Songs of Silence

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In the novel The Humming Bird Tree, Ian McDonald affirms what a special period of our lives childhood is. Our love is unconditional. Our trust is complete. Our laughter is unbridled. Everything is simple. Then we grow up.

In the case of young (Master) Alan, idyllic Trinidad is his playground; the rivers tossing over the white rocks, the cool scent of the bamboo trees, the moon over the citrus trees form a backdrop to his adventures.

Kaiser, with his treasury of knowledge and skills, his fearlessness, his manliness, his invincibility, is Alan's hero. Similarly his love for Jaillin is unfettered by any inkling that a bi-racial relationship comes with certain... er... difficulties, especially in pre-independence Trinidad. He knows he must see her often, he knows he blushes at the thought of kissing her, he knows he is thrilled when she looks at him, he knows he must marry her when they grow up. And that's all there is to it.

But 'reason' begins to take hold and his Indian friends begin to appear vulgar- didn't anyone teach them not to spit or pick their noses? And they are so superstitious! (Although it does seem inane to believe that the wafer clinging to the roof of his mouth is the body of Christ).

And so time passes and Master Alan loses his virginity. The beauty of the land blurs and the trappings of his upperclass life come into sharp focus. Crab hunting gives way -at his parents insistence- to afternoons at the tennis club and soon Master Alan is about to go off to Cambridge to study History (something Kaiser, now a store clerk, cannot understand, why would anyone study History?) Much to his parents' relief, Master Alan now knows what is what and he accepts his superior lot in life.

But deep down he is not happy. Like the marbleus butterfly, Jaillin has eluded him; he can never love like that again, but being with her is just not that simple. The poverty that was always around him seem starker, more troubling....
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