The first time I laid eyes on Mrs Janet Jagan was in the early 1960s when I was a high school student travelling home to the Essequibo Coast for the holidays on the old MV Lady Northcote. General elections were approaching and there she was, larger than life, decked out in a red sari and mingling freely with the ordinary passengers, shaking hands and taking scenic pictures with a bulky-looking camera.
There were many East Indian women on board that day and many of them were all smiles, referring to her as ‘Honourable Bhowjie.’ When I finally arrived home I remember asking my mother what ‘bhowjie’ meant. Over the years she was loved by many and feared by those who wanted to keep Guyana in servitude to the British Crown. Sometimes I think she was the driving force behind the PPP. Now her blonde has turned silver and she has gone to sleep.
I’ll never forget her or her husband, the venerable Dr Cheddi Jagan. I remember suffering from a terrible toothache one hot afternoon after school and I was making my way to the Stabroek ferry stelling to catch the 4:20 pm ferry to Vreed-en-Hoop where I was lodging. In those days, high school students from “the country” had to board and lodge in or near Georgetown since there were very few, if any, high schools outside the capital city. I remember I had only two British Guiana dollars in my pocket but the pain drove me to walk into Dr Jagan’s clinic on Camp Street seeking help. Then this distinguished-looking man with slightly greying hair wearing a white lab coat came towards me asking what was my trouble. When I told him of my painful condition he graciously accepted my two dollars and immediately took me into his surgery. That bad tooth was out in minutes. When he was finished he said to me, “That was a surgical extraction of a tooth. Tell your family who helped you out.” He could easily have turned me away or sent me to the clinic at the Public Hospital but that’s the kind of man he was. He took pity on a poor black teenager he didn’t even know. I will carry that memory of him until I die.
Rest in Peace Dr and Mrs Jagan.