Letters & Opinion

Invitation for Examination of a Caribbean Brain

Image of NRC Chairman Earl Bousquet

A Preview of Sky Red – A Tale of Two Revolutions, third in a five-part series by Bernard Coard recounting the birth and death of the Grenada Revolution he helped lead and shape

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

WHEN I first heard late last year that the third book in Bernard Coard’s five-part series was out and asked some friends in the UK to source one for me from Amazon, I had no idea when I would get it, or whether I’d be able to read and review it in time for March 13, 2020, the 41st anniversary of the Grenada Revolution that set the scenic landscape for the five volumes of the series’ published manuscripts.

I’d read the first book ‘The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened’ while laid-up in bed between two hospitals in Havana, Cuba at the end of 2017, but I never got hold of the second Forward Ever: Journey to a New Grenada.

I’ll get Volume 2 some time, but my interest in Volume 3 was increased by the way it was introduced by Amazon: alongside an entirely opposite manuscript of what really happened in Grenada, from an entirely right-wing political perspective, by a former US Navy Seal who participated in one of the several secret US military incursions ahead of the October 25, 1983 invasion.

Getting my hands on ‘Sky Red’ was an adventure.

I’ve never ordered anything online. But from the Amazon advertisements I’ve seen with books and other small parcels being delivered to doorsteps in America by Amazon drones, I at least expected someone to deliver mine as well, even on a bicycle.

The delivery date come and gone, I gave it up for Lost in Transition – and humbly thanked my gracious friends for offering to send me another, which they did, after verifying my address was given correctly.

Again, the same routine: I waited for a call, again in vain.

The Hospital Road Sub-Post Office located for decades at our home in Castries while I grew up and having gone to the General Post Office so many times to collect parcels, I knew that in cases of Registered Letters (mainly posted By Air Mail with money from persons abroad) and Parcels, a related ‘Slip’ is normally sent to your home or postbox to inform you your long-awaited mail had arrived.

It still happens, but not in Amazon’s case. As I found out – too late and in unbelievable circumstances – you have to go to the Post Office and ask whether there’s something for you – even if you have a postbox to which it’s addressed.

As IQ am normally wont to do, I started my review before I actually saw a copy of Sky Red.

Attending a private party one Sunday afternoon after hosting my weekly TV show Earl-At-Large, our host and close friend showed me his, but let me know – up front – he ‘can’t lend it’ to me because he was ‘reading it right now’ – and (he also noted with a little more volume) ‘Like you, I’m also a slow reader of long books.’

Due Warning delivered and noted, I glanced at the Cover and Table of Contents, halfway-through asking for the way to the toilet, where I went without real reason for the silent time needed to read those usual short descriptions of fractions of the whole — like, in this case ‘About This Book’, ‘Acknowledgements’, ‘Acronyms’ and ‘Prologue’.

Ten minutes later I returned to the balcony and laughed as Mr Host sprayed something smelling nice and fresh on the book’s cover — and handed me a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

I was initially confused, as I’d done or touched nothing in the temporary office. But I soon remembered this was already The Coronavirus Age — and everyone had a different way to show how much they they know about the importance of health safety and caution. And precaution…

Social Distancing hadn’t yet entered 2020 Caribbean vocabulary, so the loudest in the group simply sat quietly sipping and munching when I started talking about Grenada, the March 13 Revolution – and Bernard Coard.

Like everywhere else where more than two are gathered in the Grenada Revolution’s name, there was one in the group who openly stated with his best diplomatic protocol: ‘Earl, I don’t think I really want to discuss Bernard Coard or his writings, because if it wasn’t for him…’

But I interjected him in mid-sentence to say: ‘I am not discussing what Bernard did or didn’t do. II’m just interested in us examining his brain…’

‘Which brain? the sole conscientious objector asked as he poured a second drink, adding: ‘We here to drink and eat, not to become some kinda weekend brain surgeons looking inside Bernard Coard’s head!’

To which I responded with a well-known Saint Lucian creole proverb that says: ‘Hate a dog, but admit it’s teeth are pure white!’

Having the floor again, I kept it: ‘The brain I am talking about here is the one credited with having produced the intellectual authorship of the revolution, having significantly influenced its course over four-and-a-half years, credited too with responsibility for elements leading to its demise, leading to the person in whose head it is being jailed for longer than a legal lifetime, during which he and 16 others transformed an old prison in a colonial dungeon in the 21st Century into the island’s best-performing learning center, where prisoners became lawyers behind bars through correspondence courses – and which brain also methodically planned and mentally scripted five long and detailed books for writing and publication whenever Freedom Day came for the body and head in which it resides.’

All eyes and ears now attended, I started throwing my corn.

‘Coard was and still is fortunate,’ I continued, ‘to have inside his brain a fantastic, almost photographic memory bank, which he baked into what it is long before today’s artificial hard drives with eternal memory were invented.’

Tapping what I just read in my friend’s temporary office in his copy of Sky Red, I continued: ‘After all, this mind can remember where Coard was when Eric Gairy, the leader he and Maurice Bishop would lead a revolution to overthrow 28 years later, rode into St. Georges in 1951 like a Lone Ranger on Quick Silver, promising to walk on sea water like Jesus Christ in the St. George’s Careenage…’

From the Contents (which I had snapped earlier with my phone’s ever-ready camera while sitting on the covered bowl while still fully dressed), I read to them the subjects covered in Sky Red with Coard’s personal accounts of events in Grenada before, during and after the March 13, 1979 Revolution.

