First generation Indian Guyanese – Sukdiah Mohabir

Slightly bent over, her glasses perched precariously on her wizened face, Sukdiah Mohabir hurried down a street in the village of Canefield, Canje, Berbice on a sunny morning impatient to match the strides of the younger woman holding her hand.

She showed no sign of her 104 years and if it was not for her hand being gripped she might have run into the yard to meet the visitor waiting for her, as she was in a hurry and did not want miss the funeral of a villager.

“Ow beti wah me guh tell you? A living but a getting old now,” were the words she greeted this reporter with followed by a hug.

Better known as Aunty Powah, Mohabir is a direct descendant of indentured workers but she has no recollection of the stories about India that her parents might have told her, although she remembers vividly working on the Albion Estate as a weeder.

Sukdiah Mohabir
Sukdiah Mohabir

She speaks rapidly and says, “I can remember all dah,” when she is asked about something of she has no recollection but longs for some of what existed in the old days.

Sitting on a bench, her hands resting on a table underneath the house she built with her husband many years ago, but which has since been renovated by the grand-nephew she now lives with, Aunty Powah makes a classic picture with her trademark kerchief headpiece.

“Abi wuk hard, abi cut cane, abi plant cane, abi weed, abi wuk all wuk a estate and from the time when me stop me deh a house.”

While she does not have any children she took care of nieces and nephews and refers to one of her nieces, who now lives in England, as her daughter.

“Me mind dem when dem mother dead; me mind dem and me married dem,” she said of her sister’s children.

She is the only child surviving from her parents and she was the eldest of the children. Her daughter in England is now 74 and she said sadly that while her nieces and nephews would call from overseas they have not been home in years to see her. But she admitted that her daughter had wanted her to go to England and had even purchased a ticket, but in the end she refused.

‘All a meh family and suh deh a America and if I go deh I could see all me family, but me nah able a come a England and when she a gone and shut a door me alone a lef, suh me nah guh and she vex,” she said with a sad smile.

Her main concern preventing her from making the England trip was what if something happened to her while her daughter was at work.

 ‘How long more?’
“Beti abi meet good, abi meet bad, abi meet all kind and abi try with all and abi deh till now, till now 104,” was the manner in which she summed up her life.

“Me nah know how mo me a guh, but me nah wan guh mo,” she said, explaining that she prefers to die when she can walk and not when she is no longer mobile.

“Dah a long story me nah able to remember dem story em grand pickney,” she said when asked about her deceased husband whom she said was named Lall.

She recalled that her parents “wuk and mind we”; her father was a cane-cutter while her mother weeded. Their home was a mud house, better known as a logie, but she proudly declared that her father had used wood for flooring.

Aunty Powah was married as a “lil, lil pickney with blessing,” between the ages of 11 or 12 following which she moved into her own house, and like many others she weeded and cleaned canals on the estate.

House where Sukdiah Mohabir lives
House where Sukdiah Mohabir lives

“Man me nah know nothing about India story; abi been a lil, lil and abi been a play and nah think about India and dis and dah,” she said when asked about India.

But her husband went to India with his mother who died in her motherland, although her husband returned to Guyana. Aunty Powah revealed that she had declined to travel with them since she did not want to leave her parents. Her husband remained in India for one year.

“And when he come back abi mek back,” she said.

“Beti leh me tell you, you gat to know how you living in this country now, because dis nah deh like when abi dis been a deh abi time, the country come very bad, good too and he bad,” was how she described the state of affairs today.

“Me wuk hard, me plant yard, abi mind fowl…abi do all kind of wuk and abi start with trash house and den when dem start to give loan and thing well den abi move up.”

“Man me enjoy life, me sport, me dance, me walk all about a Georgetown and thing… and now all a dem dead and now me a still a lef hey me nah know when me time a guh come.”

Now she spends most of her days sitting around and she complained about the fact that she is not allowed to do any work, arguing that she would be healthier if she is active.

“But when you eat and sit down and sleep and sit down you get a lot of sick and me nah wan dah; leh me do lil wuk nah, but she [pointing to her grandnephew’s wife] nah wan me do nothing.”

She enjoys the Indian Arrival Day celebrations saying she loves to go and “sing and dance and enjoy meself.”  She recalls singing and dancing at a celebration and a visitor exclaiming how “Guyanese can sing.”  She loves to sing and it was her husband who taught her to read in Hindi.

Aunty Powah may not be a politician in the true sense of the word, but has her own commentary on politics. She does not like the direction the country is heading in and actually wishes to return to the days of colonial rule.

“Guyana nah deh like a lang time, Guyana gone bad to worse… deh young generation nah a think bout religion, deh nah think bout living, deh nah think bout nothing…”

“But me nah know nothing, me nah read and write,” she added after a moment of silence.

After some deep words she quickly returned to the present time expressing her wish for the interview to end to facilitate her attendance to the funeral.

“Suh wah more beti, abi gah fuh guh sit down deh [pointing in the direction of the funeral house] lil bit,” she said minutes after she offered to sing and dance for the reporter’s entertainment.

“Sometimes when me a do me prayer me does say, ow God watch how you unjust me God…you carry away all a dem [her siblings] you only lef me alone father…” she said close to tears even as she remembers her friends who are no more and the few who live in the United States.

And after these final parting words Aunty Powah rose and started her brisk walk back to the funeral house.

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