departed and the emotions of close relatives of the deceased. Some people suffer really demolishing sadness with the death of a spouse or close relative. They need all the empathy they can be given.
The first thing Mrs Mayyou does each morning is look at the obituaries in the newspaper. If someone she knows has gone away, she announces it immediately, with concern, and sometimes surprise or relief. Careful note is taken of the time and venue of the funeral. Phone calls are made.
"Thank God he is gone, he suffered so much." "But I saw her only last week at West Mall." "How will Ermine manage without him?" "It's really for the best, child. He was a beast."
Less frequently has been the tragic snuffing out of a young person. Mr and Mrs Mayyou will have known their parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters with whom they mourn.
FOR anyone to whom it matters, it is important to understand the milieu in which Mr and Mrs mourn. Let me say right away that Mr and Mrs Mayyou are retired, middle-income, Roman Catholic, French Creoles. Like most of their friends they are conservative to the point of cliché.
They love their country and are determined not to leave, in spite of years of racial abuse from members of the public, academics and the State. 'They don't just want what we have,' says Mrs Mayyou's brother-in-law. 'They want our souls.' All along they have been the easy, sometimes fearful villains, themselves accused of racism.
Now, with the new Government, all that has suddenly changed. Who have been the real racists all along? Where are their cohorts from? Trinidad? Very unlikely. They are thousands of illegal immigrants from Grenada and St Vincent come to rewrite the history of the land where generations of Mayyous have lived.
Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Mayyou and many of their friends are are generous and devoted to religious work for the poor. Disgusted by the state of public works and the state bureaucracy whose rules they faithfully adhere to, they pay no bribes but befriend sympathetic workers in the public utilities they depend on.
They are convinced that religious faith and action is the answer to Trinidad and Tobago's woes and pray fervently about it. They find solace and strength in their religious groups.
These are white and mixed middle-class Trinidadians, in the main, many of whom have lived quietly, working hard, raising their families and making their contribution to the nation. So far their presence has not been found to be illegal, and it will be most interesting to see whether they understand and will be able to take advantage of the Equal Opportunity legislation before Parliament, whether anyone will speak on their behalf, or whether they will be completely ignored or find the laws have become their death knell.
THESE are the dead: I begin with the most recent.
Hutch Camacho had been ill for some months. He was a longtime friend of Mr Mayyou, played football for Trinidad, and worked for a dry-goods firm for most of his life. He was someone I knew from childhood. He received the last sacrament from Fr Andy Morrison of Guyana, here to launch his book, who was staying with Mr and Mrs Mayyou. That was a blessing.
Gerard Decle was a man of business all his life. I was in the same class as his son in St Mary's College. Gerard, said Mrs Mayyou, hadn't "looked good" during the past few months.
Elton Crooks was a man's man. A close friend of Mr and Mrs Mayyou, he was someone I knew virtually as long as I know myself. He had had a serious illness for some time. He was best known as Trinidad and Tobago best marksman during the Fifties. He had successfully represented Trinidad and Tobago at rifle shoots at Bisley, in Britain, bringing home medals to add to those he had won locally. They were all stolen when a thief broke into his house.
Miss Marryshow, as I knew her, was once a neighbour of the Mayyous in Diego Martin. A big, polite woman, she trained as a nurse and was a matron in hospitals here. She was the daughter of the famous Grenadian trade unionist and politician Albert Marryshow.
Gerry Parsons was another oil man, in Forest Reserve, who knew the Mayyou's for a long time and played football for Trinidad in his youth. His wife and daughter are fairly well known for completely different reasons. Towards the end Gerry's mind went and his was a sad death.
Filo Santos was a car man. He sold cars and cars were his hobby. One morning not long ago he was driving through St James, felt unwell and pulled over to the side of the road. In no time it was over, despite the attempts of passersby to give assistance.
Martin d'Abadie, my age, died awfully in a car accident in Venezuela. I knew him when we were were children but hadn't seen him in decades. Martin was from a large French Creole family. His sister was once Carnival Queen. Some of the children were blonde and blue-eyed, some darker. Martin was the darkest of all and was called "Lal". The cruelty of children. Perhaps this had something to do with with his disappearing to Venezuela years ago.
