Marley & Me


Marley & Me

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

“You know I smoke’a de ganja all de time.
We going to smoke’a de ganja until the very end.”
– Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, Ganja Gun

My first encounter with Bob Marley was in my uncle’s living room on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. There he was, holding an electric guitar, dreadlocks unfurled, armpit hair visible. He wasn’t pretty, but then he didn’t have too much use for prettiness.

I didn’t know that day why out of all my dad’s music I would keep coming back to Bob. I’d audition for singing competitions in school with bad, off-key renditions of “No Woman No Cry” or “Could You Be Loved”, devoid of the typical Jamaican patois. I would listen to my dad’s cassettes on my walkman and try to figure out the words, using a pencil at times to manually rewind to specific parts. Often I misheard lyrics, at times I wondered what “Babylon”, or “I and I” meant. I didn’t bother to find out, all I knew was that this music was mellow, soothing and seemed to relax my perpetually on-edge father, whose cigarettes sometimes smelled funny.

I’ve always had a rocky relationship with my father. My father was a man nursing his own grouse with how life had let him down. In those years, he had just returned from a job in the Gulf and lost a lot of money in a ponzi scheme. The mood in the house during those years was dreadful. I never knew when he would erupt, leaving me running for cover. He was a man who was always ready to talk with his fists.
Once, when my Dad was in one of his dark moods, I slunk around with a copy of Greatest Hits. I slipped it into the rinky-dink player at home, wanting nothing more than to run away from this dark mood. “Where’d you get that cassette,” my dad whipped around to ask as the music came on. When I told him I’d pulled it out of his music collection (which he catalogued alphabetically and obsessively) he went to the cabinet that held all the cassettes and went through it meticulously.

I shat my pants. I’d shit a brick every time my father as much as furrowed his brow in anticipation of the mother-of-all beating that I knew was imminent. This time I knew I would get it hard because I knew that I had messed up his precious library.

He discovered my fuck-up at the same time that “Three Little Birds” came on. I hear the words, “don’t worry, about a thing… every little thing, is going to be all right”, and for a split second, I imagined that every little thing would really be alright.

I was convinced, I needed to live my life one spliff at a time, because after all, Bob Marley said, “herb reveal yourself to you”.

I’d like to say the beatings didn’t come, but I can’t. My father didn’t seem to have his heart in it though. As he “greased my gears”, he seemed to be doing it more out of habit than genuine anger. The music seemed to have diluted this mother-of-all-beatings into an ordinary, everyday whackabout. For the first time, I didn’t wish that I could whack him back.

I began to play a lot more of peacemaker Marley after that. I had no idea that his music actually came from a place of peace. Bob Marley and The Wailers arrived on the scene at a time when Jamaica was embroiled in violence and corruption. Bob Marley spent these years as a messiah of peace, urging fans to try means other than violence and hatred. This was evident when he got two warring politicians to shake hands on stage during a concert, ending some pretty nasty goings on between the two.

Bob Marley made the shittiness of my adolescent years more bearable. I smoked my first badly rolled joint, alone, the day my SSC exams ended, listening to “Lively Up Yourself”. I was convinced, I needed to live my life one spliff at a time, because after all, Bob Marley said, “herb reveal yourself to you”.

I have taken Marley’s advice seriously. In letter and in spirit. But I didn’t love Marley because he introduced me to pot or because every other kid in class knew him as the maker of the most baller merchandise in the world. I loved Marley because he taught me that despite all anger and fear, peace has a place in our lives. So the next time you listen to reggae and the sun is shining, remember, it’s not just about smoking two joints in the morning, or a babe named ganja, it’s about cultivating the kind of inner chill that nobody should be able to take away from you.

Not even your father.