Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading Dr. Rowley

It’s highly unusual for a sitting Prime Minister to publish his or her memoirs after just one year in office. But that’s exactly what Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has done with his book “From Mason Hall to White Hall; His name is Keith Rowley”. In publishing his memoirs so early, Dr. Rowley is the first T&T Prime Minister to tacitly admit that he’s probably not going to do anything worth writing about in the next four years. It’s a refreshing move. Some have pointed out that the title is a bit odd, considering T&T’s Prime Ministers no longer reside at Whitehall. But the title is actually inspired by a speech. And in fairness, "From Mason Hall to St Anns" doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. 

The real tragedy of “From Mason Hall to White Hall,” is not that it’s an obvious piece of political advertising. Dr. Rowley himself admitted that this book was initially meant to be published before the general election last year.The fawning foreword by Selwyn Cudjoe, transcripts of campaign speeches and total lack of self-critique are all testaments to that. 

No, the real tragedy of “From Mason Hall to White Hall” is that it’s excruciatingly dull. Reading it feels like you’re actually taking a trip from Mason Hall to White Hall; in that you find yourself falling asleep, feeling seasick, and constantly asking, "Are we there yet?"

Forget political intrigue, juicy gossip and good ole bacchanal, Dr. Rowley instead regales us with mundane tales of his childhood; like the time he put cardboard in his pants to survive a beating by a drunken schoolteacher. Only for the said teacher to spot it and beat him some more. 

Or the inspiring moment he decided to pursue Geology over Zoology at UWI, when a schoolmate told him, “Doh go down there and sign up for no Zoology, you know, because when you finish that, all you could do is teach”. 

Or the heart stopping moment he met his future wife Sharon at UWI. “I quickly found reason to talk to her and eventually invited her out. I don’t remember what she said but I know it was not 'no'”. 

And then there is his take on the 1990 Coup, which consists of a whole two pages, largely of him recalling a “troubling dream" he had on that morning. Which begs the question; why doesn’t Play Whe have a number for ‘attempted coup’?

Dr. Rowley says at the beginning that he was inspired to tell his life story in part by the recent birth of his grandson. And these certainly are the types of anecdotes loving grandparents bore children with.

Not all of Dr. Rowley’s prose is mind numbingly pedestrian though. For example, when he writes about his mother, Vassie, describing her life of humble hard work as a cook at the Breakfast Shed, Dr. Rowley writes simply and with real emotion. The same goes with his Grandmother Emeline, describing the important role she played in his life and how her death profoundly affected him. These are perhaps the best and most genuinely moving parts of his book. If only he had just stopped writing there.

What’s truly surprising is the level of generosity Dr. Rowley extends Mr. Mannng in his book. Sure Mr. Manning may have unjustly fired him from cabinet after demanding oversight of UDECOTT, called him a “wajank”, and exhibited authoritarian rule over the PNM, but Dr. Rowley appears to think he was just misunderstood.  

“Patrick Manning did some very good work ; he was a hard worker, had high standards and the scandalous things that occurred under the People’s Partnership Government would never have happened under him….he admired (Calder) Hart and Hart let him down” writes Dr. Rowley. 

Except that a lot of scandalous things did happen under Mr. Manning. Perhaps
Dr. Rowley feels it makes no sense bad mouthing the dead; but this is a great example of how he airbrushes political discussions in his book. To him, opposition parties are corrupt, and while sure, the PNM may make mistakes, it is inherently noble in its motives. 

On second thought, while the Prime Minister’s book may be a disappointing read, it probably perfectly captures the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago.

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