When the World Beyond Georgetown visited Perseverance on the Essequibo Coast earlier this month, the festival of Phagwah was being celebrated.
The village is about 13.7 miles from the Good Hope Stelling, but when you take a minibus from there, you are let off on the main road and must walk about 15 minutes to arrive at the actual village.
The driver pointed out the shortest route and a look to the left and right revealed two longer routes bordering rice fields of golden paddy waiting to be harvested. The canals running through and around the fields were dry as the koker from the backdam had been closed to prevent water from flooding the ripe paddy fields. Coconut trees, bent over but still tall as ever, bordered the rice fields. A dried up tree stood starkly in the distance, giving meaning to the word perseverance.
At the estate, shrieks of laughter filled the air, as persons with hoses and buckets took turns sloshing and spraying each other with water in celebration of Phagwah. Then came the sound of music – singing, the clanging of chowtals and drumming. This group had smiles painted across already painted, wet faces; leading them was a little boy beating on his bucket. They were the members of the Perseverance Vidya Dhan Mandir. Parmanand Singh, the president of the mandir led the singing of Bhajans; as much as they could from memory. They stopped at houses, where they doused residents with water and powder and received same in return. Kisses and greetings were exchanged and the visitors were offered channa or pholourie with chutney and drink to wash it down. As they continued on through the village, the group of singers grew larger as residents joined them.
Their final visit was to Mukeshwar, a once ardent member of the mandir, now confined to his bed by illness. It was a bittersweet moment for Mukeshwar’s family as they welcomed the visit of happy group. Trying to brave the moment they smiled, yet silent tears rolled down family members’ cheeks.
Village visits concluded, they all clambered onto a waiting truck, pouring over the sides and back; the men pulling themselves up before passing hands to help the women and children. Once aboard, this reporter included, they cheered and set off, armed with their powder, abeer, buckets, water guns and an empty barrel. After one stop at a canal to fill the barrel, the truck drove along the public road, its occupants chattering excitedly and sloshing and spraying friends, family and passersby. Persons armed with buckets of water attempted to return the favour, but missed because of the height of the truck. The phagwah revelers then turned around and finally disembarked at the mandir in Golden Fleece (the village next door), where residents were already having a fun time. This concluded the morning celebrations with the Perseverance residents later returning home to begin preparing sweetmeats for another session in the afternoon at their mandir.
Back home, Parmanand Singh explained that he was born in the village. Vice-president of the Essequibo Coast Praant (a branch of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha), Singh is also a teacher at Abram Zuil Secondary School, situated a few villages away.
“I enjoy living here, especially my childhood days. It’s a pleasure to live here; the people are very loving, hospitable and they always make you feel loved and cared for… The people are very sociable. For me Perseverance is a paradise. Speaking about the Mandir level, the people give tremendous support. Most of the people living in Perseverance are Hindus,” Singh said.
He added that through his father he learnt that his great grandfather, a driver and an overseer during the time of the British was considered to be an ardent worker and was gifted a plot of land by them; part of that land was given to the Hindus to construct their mandir on. The first mandir was said to have been built of mud and wattle in the mid-1900s. There is now a concrete structure in place.
One of the late residents of the village, Sunny Cobra as he was called was a part of a group called ‘Chowtal Goal’. Sunny Cobra in his time was considered the best drummer in the country while the group was said to be the best Chowtal group on the coast.
Another prominent person in society to have grown up here is Dira Dabi of Dabi’s Variety Store who recently visited to celebrate her fiftieth birthday with the villagers at the mandir.
Perseverance is home to approximately 400 residents, according to Singh, though another resident said the population is way more than that. Among its residents, there are doctors, nurses, teachers, an education officer, drivers, carpenters, rice farmers and housewives.
Life in Perseverance, Singh added, was not just harmonious because of its people, but there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables. “This area has so much fruit trees that if one person doesn’t have a particular fruit they’re more than welcomed by another neighbour to pick from their tree. This is currently the awara season.”
However, there are disadvantages, he continued, like living away from the public road. “The dam is in a deplorable state especially when the rain fall and school children have to get out. Persons on their way to work would drop the children to school or out of the estate. But other children who aren’t that lucky to have someone driving by when on their way out or in, have no other option but to foot it,” he noted. “It’d be good if the ministry can provide a bus service for children facing such difficulties getting to and from school. We need our roads fixed too. We’d like a ball field and a recreational centre for our youths and either a basketball court, a tennis court or volleyball court; not all of these, but one at least.”