The seven-part Sky Red series is separated into eight parts: Revolution, Friends, Seeds of Revolution, Mass Action to Remove Gairy, Defeat and Fight Back, Preparations and Victory.

It starts with vivid recollections of the idolization of Eric Gairy as a political leader in colonial Grenada and Coard’s early decision (by age nine) to be ‘an economist’, recounts how he met his lifelong Friend, Brother and Comrade Maurice Bishop and their friendship cultivated over long years, as well as his sojourns at universities in the USA and UK that included his recruitment to write a ground-breaking book on how the British education system mechanically ‘under-educated’ immigrant and non-white students and children.

Sky Red also explains the role the Black Power Movement (in the 60s and 70s) played in shaping the anti-Gairy struggle and influenced the birth of the New Jewel Movement (NJM) that led the 1979 Revolution.

It then looks at the People’s Convention on Independence, the Fight Over Grenada’s (1974) Independence Constitution and the Role of Bloody Sunday in the ultimate decision that ‘Gairy Must Go!’

The book explains the ‘Despondence’ that set-in before and after Independence, right up to and beyond the 1976 general elections — and examination of options to remove the dictatorship, including ‘Seeking help from abroad’.

Its final sections explain: Aspects of the deep internal debate over ‘Who Should Lead the NJM’ and how the concept of ‘A Partnership’ was defined, the decision to shift the focus and brunt of the struggle ‘From Parliament to People’s Revolution’, what led to the decision to make that ultimate move on March 13 – and what really happened that historic Tuesday morning in 1979.

Miss Tiny, a lady among us with a keen sense of humor, politely interjected while cheesing her Ritz biscuit to ask: ‘Did you actually learn in ten minutes where you just came from the science of reading a book at a glance?’

Mr Objector accused them of ‘falling for Earl’s sweet talk…’

I thought of firing back by explaining that the littlest room at my home any time after midnight is the only sure place I can always count on reading the day’s newspapers in detail, checking all my outstanding email and WhatsApp messages and mentally scripting the outlines for the day’s writing assignments — and with absolute guarantee (without reservation) of no interruption.

But I decided instead to take the floor and return to my camera’s saved ‘pictures’ to tell them that while the first two volumes What Really Happened, Forward Ever– Journey To A New Grenada and Sky Red were the first three, there are still two more volumes to come: From Underachievers to Top Performers (about the Richmond Hill Prison Education Program) and The United States in Grenada: Invasion, Occupation, Resistance.

Mr Objector (a testy lawyer in real life) raised his hand with his index finger outstretched for a few seconds, as if to indicate he had, on some Point-of-Order, another (surely troublesome) conscientious objection or interjection.

By the grin on his face while pouring his third drink, I moved quickly to offer a deflective compromise: ‘I’ll cut the conversation if we both take an equal shot…’, pointing at the bottle or mixed roots, herbs and spices soaked in strong local rum our host had laid on the table, but no one had yet touched.

I knew ‘Counsel’ well-enough to know he’d do anything to shut-me-up, so, as he expectedly agreed, I quickly threw in another mechanical spoke in the wheel: ‘We must down it in one shot – and not make-up our faces like we’re trying to swallow our tongue…’

My learned friend laughed as he uncorked the bottle and looked me in the eye to say: ‘Forget about Coard… Let’s change the topic to Which is better to fight Corona Virus – Grenadian Spice Rum or Lucian Spice Rum?’

My points about Bernard’s brain and his book made, I graciously gave the stand to Counsel, who, before he started his treatise on ‘Local Caribbean Cures for Covid-19’, looked in the direction of our host and said: ‘When you finish that red-sky book, I want to lend it to see if Coard can still make sense…’

Mission Accomplished, I again bowed to him, downed my shot and said gracefully (and without grimace): ‘I rest my case!’

The next day I headed to my bank to renew my expired debit card that I never realized had an expiry date in large print.

While waiting for my number to be called for service, a guy I’d noticed watching me from the line came up to me and said softly, ‘I think you have something at the post office…’

I didn’t remember him, but since (almost) everyone knows me, I decided to check the next day.

I had two parcels waiting for me: two copies of Sky Red, both sent by Amazon and none of which I was aware of.

The IT Caveman in me allowed me to sign-off for both with no comment – except an idea ringing and echoing in my head to recommend to my sons that they contact Amazon to deliver its small Caribbean packages from Post Office to Home, by bicycle and drone!

After all, if Usain Bolt’s version of a scooter can attract a US $30 million grant from somewhere in America, why wouldn’t Amazon Boss Jeff Bezos be willing to throw a few equal farthings into a quicker-delivery service his planners who don’t understand islands have missed?

But then, none of them is Usain Bolt – and I’m not sure I can convince Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet, who only just gave-up his $20 flip-phone for an iPhone 11, to throw his two cents where the richest man in the world won’t.

My friends in London were glad I eventually got both books.

And even though my expected Review turned out to be a Preview, I’m sure that with Social Distancing and Self-Isolation as new options for fighting Covid-19, many more around the world will have time to read all of Sky Red’s 388 pages – and take another peek into Bernard’s brain.

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