"I don't take on any politicians, you hear? Because when I open my purse I don't see them." I laughed in my car as the radio hosts did in the studio.
This is precisely who regular Trinis are—sharp, wrapping up insight and truth in sweetie paper of picong.
The laughter turned into silence as it often does when people tell it to us as it is.
"I don't see politicians in the hospital when I'm waiting for six hours to be seen, or bandits stealing from the sick in hospitals. I don't see the big boys with their cars, sirens, millions when it floods, or water is gone, or infrastructure is broken or young boys are put in body bags. I see them fighting not for me, but for their own ego, what Kamla says, what Rowley says, what Marlene says, who right who wrong. Me, Me, Me."
She went in for the kill.
"Politicians and employers stupid, you know. Like they don't know they are human. They will all be old—the powerful people of today pushed around by some nurse in the wheelchair, dribbling and a body bag coming for them. No amount of fame, money and power can stop that. And what will we remember them for?"
In July I remember talk of body bags. It was nightfall in Paramin. At 2,000-feet high we could feel the mist on our faces. We were with our friend, Indian born, Trinidad settled, Rakesh Goswami, an executive who recently quit his job and was training for a pilgrimage to the Tibetian Himalayas—21,778 feet to Mount Kailash where Hindus believe Lord Shiva resides.
No Human being has scaled mount Kailash at 22,000 ft considered sacred for over a billion people in four religions, Bon, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
At the Mount Kailash base, for the past 1,500 years, pilgrims perform seriously challenging kora—a 32-mile walk (some pilgrims drag themselves prone around that mountainous terrain as an act of extreme humility).
Each year some 40 people die in the high altitudes.
Rakesh and I both grew up in the Himalayas, both have fathers who were in India's armed forces, so though I'm not religious and know nothing of Hindu ritual, I get it and also why he would have died doing this.
Rakesh returned alive, with epiphanies after his arduous journey. On his first day, he saw a body bag coming down the mountain. He carried on.
The first epiphany was at the Pashupatinath Shiva temple where the deity Shiva's forehead and the sacred third eye is believed to have emerged from the ground. Within its boundaries are cremation ghats (similar to the cremation sites of Mosquito Creek near water).
Rakesh showed us a photo of a line of burning pyres by the river, a surprisingly lovely sight, of fire rising from charred remains reflected in the water. "It's a visceral reminder to pilgrims of the indisputable fact that all we are is two kilos of topsoil—and the falsity of the belief that any human is bigger and more powerful, more important than everyone else. Rakesh learned this from his Satguru:
"You come here to be as small as possible by emptying your ego. There are over a billion galaxies, each with a billion stars in the universe. Planet earth is one star with seven billion people. The problem is you believe you are a very big man or woman.
"Make yourself as small as possible, so the person in front of you is greater than you. By leaving behind your ego, you give space to the people you serve, and that is paid forward." It's all we achieve.
The second epiphany came at Lake Manasarovar. At 15,100 feet it is the highest freshwater body on earth.
Kailash is not a place to get something but to leave things behind.
"We were asked to pick aspects of ourselves that we would like to leave behind at the lake. Such as anger. You may not be able to stop anger, but you can choose to leave behind angry words. Bosses shout at one another, at employees, men shout at women, parents shout at children."
Your body may be big or strong, but ultimately you are nothing more than topsoil. The photos of bowing, weeping pilgrims are telling. Extreme humility is purifying. It is all there is. As we prepare to celebrate another Republic Day, on Tuesday, our leaders would do well to remember this and reflect too, how they would like to be remembered.