Another disadvantage Singh mentioned is having no street lights especially along the access road to the village. The nurses, he said, are the ones more challenged by this since they work shifts.
“Currently we’re trying to form a youth group. This group will plant trees along the road, put in bins and streetlights; which we’ll tackle one by one. We’re hoping to get these projects done through fund raising. To launch the group we intend to have a village day, what we’d call Gymkhana,” he said.
The youth, he said, would perform in the fund raisers, adding that the children of his village are very talented. Even those in nursery school, he boasted, can sing. Singh and his wife offer a bhajan class at the mandir after Sunday service. A rice-farming village, Perseverance is suffering, Singh said. Although the land is fertile and is producing, he noted that over the past few years the price of paddy has dropped from $3,500 to $2,300 a bag.
“What we’d like to have for our farmers is a drying floor, where they can dry the paddy. Our neighbour, Golden Fleece, has one that we use but of course their famers are given first priority to use the floor,” he stated.
Rajkumarie Panday, Singh’s neighbour, said she moved to Perseverance in 1966 when she got married. Eleven years later her husband (Gharbarran Panday) died leaving her to raise five children (three girls and two boys, one of whom is now deceased) by herself. At the time of his passing the children were ten, eight, six and four years old and she also had an 11-month-old baby. “Me had some cows, suh me used to sell milk. I also had lil help with public assistance,” she said, adding that she began renting their rice farm as another means of income.
“Back then had chuck sand; when yuh walk, yuh guh down. Eventually the sand wash down wid the rain and deh build a road. We didn’t had water or light. Everybody went to the trench and wash,” she recalled.
Panday, 68, has her husband’s initials, G P, tattooed on her arm. She explained that these tattoos were for married women and back then (some 50 years ago) they were expected to have them as they represented “cleanliness”. She said there were cases where persons refused food prepared by their daughters-in-law or other married women because they did not have these gudna (which is Hindi for burying the needle).
Panday got hers not so long after she was married when the man who did them was visiting the village. She and the other married women of the village who did not have it done yet, had their husbands initials tattooed on their hands that day.
“Nowadays, the women dem does take tattoo for style. Long ago people was strict. When your brother or other [male] relatives talking, you gat to stay inside or one side. You couldn’t ah walk the road bare head; you had to keep yuh head cover. Me neva use to sit down and eat in front ah me father-in-law. You had to wait until dem ain’t deh or sometimes me use to guh in meh room and eat. That’s how me mother teach me but me father-in-law said it was okay to eat around dem. He use to say daughter and daughter-in-law ah the same thing,” said Panday. She is the oldest member of the Vidya Dhan Mandir and would many times represent the village at other mandir functions singing Bhajans. After our talk she left for home to prepare for mandir.
At twelve the villagers arrived at the mandir for another Phagwah session. Two and a half hours later they were outside playing Phagwah. This time they were even more colourful as most persons saved their colours for this time. Most who arrived in their whites left the mandir with more colours than the rainbow; not one person escaped being coloured.
Away from all the activity, we caught up with 80-year-old Indar Singh, who lives on the Perseverance Public Road; he was born on the estate in 1937 in a mud house which was what most of the residents lived in at that time. Few persons lived in logies then.
The village he said is separated into three sections: Perseverance Public Road, Perseverance Estate and another section called Wasteland. However, all the sections are identified as Perseverance since the water and electricity bills come under the name Perseverance.
Singh reminisced about his boyhood when he attended Fisher Primary School and enjoyed going for swims with friends in the canals. However, his carefree life was cut-short when his father took ill and he had to leave school at nine to begin working in the rice fields. He did basically everything that was done in the farm to support his parents and two younger siblings at the time. He was 17 years old when his father died and he got married the following year in 1956.
His nephew, Dhanraj Singh, shared: “Living here means freedom. You can plant your own kitchen garden and catch your own fish. People here live like a family without segregation. If something happens to one family, the community is affected.
“When I used to go to school, the dam I used to walk on had a big hole that used to become a pool when the rain fall. In the mornings one of my parents had to go with me up to the pool and fetch me over and in the afternoon on my way back when I reached that part, they already there waiting to fetch me over again.”
Dhanraj’s father, who did not give his name, said that back in the sixties, Janet Jagan, Gail Teixeira and another official paid a visit to the village to see their way of life. He added that it wasn’t until the eighties that things started to progress.
Dhanraj added that the village now has just about every convenience, except a recreational facility for the youth and a fun park for the smaller children in the village. “The only social time we have is at the beach [there is a seawall behind the village].”