A writer comes to Guyana. He does not stray far from the country’s underbelly and he writes a book about the characters and situations he encounters there. (You do not find here our university professors, law makers, artists, community leaders, educators, etc.) The resulting book, Rahul Bhattacharya’s, with all its obscenities and crassness, becomes the toast of Guyana and is hailed as presenting the best ever portrayal of us and our culture.
That, in a nutshell, is my assessment of the book, and of the reviews that were published in SN. From this assessment and from his own reading, F Skinner sets out to score racial points (‘Bhattacharya’s book was a masterpiece’ SN, February 17). He thinks he is winning at something when the book actually holds us up – all of us – to the ridicule of the world.
Bhattacharya chose his colonial backwater well. That is the phrase the New York Times reviewer used to describe Guyana on reading the book: we are a “colonial backwater”. It would appear that he is right.
Our colonial masters saw us as barbaric people and our greatest postcolonial success is that we have turned ourselves into excellent caricatures of that characterization. This is nowhere better seen than in that underbelly which Bhattacharya describes so well.
This exchange of letters has confirmed that it is the culture of the underclass that is now the definitive culture of Guyana and, further, that this culture is so very much admired at all levels of our society that any criticism if its crudities results in condemnation from everyone. We celebrate that culture, delight in it, and, as Skinner does, we rationalize it. Had he not stated it in his letter, who would ever have thought that it is an African Guyanese trait that they big up themselves by presenting themselves as murderers?
The wider issue is that no one is prepared to make the obvious connection that exists between our cultural morass and the crime, corruption and violence, including the violence against women and children that plague our society.
It is commendable that SN columnist Dave Martins finds the societal ills described in Bhattacharya’s book fixable. I have long since given up on any such hope and Mr Skinner’s letter reminds me of why I am so sure of that hopelessness.