Mr and Mrs Mayyou hardly knew Derek Locke, in his thirties, but Mr Mayyou knew his grandfather's brother. Derek was in love with one of the Mayyou's neighbours. After it ended there was an awful scene. Derek drove off shouting in with anguish. The next day we heard he had hanged himself.
Eugene Bertrand was a longtime friend of Mr Mayyou. They were at St Mary's College together, and Eugene was the Sixth Trinidad Sea Scout's first patrol leader. He was the father of the well-known Bertrand brothers. An insistently self-made man, he was frustratingly debilitated by a stroke. His faith helped shield him from the worst.
Sheelagh Marshall, another longtime friend of the Mayyous, died suddenly. It was her heart. She was the wife of Max, West Indies cricket official, who has since been forced to discover how to get through the practical little things of life.
Butty Quesnel was a real estate agent, never married.
Maurice de Gannes, red faced, unmarried, with a touch of effeminacy, worked for Carib and was one of this country's great comedians, though he never appeared on a stage as far as I know. Maurice was a great attraction at any party and a most considerate and helpful person. After he retired he did a lot of church work. One day he collapsed and died and he passed through the church door.
Basil de Gannes was Maurice's brother. They lived together. Just weeks after Maurice died their house burnt down. Basil's charred body was found crouched under a bed.
Etienne Majani was a French-speaking French Creole with a Corsican surname and French wife. He was in the coconut industry for years.
Junior FarFan was the the brother of Esmond. They were World War II pilots, then flew for for BWIA. The Farfans, of Spanish descent, are one of the oldest families in Trinidad. One of them took part in a coup against Trinidad's Spanish Governor 400 years ago.
Old Abbot van Duin, from Holland, once the man in charge of Abbey at Mount St Benedict, had suffered with his heart. When he retired he was succeeded by Abbot Hildebrandt, then Abbot Francis.
Mr Mayyou remembers Raymond Hamel-Smith, one of the countless Hamel-Smith lawyers. He was an outspoken barrister who lived in St Clair and was a Mayor of Port of spain. He eventually went into the travel business, then emigrated to England where he died.
Mrs Mayyou cannot speak of the recent dead without very sadly remembering Vaughan Salandy. She knew him only as a television announcer, of course, but like thousands of viewers was terribly moved by his suicide.
As we enter the last quarter of the year, Mrs Mayyou wonders how many more will die.
(Anthony Milne <email@example.com>, was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1951, educated there at St Mary's College, and subsequently in Canada and at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. He has worked as a journalist with Trinidad Express newspapers since July 1981, covering politics, parliament and just about everything else under the sun.)
By Trevor Reeves
I gazed at the tidy grave and looked up at Maunganui--Nui for short. She was staring down quietly and looked at peace with the world. Her mother, she told me, died in 1972. But I could see that. Nui was of the Mormon faith. That, she explained, was why there was no concrete cover over the grave. The spirits must have no unnatural impediment between the body at rest and the sky.
Many Maoris belonged to the Mormon faith. They had, through their labour being cheap, helped to build many of the Mormon temples around the country. Nui told me that Lena's maiden name was Watson, which I found very interesting. It had taken me, and a distant cousin many years to track down the Maori branch of our family. Thomas Reid, Lena's husband had been the son of Thomas senior who was the son of--yet again--Thomas, his senior. This Thomas Reid senior had come to the country in 1872, but around the turn of the century, Thomas number two, shall we say, had vanished. We found that he had died in a mental home in Nelson in 1943. He had left two sons from a marriage that had broken up because of his drinking and general mental derangement. One, Charles had drowned--but no body found and therefore so record of his death. The other son, Thomas had twelve children with Lena --nee Watson.
Nui, a sprightly and alert 73-year-old told me when we first met, after she had answered one of my "blanket" letters to all the Reid's in Nelson, that she had 12 children herself, another sister had twelve, another had eight, and she, herself had forty two grandchildren and twenty three great grandchildren. Not bad I thought, but what about this name, Watson? Lena Watson, suggested that one of her parents was a pakeha--a white European--and that Nui herself was only one quarter Maori.
Not so, said she. She was a Tauhauroa, from the North Island of New Zealand. A full blooded Maori, and I could see that from the rare photograph I had of Thomas the third and her together with their first child, back in 1918, after Thomas had come back from the Great War--unscathed, I am pleased to say.
