Clem Seecharran is a son of Guyana and a true scholar. He came from a house in Berbice with no books. Yet Professor Seecharran has become, or is on the way to becoming, one of the most prolific and serious authors ever produced by Guyana.
A distinguished historiographer, Clem has just sent his latest book to the publishers. It promises to be yet another triumph for Professor Seecharran following in the footsteps of his masterly work on Sir Jock Campbell ‘Sweetening Bitter Sugar’ which won the ‘Caribbean History Oscar’-the Elsa Gouveia Prize- in 2005. The serious oeuvre of the boy from Berbice just gets bigger and bigger.
The latest tome is called ‘Mother India’s Shadow over El Dorado: Indo-Guyanese Politics and Identity, 1890s-1930’ It will be published by Ian Randle in late 2008. The book is the first which explores the relationship between the ideas of India and of Guyana. It covers the period between the 1890s, with the emergence of the first Indo-Guyanese intellectual, Joseph Ruhomon (1873-1942), through to the 1930s, the centenary of the Indian presence in Guyana.
It examines the contribution of other Indo-Guyanese intellectuals, such as Peter Ruhomon and J.I. Ramphal, towards the construction of ‘Mother India’ as a source of their inspiration. It looks at the recovery of ancient India as an exemplar of civilisation in diverse areas of human advancement: philosophy, architecture, painting and so on. It looks at the Gandhian India that was leading the anti-colonial crusade against British rule at the same time. Both the ancient India as well as the India in revolt were used by the Indo-Guyanese to counter the lingering ‘coolie’ image and the legacy of their indentureship dating back to 1838.
By the 1920’s and 1930’s the Indo-Guyanese were assuming a triumphal posture after periodic visits by missionaries and scholars from India such as Pillai, Tivary, Jaimini and the Rev C.F. Andrews. They had created vibrant organisations like the British Guiana East Indian Association (founded in Berbice in 1916); The British Guiana East Indian Cricket Club-now the Everest (founded in Georgetown in 1915) and the East Indian Young Men’s Society (founded in 1919), in which Peter Ruhomon ,CR Jacob and JI Ramphal (the father of Sir Shridath Ramphal, latterly the Secretary General of the Commonwealth) were very active. They all looked to Mother India for inspiration. Prof Seecharran was given exclusive access to the journals of JI Ramphal by his very distinguished son .
Although the Indians were becoming active in Guyanese politics, they identified the freedom of their mother’s land as crucial to their identity as Guyanese. Coupled with economic success in rice, cattle and commerce and ideas of an Indian Colony or Greater India in Guyana, it fed an undercurrent of apprehension among the African Guyanese. This did not augur well for race relations as it shaped a bifurcated nationalism: one Indian, the other African. Notions of El Dorado, of unlimited wealth in the country, tended to magnify this rivalry. That mistrust cost many lives later and exists to this day.
‘Mother India’s Shadow’ looks like proving to be a controversial book that will stimulate necessary debate about how we move forward towards the creation of a genuine Guyanese identity which has eluded the country so far. ‘Mother India’ will be published by Ian Randle of Kingston and Miami in late 2008.
Ian Randle is also republishing Seecharan’s ‘Tiger in the Stars’: the Anatomy of Indian Achievement in British Guiana,1919-29′ in early 2008. This is now recognized as a seminal work in Indo-Caribbean historiography and was published originally by Macmillan in 1997. It has been out of print for many years and along with Bechu: ‘Bound Coolie’ Radical in British Guiana (1999) and the reprint of Joseph Ruhomon’s ‘India: The Progress of her People at Home and Abroad, published’ originally in 1894 (the first publication by an Indo-Caribbean person), they constitute a very solid body of work that probably makes Clem Seecharran the most prolific scholar in the field today.
When to that is added “Sweetening Bitter Sugar: Jock Campbell – the Booker Reformer in British Guiana’: (2005), winner of the prestigious Elsa Gouveia Prize (presented by the Association of Caribbean Historians) and ‘Muscular Learning: Cricket and Education in the making of the British West Indies’ (2006), it is clear that this all represents scholarship that is changing the way all the peoples in the Caribbean region see themselves.
As if that is not enough, Clem Seecharran is now working on two other books Firstly, `From Rohan to Ranji: Cricket and Indo-Guyanese Identity, 1890s-1950s’ and secondly a book on the anti-communist crusade of the Catholic Church and the United Force Party in the 1950s-1960s, essentially, chronicling the role they played in keeping Dr Cheddi Jagan and the PPP out of office for many years.
Professor Seecharran is currently head of Caribbean Studies at London Metro-politan University. He was educated at the Universities of Guyana, McMaster in Canada and Warwick in the UK. He is due to return to Warwick in November to deliver the very prestigious annual Walter Rodney lecture there.
The boy from Berbice has travelled a long, fruitful road. Today he is lauded and his literary cup runneth over.