The Crucifixion

Written by V. Ramsamooj Gosine for Trinidad Guardian on

READING Ismith Khan’s latest novel, one is reminded of V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street. The comparison is unavoidable mainly because novelists draw heavily from the same background, Port of Spain and the people who belong to the lower strata of society.

Khan’s characters are caught up in a vicious cycle from which there seems no escape. The happenings of the outside world are not mentioned in the novel, and the reader suspects that the characters are so wrapped up in their everyday lives, that nothing else matters except the immediate. One must note, too, that the characters are not aware of their predicament.

Lack Of Feeling
The major characters in the novel are Manko - a man who was housed at the orphanage at Tacarigua where you either study the bible or music, a sort of straight-jacket education. Manko studied the Bible, and later becomes a money-minded, rum-drinking, half-insane preacher, who seems incapable of doing anything good.

Miss Violet - the lead female character, is a prostitute, who scrapes a living from the men she services. She lacks any feeling of sympathy. She is capable of hurting you and laughing at it at the same time. She is a liar, vicious and shameless. She even exploits the cradle to satisfy her craving.

The policeman, Constable James is corrupt and exploits any situation which will benefit him, and because he tries to take the law in his own hands, even in the Court House, he is abused and brought to his knees by the presiding magistrate. At the end of the novel, he is no longer the bully, but breaks down and cries for Miss Violet who has left the district.

However, the ‘Crucifixion’ does not belong to adults alone. The lone teenager in the novels makes a brief appearance as Tommy. His mother, Miss B, is a disciplinarian and perhaps a good Christian. While there is moral decay in the yard, Miss B punishes Tommy mercilessly for the little wrongs he commits. She makes him kneel down on a large grater and when his knees are bruised, she puts salt and water in a basin and asks him to soak his knees in there. But she respects the preacher and insists that Tommy respect him too. In fact, she was the first one to welcome the preacher into the yard.

Yard Literature
All the characters seem lost and searching for a God (happiness). But their environment does not allow them to go beyond a certain level. They belong to the yard literature of the broken down ramshackle, poverty stricken houses of Port of Spain where only the brave and ruthless
could survive. In a sense, The Crucifixion, Khan’s third novel, is a very disturbing novel, which captures a bitter past, remnants of which still survive today. It’s a dog eat dog society, the survival of the fittest. It’s a society peopled by pimps, half insane, drunken preachers, murders, prostitutes, men and women of very shady description, who have little ambition to escape their surroundings. But they are not people of education and intelligence, hence their wasted lives in their limiting society.
Only Manko acknowledges honesty, but is laughed at even by the presiding magistrate, who later sympathises with Manko for his simplicity and more so his ignorance.

The Crucifixion is told in two voices, one standard English and the other creole. It is a rich dialect and often the narrator breaks from his preoccupation to give a background of the character dealt with. Here he uses the creole. Very often the novelist seems to be hammering at the language to give effect and rhythm, and indeed the effect is powerful. Readers are sure to be pleased at the way the novelist handles the creole.