Monday, November 14, 2005

Our Best

Today is the 37th anniversary of the founding of the Tapia House Group, the groundbreaking intellectual & political movement whose heyday was the late 1970s, & which was eventually succeeded by the Trinidad & Tobago Institute of the West Indies. Today is also the day that Lloyd Best--economist, political scientist, philosopher, & one of the major intellectual figures of the postcolonial Caribbean--formally retires as director of the TTIWI & publisher of the Trinidad & Tobago Review.

Lloyd has been ill for some years now, & his health has declined dramatically in recent months; his friends & colleagues inevitably see this moment as a farewell in more ways than one. In his honour, the T&T Review has published a special edition today, with tributes & reminiscences from many of his associates over the years, all of whom count him above all as a friend. Last night the TTIWI held a "cultural evening" at its headquarters in Tunapuna, which began with performances of poetry, calypso, jazz, steelpan, & ended (when we were prematurely driven indoors by squalling rain) with a very moving speech by Lloyd to his assembled friends, including most of the surviving major figures from Tapia's early days. Tonight the commemoration concludes with a formal dinner, where Peter Minshall will deliver the main address.

I've been thinking a great deal about Lloyd these last few days--not just about his landmark place in the Caribbean's intellectual & political history, but about his qualities as a man--his generosity, gentleness, thoughtfulness, which I've experienced at first hand, as a green contributor to the T&T Review nearly four years ago, & more recently as someone overwhelmed by the notion that Lloyd Best might actually consider me a colleague, take my ideas seriously. I usually find the best way for me to try to understand things, to sort out confused feelings & thoughts, is to write about them; so I've given myself the assignment to write a profile of Lloyd for Caribbean Beat, hoping this way to get closer to coming to terms with his real achievement, & to discern his legacy to Caribbean citizens of my generation.

But I want to mark today with some kind of small tribute of my own, & the best I can think of is to tell this little story. Before last night, the last time I spoke to Lloyd was in February, the Saturday before Carnival (too long ago, too long). Out of the blue he rang me--the rest of the country was already descending into bacchanal, but Lloyd wanted to make contact, ask how I was doing, talk about the Caribbean Review of Books, about how my work was going. (That he should have the time to even think of me!) I told him I'd been planning a trip to Guyana the following week, but now was thinking of postponing--the recent catastrophic floods had triggered a leptospirosis outbreak, some coastal villages were still under water, & a few of my Guyana contacts has advised me to put off the trip. Lloyd was firm. You can't let that sort of thing stop you, he said, or you'll never go anywhere. He was right, of course, & I would have made the same decision eventually, but his simple advice made the choice seem obvious.

A little story that can mean something only to me, but I treasure that conversation, & am immensely grateful for the "accidents"--as Lloyd would say--that put me in his path, & for the illumination & encouragement he's given to so many of us.

Listening to him talk last night--age & illness falling away from him as he spun sentence after sentence--I thought to myself, we are all Bestians now.

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