Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Hurry, hurry, come for curry

Published:Saturday | December 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMTony Deyal, Contributor

New governments come into town, their guns blazing, not literally like the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday in the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, but more like the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They had already won the war but needed to demonstrate that they were large and in charge.

There are no shades of grey in the aftermath of wars and elections - the winning side has to show conclusively and feel deep in their hardened hearts that the other side, meaning not the supporters of the beaten party but people of the same tribe or persuasion, have not just lost an election but also the right to equal treatment.

When race is at the heart of electoral choices, there is an extra bitterness, almost an enjoyment, which closes eyes and ears, sometimes even shuts down brains and hearts, but certainly not mouths.

This joy of victory tends to take on different forms. Sometimes it is like Thermogene and is rubbed in with gusto on the painful regions of the already

suffering. At other times it is like Vicks and rammed right up your nose. You get hit where it hurts most. If justice must not only be done but seen to be done, victory must not only be won and seen to be won but must be driven home with a spiteful vengeance.

In a short while, those people who want to curry-favour with the new Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) government of Dr Keith Rowley will have to pay more for the pleasure and privilege. The reason is that curry - a mixture of spices which originated in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia and consists of complex combinations of spices and herbs, including fresh or dried hot peppers - will now be subject to value-added tax, or VAT. Up to the introduction of the tax in 1989, when people in Trinidad and Tobago thought about VAT, it was always followed by the magic numbers '19' or, in some cases, '69'.

Vat 19 was, for a long time, the most popular rum in the country, and Vat 69 was a scotch-whisky usually bought at Christmas. Now, regardless of its downsides, VAT is a primary revenue-raising device of many regional governments, and while salt is VAT exempt, curry is now being considered in T&T as the appropriate substitute for rubbing into electoral wounds.

 

Currying favour

Historically, wherever VAT has been imposed, it has expanded the cost of government, increased income-tax rates, slowed economic growth, and destroyed jobs. While it is based on the concept of 'value added', it really minuses from the quality of life of the middle class, especially those people who are caught in the tax net twice - through income tax and then through VAT. It is enough to make us go into the rum shop and drown our sorrows in VAT while we can still afford it.

Also on the list is 'ghee', clarified butter, which originated in India and is generally used in the Caribbean in religious rituals. So it is not just currying favour, but any other attempt at buttering up the new government will also be costly. Also on that list of 'vattable' items are prunes and laxatives. While curry is sometimes considered a more than useful substitute for those products despite the heat transfer associated with its consumption, the fact is that there is no way out, especially for senior citizens who, having received a small increase in their pensions, will have to shell out more in VAT.

This seems to be the common theme of the government - decrease the VAT from 15 per cent to 12.5 per cent, but increase the number of items now subject to its imposition, or give a little with the left hand and take away more than you put in with the right hand.

There is a calypso named 'Curry Tabanca' by the prolific songwriter, Winford de Vignes (aka. Joker), which was sung by The Mighty Trini and won the road march in 1987. While the word 'curry' is easily understood unless when applied to the grooming of horses, 'tabanca' is a term which Wikipedia says is "a Trinidadian, culture-bound syndrome, that is a form of depression and results from the loss of a sexual partner to another."

 

Resistance to the tax

With the increased price of curry, one can expect a repeat of the 1987 phenomenon, "She pack up all her curry and she run away/ Leaving me to worry myself sick each day/ I went and roam, from dusk to dawn/ Come back home to find de curry gone. / I dunno know why she broke our vows. / And so I now, feeling ah how. / I have ah tabanca ha, curry tabanca/ I have ah tabanca ha, curry tabanca."

There will be resistance to the tax on curry, not just because of the inevitable increase in the cost of foods that use curry as an ingredient, but more because of its political significance. In 1773, the heavily indebted British government imposed the Tea Act on its American colonists. The strong resistance led to the Boston Tea Party and the revolutionary war two years later.

While this is totally unlikely to happen, there is every likelihood that the tax will be interpreted as racist, despite corned beef and smoked herring also being likely candidates for VAT. How do I react when my comfort zone is the food I grew up on? I can't do a Derek Walcott and say (as he did in his 1981 play), "Beef, No Chicken", or even remark, "Ghee whiz!" Maybe I will just go into a Korma.

- Tony Deyal was last seen asking whether putting maraschino cherries on the VAT list will mean that government ministers will no longer be invited to cocktail parties.