Arrival matters

by Nicholas Laughlin on May 31, 2010

Yesterday was Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago, the annual occasion for commemorating the country’s ancestors from the Indian subcontinent and their long journeys here, across the dark waters of two oceans. Since it fell on a Sunday, we got the public holiday today instead; but, holiday or not, your editor-blogger was hard at work this afternoon publishing the latest pieces in the CRB.

Today’s additions to the May 2010 issue are reviews of recent books of short fiction by Jamaican-American Thomas Glave and Trinidadian Raymond Ramcharitar, as well as the second instalment of Vahni Capildeo’s essay “Questions of approach”, on her visit to India earlier this year. I didn’t particularly plan to publish the latter to coincide with Arrival Day, but it seems pleasingly appropriate today to read Vahni’s vivacious and penetrating account of her own arrival in the strange-yet-familiar city of Delhi:

The buildings were bigger than buildings I had known that resembled them: not skyscrapers, simply housing stacked up, compounded or magnified to be a greater size. I could not always tell if they were governmental, offices, or residential. There were balconies and bougainvillea.

India is this, India is that, I would not say.

Even when, walking back to the IIC one day, I encountered an elephant standing in the middle of the road, I refused to see it as particularly Indian. It was not big for an elephant and seemed aware of this, and weary. An Internet address to promote a French conversation group was chalked on its forehead and some French-style people were enjoying themselves on its back.

Even when a multi-jet fountain was playing and I was talking with poets and eating a pomegranate-jewel-encrusted mango reinterpretation of a sponge and custard pudding, I would not read into that the years of the art of service perfected under arbitrary, demanding rulers, of whom the Raj were not the most sophisticated.

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