How long are we to perpetuate a state of lapsed co-existence?

Dear Editor,

I was quite entranced by the intellectual passion which informed the discussion of the late Churamanie Bissundyal on Neaz Subhan’s programme ‘The Factor’, on Friday evening, March 30.

It was emphasised that this author was hardly known to Guyanese generally. I for one, interested in local literature of all kinds for more than the past seventy years, had never heard the name.

But I knew personally some of the other writers mentioned – AJ Seymour, who recruited me as a Broadcasting Officer of the Government Information Services back in 1957. Even before that Wilson Harris worked as a Surveyor for the Public Works Department, where as a clerk, I saw to the financial allocations he needed to do his work in the ‘interior’, which even then informed his spirituality.

I knew of Jan Carew when for a time he lived in the Queenstown Ward of Georgetown, where I grew up.

As it turned out, all of the above interacted at different times with a group called The Penumbrians, pre-eminent amongst whom were Rashleigh Jackson, the late Hugh Desmond Hoyte and Aubrey Bishop – to name but a few acknowledged intellects. We avidly embraced Guyanese literature then, as we do now.

What a pity that over the years the talent of Bissundyal which was so exalted during the programme could have been hidden under more than one bushel – for, as understood, he was both novelist and poet.

But to fast forward, how many of us have heard of Steve Persaud, who Robert Lalljie in his recently published anthology titled ‘A Bouquet of Guyanese Flowers – Volume Two’, described as ‘genius’ who ‘was not just a remarkable poet; he was also an accomplished singer, song writer and guitarist…’

And when the discussants adverted, perhaps too frequently, to the pain which the author would have suffered, I could not help but refer to the following excerpt from Krishna Nand Prasad’s letter (quoted in the same anthology) titled ‘Hurt unto Death’ (June 11, 2013).

“Hurt unto Death,

“Dear Editor,

“I wish to express my sincerest gratitude to Mr Ruel Johnson for his response to Dr David Dabydeen’s sad comments on our local writers. I want to convey to Mr Johnson that I could not have offered support because I’m dead as a poet/writer so-called, because of the way I have been treated, among other things. And the dead cannot speak.

“After over 40 years of effort, I stand, among others, neglected and impoverished with respect to support and encouragement from any source.

“In a fit of intense pain, I destroyed all my pieces a few years ago when an Anthology of Guyanese Poetry edited by Ian McDonald et al, positioned my name in the index of the publication without a single line of mine within. I was hurt unto death. For years to come, I doubt whether the local writer, not yet established, will be given any support from the Ministry responsible for cultural development.

“The Dabydeens of the literary world will ever be empowered to insult the struggling. Now I hate the word poetry; I do not want to see a poem. My thanks to those who contributed to my literary demise.

“Mr Johnson, God bless you for speaking for those who are not getting anywhere because they are considered not worthy to be anywhere.”

The letter speaks volumes to the point that indifference, neglect, criticism can come from so many different directions. From the discourse one is reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s advice there could be no ‘the truth’, but only ‘a truth’.

It is against this background that I kept grappling, albeit respectfully, with the panel’s insistence that Bissundyal’s persona, his deep spiritual introspection, more particularly as a Hindu, did not receive the (official) recognition it deserved.

There certainly can be no question about the validity of any individual’s perception of life and the environment, but one is tempted to enquire whether in the evaluation heard, that validity excludes, or is greater than, the total environment of being Guyanese.

So that in repeating the perspective that this neglected talent did not earn the public recognition as deserved, because of its Indian orientation, is, from another perspective, to limit the value of his contribution to the multicultural society to which all our talents belong.

En passant, I recall objecting strongly to Clem Seecharan’s descriptor of Shivnarine Chanderpaul as an ‘Indian’ vis-à-vis ‘West Indian’ batsman, not to mention Guyanese.

So that the very fact that I followed the discussion so intently was the message I kept receiving of the sense of exclusiveness about Indian spirituality, if you will, from that of others, and discouragingly more than an implication of resentment.

In the end I am left asking myself: which comes first – being an African (even without a distinctive religion or language) or a (relocated) Guyanese?

How long, I pondered, are we to perpetuate this state of lapsed co-existence?

Yours faithfully

EB John

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