More than 100 years ago Joseph Ruhomon exhorted indentured workers in British Guiana to “improve themselves” in a publication that started Indian intellectualism in the colony. This was followed by further efforts by himself, his brother Peter Ruhomon, CRJ Ramcharitar-Lalla and others, and the formation of a number of social and cultural clubs in the 1920s and thirties. But where drama, literature and cultural traditions were concerned, their focus was on the promotion of works imported from India. At least one local member of the British Guiana Dramatic Society in the 1940s is credited with writing plays such as Savitri, but it was not until the 1960s that truly Guyanese Indian plays emerged. Guyanese writer and cultural matriarch Rajkumarie Singh grew up in the BGDS and was a part of local artistic nationalism after Independence, but the first plays on local life among Indian descendants in BG were written by Sheik Sadeek.
However, more than producing the first Indian plays which were truly Guyanese, Sadeek was a part of the development of Guyanese drama itself. While Norman Eustace Cameron was the founder of modern Guyanese drama, the strongest and most influential move in its development took place in the Theatre Guild in the early 1960s. The two important playwrights who emerged then were Sheik Sadeek and Frank Pilgrim. Sadeek won playwriting competitions organised by the Guild, was a winner of the Cheddi Jagan medal for literature and actually published a series of one-act plays whose emergence in the 1960s helped to set in train contemporary Guyanese drama.
The programme Namaste directed by Neaz Subhan performed three of those plays in order to honour Sadeek and to respond to what Subhan described as “a challenge from the patron of the IAC Minister Robert Persaud to present Guyanese dramas.” Also honoured at the performances was Bibi Sadeek, daughter of the playwright, who helped him to type, edit and publish the dramas. At the opening of the performances Justice Donald Trotman addressed the audience on behalf of the Sadeek family. The one-act plays presented were Black Bush, Namaste and Goodbye Corentyne, all written with an inspired purpose by the dramatist.
Sadeek wrote notes about his work and explained in these that he was fascinated by the local cultural flavour and the colourful language of the people that he observed in the Kitty market. He would go there to listen and make records of these. He did not manage to reproduce the Creolese that he must have heard in these plays, but gave for the first time in the history of Guyanese theatre true presentations of the people and their conditions of life in the environments of the sugar estate villages and rice farming communities in rural BG. The plays are not afraid to represent the impoverished conditions in the homes of people who are cane cutters or weeders, or small struggling rice farmers and peasants.
Subhan attempted to reproduce these in the productions with costuming that was often believable, even if not totally authentic according to the period, which could have been any time around the 1950s. In two of the one-act plays, Black Bush and Namaste, both set in the interior of homes which were most likely thatched huts, an attempt is made in set and décor to recreate the atmosphere of newspaper-covered walls and rice bags serving as partitions in doorways. But the effect was not served by the vastness of space used. Subhan attempted to cover the entire expanse of the wide Cultural Centre stage, which should have been cut down. This told on the blocking and the actors often had to wander around, sometimes distractingly because of the distances that they had to manoeuvre.
It did not, however, affect the genuineness of the keen approach in what was overall very effective and believable acting. The integrity of the social environment and situations was also unblemished. In Black Bush Rajan Tiwari played Bisson, who was one of those peasants in the Berbice village struggling against the elements and the economy to survive. He buys a tractor as an investment for his farm and what he could make from hiring it out, but he has to struggle against a prolonged and untimely drought as well as against his wife played by Sonia Yarde, whose mood is negative, worn down by the hard conditions brought about by the drought. The play used the absence of rain as a kind of symbol for the prevailing condition of hardship, but it is a hopeful play. This hope for betterment comes in the form of Ranee, Bissoon’s daughter (Kerrimaria Phang) who seems to be the playwright’s voice, supporting the initiative taken by the struggling farmer and full of bright prospects, against the despair of her mother.