The Tauhauroas were from the Waikato. They were still at "war" with the long dead warrior, Te Rauparahau and the Ngai Tahu tribe--the three contesting possession of the Nelson area from early times. In the 1880's Tamati (Thomas) Tauharoa used to call in to the Picton post office to collect his mail while on his fishing trips from the Waikato.
The way it went was this: The pakeha story about how Tamati Tauharoa became a Watson was that the postmaster had told Tamati that his name, Tauhauroa, was unpronounceable, so he would call him Watson. Soon enough, Tamati Tauhauroa became Thomas Watson.
The Maori version was different. Tamati used to call in to the hotel bar at Picton and ask for a bottle of Watson's whiskey. He quickly became Tommy Watson. Watson is one of the commonest names in the Picton phone book now.
(A publisher and editor for the last thirty years,Trevor Reeves currently edits and publishes Southern Ocean Review (New Zealand). A journalist, he also writes fiction, having published in many magazines online and in print since 1965. Recent appearances are in (online) The Free Cuisenart, Kimera, Razor's Edge, EWG, WWW2, Eclectica, Blue Moon Review, 2River View,
Poetrynow, Equinox and ( in print) Takahe, Glottis etc. Nearly 60. Trevor is a member of The Green Party, New Zealand, and an
Letter from GOWANUS
By Tom Hubschman
FLORA & FAUNA
The acorns on the adolescent oak outside my fourth-floor window hang thick as bunches of green grapes. If you're sitting on the stoop outside the building when one falls, it hits the sidewalk or one of the parked cars like a rock and you look around to see who's the wise guy.
A couple blocks south alongside the Prospect Expressway, a short sunken highway connecting interior Brooklyn with the ring road that skirts New York Bay, the fruit of a lone aging apple tree is almost ripe. Last year the apples grew plump and red, some sort of jonathans or winesaps. After a wet spring and dry summer, this year they are gnarled, spare and insect-infected. A wild cherry tree also bloomed with promise, but the young green berries so valued by boys with pea-shooters fell off prematurely until, by ripening time, there was very little dark fruit to be seen.
A bluebird that took up residence in the shrubbery there did well, though. At least he seemed to be thriving the last time we eyed each other amicably when I stopped by the small park that overlooks the Expressway as well as a good chunk of Brooklyn to the south. He's exotic to these parts, a dark shiny blue and is unrelated to the more common bluejay whose obscene call belies its brilliant plumage.
We regularly see foreign birds in the neighborhood thanks to the proximity of Prospect Park and the Green Wood Cemetery which share close to a thousand acres between them. You can see entire flocks of species passing through during their migrations that you will probably never see again. I once came upon a small tree full of hundreds of bright orange birds, gobbling up its fruit like a busload of hungry daycampers, oblivious to my presence a few feet away. Another time I saw a hawk so massive that the local crows decided to evict it on sight, ganging up on the gawky intruder in mass until they had harassed him on his way.
TOPOGRAPHY NATURAL AND POLITICAL
My neighborhood is just to the north of where the last glacier stopped. Everything to the south--Flatbush, Flatlands, Coney Island--is terminal moraine. The boulders in Prospect Park were the property of New Jersey, some thirty miles to the north, back in neolithic times. The section where I live sits at the top of terrain that slopes away on all four sides, most precipitously to the east and west. If I stick my head out the window, I'm looking down at the Statue of Liberty several miles away in New York harbor. When I sit out on the fire escape it's all flat in the distance--Long Island to the east, Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic southward and, toward the setting sun, New York Bay, Bayonne and then the rest of the continent.
Every point of this vantage is caught up in the president's sex scandal, which itself seems to be moving as slowly as did that glacier several millennia in the past. What's moving fast hereabouts is the run-up to the primary elections, a sort of political grand jury hearing that determines which candidates get to square off against each other in the November general election for the US Senate, Congress, the New York governorship and lots of other, local contests.
Someone recently pointed out that politics in New York State is fundamentally ethnic. The candidates carefully weigh their chances based not on their political ideologies but on how many voters of their own ethnic/religious backgrounds will come out to support them. This tactic may seem more appropriate to a part of the world where ethnic identities are more substantial or where nations have been so recently formed that their electorates speak different languages and adhere to very disparate traditions. The differences among Americans, even in a largely immigrant state such as New York, are actually minimal. But where there is little else to differentiate yourself from your neighbor, you latch onto whatever is at hand.
