Slowly understanding their Indianness

-After her heritage poem

 -‘It was always illegal’

Two small up-front points: I’m glad I actually purchased a Guyana Times this past Sunday (I’m not too much a regular); secondly, what follows is as much a testimony to my fascination with other people’s Indianness in Guyana, as it is a brief nano-summary of my continually-delayed enlightenment on the issue, the phenomenon, the complex matrix of (a) people’s origins, history, culture, religion, ethnicity and generational lifelong bond. Some bond of blood, tears, spirit and devotion.

So what is all the above about? Well it’s about a personal, life-long wonderment and curiosity. And the Sunday insight- while not complete epiphany- which Ryhaan Shah’s Poem, `I did not begin anew’ offered me on the first morning of this week. (I became an observer-fan of this writer/lady/ activist since when she and Ravi D were “opponents” of the Jagdeo methods.)


Poor little confused me

From the early fifties, growing up in the little Church Street, Georgetown cottage with my “red” mixed Afro-oriented granny, I liked listening to the morning-and-night devotions of Mr and Mrs Das our milk-vendor neighbours.

There were bells, chants, prayers, flowers, brass utensils, small statues and pictures – and ever-present Jhandi flags. (I loved the renewal of those flags). Confused, between five and thirteen, I would ask grandmother about what I later learnt to be Indian/Hindu worship. Because this daily reverence was manifested in the heart of a street and neighbourhood that was certainly not rural nor Hindu: But why Hindu I would wonder. And grandmother was not of very much help, though she explained that that was the way, culture, religion of “Indian people”. Indian? Poor me. I was very much part – “Indian” but completely afro-oriented. Oh and British Guianese.

Besides Mohammed Rafi’s “Sohani Raat” via our local Ayube Hamid (Radio Dem), my neighbours would play one “song” repeatedly. It never left my head. Just a few years ago Mr Kirpalani explained to me that that “song” was actually an “Aarti- Bhajan” – “Om Jai Jagdish Hare”. A Hindi hymn. Enlightened me!

By Independence (1966) and racial/political allegiances solidified, I began to understand the loyalty to Mother India demonstrated by the descendants of the Indian Immigrants (1838) here. They needed identity though born in Guyana. They got it from India through the local mandirs, mosques, culture, local geographical communities and that collective nature to survive- by any means available – to prosper and prevail.

Whenever they felt threatened and insecure there was a safety-net network. And none so guaranteed as that Spiritual Bond to Mother India. Hence Ms Shah’s riveting poem.


`I did not begin anew’

I really feel capable of a full review and appreciation of this bit of poetry of belonging, determination and pride. But this is not the time or space.

Suffice to understand that if Ryhaan Shah articulates for thousands of Guyanese of Indian heritage, it seem that their psyche is still Indian first, Guyanese after. I know I’ll be educated about heritage and origins enriching nationality and diversity. But still I wonder. Ryhaan declares: “I did not begin anew but am the blood and bone of ages past and centuries of time/I did not begin anew but I am the present from a past that was never abandoned on this distant shore…”

“ … I am no shard of history, no broken vase, but lived in every century of old, fought glorious wars, beheld the Gods and sang their songs of praise. They kept me whole through all the trials/ Of this new earth bound by Golden stalks….” (Her historical spiritual bonds after “arrival” in British South America.)

Then, her rejection of “those” who would dictate her existence, loyalty, being. She writes:

“And who are they

To say; to choose who, what, where my life begins

And how I am to think, when I can hear my footsteps

Stamping, drumming, through

all the years to the rhythm

And the rhyme of my ankle bells because for me,

like every other, all the earth is mine?

Am I then to die, to be forever stilled,

If I live, breathe, rush through the air and find

That this self, myself, is, was, and forever shall be?”

I suspect that it is much too late for me- though my mother’s forebears “arrived” at Plantation Friends, East Bank, Berbice – to discover this type of Indian allegiance, belonging. But I understand much better now. Thanks to Ms Shah’s poetic, defiant declaration.

Next time, based on my seven decades of experience and observation, I’ll explore elements of “Indians” as Guyanese. Discuss…


Normal but illegal

I’ve written about it over the years: disorderly vending, illegal squatting, and commercial conning all made normal and routine by uncaring authorities. (“Is 15 years we selling hay”)

So when those “authorities” take fees from obstructionist vendors and provide electricity, water and telephones to squatters, who can blame the illegals? Sometimes the Courts actually support disorder and suddenly the “authorities” seem obliged to make wrong right, acceptable.

I’ve also written in these columns, before his election, that officer Granger would not have countenanced the Stabroek disorder. How right I was!

So the Water Street  vendors told the Guyana Chronicle last week “it was always illegal”, their actions were “illicit”.

And their new mayor was “motherly”:  “The city had accepted doing a wrong for too long. I love ya’ll bad and will do what’s right for you; this is the change everyone voted for…”


Ponder Well

Stabroek vendors should have priority on the ground floor of Mr Panday’s New “GSL Mall”. Government and city should also convert the old Co-op Bank site into a vendor’s Paradise.

Why are African Guyanese not as “chained” to Africa?

Next time I go to New York from Timehri It will be with absolutely no luggage. Not even a carry–on! And oh, they could X-Ray my tummy before I board.

I hear Minister Harmon shared in lots of love in Bartica last week-end. In dominoes!

’Til next week!


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