I like variety. But not in everything. There are some aspects which I do not like any change. A good hotel, even if an old one, falls in that class.
I never stayed in Jamaica in any hotel except Pegasus. This old hotel needs upgrading, yet it is my favourite. It is the location that matters. Pegasus is just opposite the Emancipation Park in Kingston. Or the other way round, because the hotel came up first. My reservation, in this trip, was arranged in another hotel; but I did not have much to complain because it too was opposite the Emancipation Park.
I went there for my morning walk, as I do when in Kingston. And I took a good look at the sculpture. Again. ‘The Redemption Song.’ This sculpture is stunning. The tall nude statues of African male and female placed in water which gently flows out of dome brings back memories of how they were uprooted and transported for slavery. The ships sailed from Europe, docked in African ports, picked up slaves and took them to America via Caribbean, something that came to be called as ‘Middle Passage.’ The words inscribed at the base of the dome are “None but ourselves can free our minds”. These were originally spoken by Marcus Garvey and later used by Bob Marley in “Redemption Song”.
You can interpret the sculpture in more than one way. But it surely brings me the pain of slavery. People have objected that the symbolism of emancipation is not explicit enough. Perhaps it is not. The sculpture claims to emphasise the true emancipation is of mind. Take your call, but it is a sculpture you won’t be able to ignore; it left me speechless, it will leave you speechless!
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If you are in Jamaica and if you have some free time to visit beautiful locations, you have many choices available. Beautiful beaches, waterfalls, rainforest – all these are available at many other places. India too offers them. There was a unique choice available – Ian Fleming’s house. The man who created James Bond, Agent 007! That was my choice, with one suggestion to Glen, my ex-colleague who was to drive me there; ‘let us stop at some places of importance.’ Glen readily agreed.
We set off in Glen’s Honda Civic. A comfortable car if you are travelling on a serpentine road leading through the hills. About an hour of drive through beautiful rainforest finally brought us in front of St Mary Parish Church. A small church in a beautiful location. We stopped there. There was only one lady in the church, I spoke to her. ‘How old is this church?’ I asked. ‘Guess!’ ‘May be one hundred years’ I said. ‘It is over one hundred fifty-five years old.’ ‘Wow!’
Jamaicans are a church going community. I saw many churches on the way. Glen said Jamaica’s claim to fame is that Jamaica has the highest number of churches per square kilometer, ‘It’s there in the Guinness book of records’ he said. I was inclined to believe it. Such religious people, and what explains very high rate of crime, young unwed mothers? In 2003, there was a suggestion before the Parliament in Jamaica that women who had more than two children outside of marriage be sterilized! But I guess all societies have their share of contradictions.
We came out of the church. An old building with newly built entrance stood there. It was built in 1821 and was in use till 1988 till fire claimed a good part of it. A sign board told us that it was a ‘fine example of Jamaican Georgian architecture.’ But more important was the drama that took place in the court it housed.
It was here that Bustamante was tried for manslaughter. He was a labour leader and he fought against the colonial rule and for freedom of Jamaica. He was acquitted. He was defended by his cousin Norman Manley, after whom the International airport is named. Alexander Bustamante later became the first Prime Minister of Jamaica.
We drove further. We went far ahead and saw a board announcing that we were very close to the ‘James Bond Beach.’ But I was interested in seeing the house of Ian Fleming. So finally we got it. It is the ‘Goldeneye’ property. Glen drove to the main gate. A smart security staff, a lady dressed in the black spoke to Glen but did not open the gate. There was long conversation, obviously Glen was trying to persuade her to open and let us in, and she firmly declined. No smile. It was as if she was not letting in spies or agents of KGB!
Glen returned. ‘She says only with prior appointment’ he said. That’s very and truly British; [it didn’t appear Jamaican way either.] But you can’t argue with people in uniform. So we reversed and headed back. Not before I clicked this photograph to prove that I had been there.
For people who enjoy good fiction and literature, visiting such places is a little short of pilgrimage. And for some people it is not.
Vivek S Patwardhan