To the squirrels in Prospect Park it will not matter very much who wins this or any of the other political races--unless there are cutbacks of park maintenance, in which case there may be a bonanza of uncollected food scraps for them to feast on, along with their cousins the rats.
The squirrel vote would thus go to the Republicans, at least to those Republicans who favor laissez-faire free-marketry. For the human species in this city, numerically a minority but still very much in control, the choices are not so clear-cut. Americans are centrists, conservatives by nature. We have to be shamed into adopting social policies which other nations take for granted, and even then implement them grudgingly and inefficiently . We still have tens of millions of citizens who, through no fault of their own, have no medical insurance and thus no guarantee of either proper treatment should they fall ill nor any protection against having their personal savings wiped out if they do obtain medical treatment. But for a large number of Americans, instead of being a social travesty this situation is a necessary consequence of individual responsibility, of not letting the state take over our lives.
There is no health insurance at all for squirrels. Their lobby in Congress and in the State House is even weaker than that of fatherless children and widows (welfare advocates might argue otherwise). As cool weather sets in, the squirrels begin storing up acorns for the long winter months ahead, relying not on what their country can do for them but on what they can and must do for themselves. Their behavior is apparently the ruling paradigm for what the rest of us should also be about.
THE "R" WORD
Broad Channel is an island community in Jamaica Bay, a wetland area preserved as habitat for waterfowl and other indigenous creatures. It is linked to Brooklyn, a borough of New York City, which itself occupies the most westernly part of a 110-mile island (Long Island) stretching out into the Atlantic to within a squall's distance of the Gulf Stream.
About 6,000 people live in Broad Channel, virtually all of them of exclusively European ancestry. Every year at this time they have a small-town parade, with floats. This year one of the floats, called "Black to the Future," was supposed to be a spoof of the inevitably of Broad Channel's being one day integrated with people of African ancestry. Floats in other years have spoofed Latinos and Jews.
This year someone got the bright idea of putting on blackface and making it appear as if he were being dragged along from the back of the float the way a real African American several weeks back was dragged behind a pickup truck in a small town in Texas until he was dead. That killing in Texas was a shocking event that brought most Americans closer together in a common sense of outrage. Fifty years ago the crime would probably not have been reported. So, in a bizarre way the event demonstrated some progress on the so-called "race" issue in the US.
Even so, "race" and sex remain the predominant American obsessions. And just as Clinton's puerile escapades take on a uniquely American significance when viewed alternately through American or foreign eyes, "race" is also a uniquely American phenomenon. Even societies like South Africa, which have practiced their own versions of racism, see the subject very differently.
"Race" in America takes on both the significance of what "class" means in a country like Great Britain, as well as strong undertones of purity-versus-impurity in a quasi- religious sense. I know of no place else where having one ancestor, however distant, from one particular part of the world disqualifies someone from full social participation. "One drop" of dark African blood in this nation makes you "black." The Ku Klux Klan, the United States government, the majority of people both of African and non-African ancestry, all agree on this. Only reality, a determination that "race" is a bona fide biological category, could give any value to such an across-the-board consensus. But we know from genetic research that groups of people who have been living side by side in Africa for millennia can be less closely related to each other than they are to people living in Finland or Mongolia, their cousins who left Africa 500,000 years ago. There is no such thing as race.
Even so, both "whites" and "blacks" alike hope for light-skinned children, because color distinguishes us from each other the way a mark branded on the head of a convict once distinguished such a man or woman from the ordinary citizen. Color is equated with a kind of pollution, against which religions of all kinds have constructed elaborate systems to protect their members, until their faithful come to believe that there is something inherently, not just attributively, unclean about "the other," indentifiable by his food, his altered or unaltered physical state or, for Americans, his color.
"Race" in America is not just a social categorization, it is a pathology. As such, we are none of us free from it, no less so the victims than the beneficiaries. No one, from the president on down, speaks outside the categories of "white" and "black," "Latino" and "Asian." No one even wants to, especially now that Americans of African descent have come to take a pride in their ancestry and to demand recognition for their participation in the building of the nation. But demagogues of all colors also make capital off "race," perpetuating myth without offering any hope for a future without bigotry. And so, "race," an empty, fraudulent concept, remains a pathetic and poisonous reality.