Taking in front
I was always a precocious and curious child. Now at my advanced age, I am certainly post-cocious, but still very curious about everything and that constant childlike wonder still persists. But I remember in those youthful days when my behaviour, particularly for jumping into the conversations of adults and asking too many questions, was deemed "frontish" and "inquisitive", both negatives.
It has been a very long time since I heard someone described as "frontish" but despite this, life in Trinidad where I am based these days, continues on many other fronts, some of which were not as important as when I was young. We have cold and hot fronts bearing down on us and that is not just the weather report. We have learnt that there is a difference between "affront" and "a front". And that Trinidad and Tobago is in front of many countries when it comes to happiness, but not corruption, where the frontier mentality still persists as it did in the days of Doc Holliday and the James gang - every man for himself and grab what you can when the grabbing is good.
Recently though, a lot of fronts came to the front when the government of the country decided to amend the Constitution to limit prime ministers holding office to 10 years and no more, allowing constituencies to remove a member of parliament if, in the opinion of the electorate, that person was not performing satisfactorily, and to have a "run-off" or second election if no candidate in the first election got less than half the votes cast.
First, there was a major confrontation between the two major parties, the United National Congress (UNC), which has the most members in the ruling People's Partnership Coalition, and the People's National Movement. What complicates things in Trinidad is race - each party gets the majority of its membership from one of the two racial groups - people of East Indian or African descent.
First of all, there was a prefrontal front or attacks on the constitutional change that followed the Trinidad adage, "Better take in front before front take me". Then when the debate started in the Parliament, which is on the Port-of-Spain waterfront, the place could have been described as a battlefront except that while supporters of both parties were demonstrating, only one seemed to be really battling.
There was confrontation even with Opposition MPs and senators. Some felt affronted. There was frontogenesis as more masses rushed to the front and only the intervention of the police could cause frontolysis or the dispersion of some of the masses. Many wore frontlets or decorated bands around their heads, most red. And those at the forefront were particularly vituperative and some were threatening. I wondered at the effrontery.
My problem as I looked at this scene was that I found it troubling on all fronts. Given the setting on the edge of the Port-of-Spain harbour with a background of cargo ships it reminded me so much of the old Marlon Brando movie, On The Waterfront, a crime drama about union violence and corruption among longshoremen in New York. One of the major moments in the movie is a vicious brawl.
In the movie, there are two competing philosophies, one which says, "Hey, you wanna hear my philosophy of life? Do it to him before he does it to you." The other by the priest in the movie is, "Some people think the crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up! Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow, that's a crucifixion. And every time the mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it's a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead."
But there were moments of sheer comic relief. Senator Gerald Hadeed described briefly his encounter with the crowd. "Hadeed said he was jeered by protestors as he tried to enter the Parliament building. He said while they booed, he waved, and one woman got so agitated that her teeth fell out as she booed profusely."
But for me, the highlight of the event was the description of the legislation by a female Independent Senator, Helen Drayton, as a "Trojan" horse. I wrote about it in my 'Funny Business' column in the Trinidad Express business supplement on Wednesday, but I still find it amusing. Immediately, all kinds of other, more appropriate prophylactics came to mind that would better describe the event - Rough Rider, Vivid or even LIXX. However, I realised that if you compare legislation to a Trojan, despite the saying that a politician is like a contraceptive and gives you a sense of security while you're being screwed, you're talking absolute sheath.
Tony Deyal was last seen saying that of course the confrontation and the changes to the constitution made the FRONT pages.