A QUESTION OF SELF-CONTEMPT
Continuously subjecting nightmare to daytime censorship I know that nightmare — that most original form of self-criticism — participates in the operation of valid judgements, and censorship, of the truth of a special condition. Being not either historian, sociologist, anthropologist or psychologist, 1 depend only on the tool of imagination to examine and probe a condition which, since I remember myself, has oppressed me and led me into action not immediately perceivable either as reasonable, in the social sense, or as useful, in the sense of expected function. Concerned with certain forms of self-denial and with the demanding presence of crowding faces scarred by what living time has prescribed as real, and has authorised as the actual minimum for survival, I have not always understood the nature of the sacrifice heart must make to ensure continunity. For, given remains the world. Place to enter and have place within. Brutalities of non-response. Assaults on sensibility. Wayward indiscipline. Contingencies which contain the least meaning in a world of fantasy dominated by new intentions, badly expressed in repeated proposals for any kind of revolution.
In this condition of unawareness, I came into a contact of different character with the spiritual facts of the life I had lived. Encountering them, I recognised their phenomenal relevance and symbolic challenge. Self was here in visible location, aware of the datum and exigence of land and community. But, who was my? who self? On black knees before the great white names of civilisation and human power, I claimed my own humanity in terms of flesh and blood; in the endurance and the suffering, the defeat and achievement I discovered written inside the abstractions of European philosophy and experience. I made inevitable identifications. Homeland is everywhere. All skies are blue. The green, and world of the freedom of feeling is, by definition, accessible. And whenever, as so regularly, real shadows loom too close, the wild whore-houses of irresponsibility are available, where it is possible always to effect self-change in the very midst of all-reducing squalor, and. like a gifted lizard, make skin turn cloak like a smile.
Out of these swirling confusions I stepped into a world of action. I became a member of an organization formed by Chcddi Jagan, friend of great days. And every Sunday night a meeting in an unpainted hutch with grey dust like history’s night-soil between the creases in the floor. Sometimes no more than five of us. Five bewildered creatures on a Sunday night repeating ourselves like desperate obeahmen. Outside the world. Dog dung in the street. A black man in South Africa. Love beneath the gay stars. Firelight in the cane-pieces. Degradation, absolute vomit. Bed. Same tomorrow. Tomorrow again. Tomorrow always.
Among those who came on the Sunday nights of our desperation, was a talkative middle-aged black gentleman I knew as Bovcll. Stoop of a tired tree. Face of a face. One of the best of us all. So strange and disheartening therefore to discover that he came no longer to meet with us on Sunday. I could not understand. III? I would search him out and find him.
Until, one afternoon, walking along Vlissengen Road, I saw him cutting grass for his donkey, arcing scythe flashing like dark silver beside the grey and asphalt carriageway.
And went up to him.
I saw the scythe sweep and tender blades of grass collapsed.
The scythe jerked in his hand, and a certain green leaf lived a little longer. “1 haven’t seen you for a long time.” I said, exaggerating.
“Why don’t you come anymore?”
Turned his old head slowly. Recognised me. Smiled his recognition. And leaned on the smooth and brown handle of his scythe.
Then took a bundle of dirty cloth from his trouser back pocket and wiped his sweat face very carefully. That way 1 wipe my eyes.
“Boy”, and I heard something I do not want to hear
“Week after week 1 come to you meeting. I hear you talk about exploitation. I hear you talk about how poor people must rise up. About socialism. About revolution.”
I stared at his hopeless hands as he spoke. Eyes and hands.
He leaned forward. A new intensity informed his very eye.
“Tell me”, he said suddenly, and I responded to the fury in his voice and heart.
“Just tell me something,” and I knew I had no answer.
“You and your friends really believe you can fight white people? Rass!”
Spat, shook his head, turned his back to me, and the impartial grass was again victim.
By the side of the road his donkey stood yoked. The iron tyres of the two wheeled cart were shining in spots. No rust anywhere. And I looked at Bovell’s skull and saw a bump.
I wondered whether an owner had turned homuncule and taken up residence. My own head I rubbed. He was wondering why. Incapable of explanation, I remained silent.
Not long after this rubbing of my head, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham brought the People’s Progressive Party into existence. I became a member of its executive committee. Same weekly procedure. Political economy, dialectical and historical materialism straight from Engels, from slim pamphlets. British provided fuel for the engines of our embarassing enthusiasm. And some of us who could not even spell “economics” nonetheless argued passionately about surplus value, the defects of the capitalist system and the glories of the classless society to come. One night I talked about Karl Marx, his carbuncles, and Jenny von Westphalen, and my challenge in calling their names was defeated by the subservience of those who listened to me. Not one question.
One Sunday night after one such meeting was over, I was accosted by an East Indian gentleman known to me as Mr. Singh.