Earlier this year I was moved to comment (twice) on thoughts and issues of identity and belonging evoked by the poetry and other declarations by Ms Ryhaan Shah, Indian Pride activist.
Recall that I was both intrigued and impressed, slowly recognising and trying to understand her natural, spiritual connection to her people’s heritage and legacy of “Indianness.”
This lady of letters – An “Indira” from/of India, descended into this Caribbean – Guyana “distant shore” – often explores “the political correctness” which, allegedly, ensures that too many Indian-Guyanese abandon their heritage in favour of more home-grown Guyanese “nationalism”. I myself, most likely guilty of that change, after reading her soulfully-riveting poem “I did not begin anew,” wondered briefly whether I’m wrong, naïve, in denial or guilty with respect to not being more “Indian”. But no, I’ve decided. Nothing even to do with Dr Cheddi Jagan influencing Indians to be more “national” in the face of African aggression and domination of cultural and political space, but from an independence of mind not bound to Hinduism, Islam or Christianity or a sole cultural heritage. Ryhaan may be free to pity me.
All of the foregoing flows from another stunning piece of cultural scholarship and personal historical analysis offered by a Rajiv Mohabir in this paper’s Diaspora series (edition of Monday June 27 last). He too is obviously proud of India but has become passionately definitive of why he is now upset about the historical and humanistic distortions of Indian Arrival Day (May 5 here).
Rajiv’s defiant prose – as poetry
I want to do no more than to quote Mr Mohabir’s riveting narrative. Even his stark prose and analyses read like poetry of defiance and resistance. Not unlike Shah’s poem, but from a separate perspective.
Before I quote just excerpts, I present his basic propositions. He has stopped “celebrating” Indian Arrival Day because: he finds no justification in observing a “Day” which commemorates the beginnings of our oppression in Guyana and even in the Diaspora while we still feel the effects of violent colonisation?”; because Indian arrival into the Caribbean “marked the beginning of serious disease, dependencies, prejudices and ills that still plague us today”; because to celebrate arrival is to celebrate the cause of generations-long illnesses, racism, alcoholism, homophobia and domestic violence”. He quotes history and other Indo-writers to validate first how the “immigrants” were enslaved into the listed evils of the White man’s mind and Guyanese sugar plantations.
For a sampling of his more “poetic prose”: “We have touched the flame of the empire and have been scarred … India is not home, it is a mythological homeland… last night I dreamt of my mother, she too lives by the sea … she has become a painter and is drawn to the poetry of the wave … she is drawn to the sea, that original place of trauma, hoping longing for the return of wholeness… we are haunted by the specter of this unfulfilled promise. Would my ancestors have left if they knew what would become of their progeny…” and so on.
Mohabir has an actual poem wherein he speaks of “repeating the migrant strain again” presumably of his people moving across other Kalapanis, like to the USA now. Provocative stuff and recommended reading, I suggest.
A few weeks ago an administrator/specialist of a local private hospital had pronounced on the statistical fact that Indo-Guyanese seem prone to diabetes. Perhaps the sensitivity restrained reporters from elaborating until many days after. (Incidentally, I would light-heartedly, challenge her to count the high number of cases among other groups. Scores of my Afro-friends can testify!)
Rajiv Mohabir – I’ll call him Dianand briefly – reflected upon diabetes thus: “To me, chronically ill with diabetes – me get sugah – the greatest irony is that my ancestors were contracted to cultivate sugar on another people’s indigenous land for the British and their Empire, and what we are left with is diabetes – a disease that disproportionately affects South Asians and other people of color, making it so we cannot eat sugar, or that sugar imbalance will eventually kill us.
He concludes his essay with: “why the hell should I celebrate colonisation? To celebrate Indian Arrival Day is to celebrate the damage wreaked upon brown bodies by white systems of colonial violence …” He then announced his alternative celebration of “the end of indenture; of human trafficking on a global scale; “I celebrated survival…”
The original Indian Arrival Committee here – with its PPP political baggage – is now an I-Action Committee, Rajiv/Dianand should consider: May 5th Indian Achievement Day.
On remand on the East Bank
I’ll be guilty now of some professional journalistic carelessness so I’ll have to postpone the fuller presentation of this issue. (I’ve misplaced my notes…)
However recent letters outlining “the travails” of a single parent mother over the incarceration of her seventeen-year-old son in extremely inappropriate police station cells on the East Bank of Demerara, along with a relevant insightful editorial in the Kaieteur News last week have motivated me to explore this subject of being put on remand, in some depth.
The mother is (now) known to me and cites the Grove-Diamond Police cells and their inhumane management – for public scrutiny and exposure. I have to investigate her claims of alleged police internal “conspiracies.” She is also soliciting “younger assistance” from younger journalist. It is now more than a son’s innocence or potential conviction.
It is about some policemen’s – and women’s – inhumanity to their poor fellowmen. (more to come…)
.1) Would we have known details and nuances of the Ramotar–Tiwarie dealings if the PPP had triumphed last year?
.2) How are former ministers Robert, Ashni and Ms Webster getting along these days? Like Mr Brassington, why are they not in their homeland anymore?
.3) Is it utter contempt for the journalists and the public when Mr Ramotar and Mr Rohee make certain statements?
’Til next week!