In his early 50s, the ailing “Ragoo” knew that he might not last through the tough journey from British Guiana (BG) to India, yet he optimistically insisted on returning home.
News that a second ship, the “Louisa Baillie” was finally on its way to sail them back to India would have prompted much excitement and relief among the 1838-indentured labourers.
The influential 2000-year-old Sanskrit epic of the Ramayana narrates the perennially popular allegory of the divine prince Rama who is reluctantly exiled for 14 years by his distraught father, Dasharatha.
Demanding the Governor appropriate a private ship to promptly transport them “home,” indentured Indian labourers grew impatient, repeatedly pressing the colonial authorities for acknowledgement, answers and action.
Increasingly anxious and upset that no ship had reached British Guiana (B.G) to ferry them back to India as promised, the restive indentured immigrants refused to accept weekly food provisions, and downed tools.
On Longmans’ maps of the time, the distinct furrows marking the world’s highest peaks dominate the narrow state snaking to the north-east borders of an expansive India, hued pale pink for British supremacy.
A dogged determination to return home with their earnings and to see their families drove the 1838-indentured men at one estate to prematurely demand a ship back to India.
As the end of their five-year contracts loomed, indentured Indians carefully hoarded their hard-won savings, some having finally switched to the more profitable free-market labour system to the delight of authorities.
Defying District Magistrates and serving imprisonment with hard labour for “unlawful absences,” the first group of indentured Indians would challenge colonial authorities while adapting to a new life in British Guiana.
A traditional unrefined sweetener long made in Indian villages by boiling down fresh sugar cane juice, jaggery is an old concoction that carries a rich caramel flavour and a beautiful golden to dark brown colour.
Cast out of the Manager’s residence a few months after testifying against the abuse of Indian immigrant workers, the courageous former house servant Narrain would chose to finally walk away from his indentured contract.
(Editor’s note: One of the key planners of the Cubana Air bombing of 1976, Luis Posada Carriles, died in Miami, Florida yesterday at the age of 90.
The young Indian sirdar must have thought he had more than enough time for everything.
Paid just five rupees monthly, enterprising indentured Indians at Plantation Highbury still managed to accumulate significant savings by the end of 1840, through thrift, extra work, and early livestock investments.
The indentured immigrants caught up in the secret transfer and subsequent sale of John Gladstone’s Vreed-en-Hoop plantation were allowed little choice but to stay on for the two remaining years of their 1838 contracts.
Thorny legal issues unexpectedly emerged in British Guiana (BG) over the uncertain status of John Gladstone’s East Indian indentured labourers when the influential politician and wealthy merchant secretly transferred his Vreed-en-Hoop sugar estate to his sons in 1839 and they quietly sold it a year later.
Faced with negative press and publicity over the ill-treatment of Indian indentured labourers on his Vreed-en-Hoop plantation, the rich and powerful British merchant behind the importation scheme quickly and quietly transferred the profitable estate to his sons.
An astute plantation cook deemed “a mere brute” soon changed into a stylish man “in European dress with a countenance beaming with intelligence and hope,” as the young Rajput who was “most enthusiastic” to become the first East Indian Christian missionary in British Guiana managed to avoid further estate work as an indentured immigrant.
An unusual syncretic Indian deity that combines aspects of different major faiths, the dark-coloured Lord Jagannath is still periodically and ceremoniously renewed as a sacred, simple wooden carving, brilliantly painted with a round face and huge symmetrical eyes.
With no other person able to speak the different languages of the Indian indentured immigrants on a notorious Demerara estate, the last remaining of two abusive interpreters was quickly pardoned by the Governor.
One of just six women with spouses stuffed among a shipload of strangers aboard the “Hesperus” her name was anglicized to “Mollie” within months of their arrival in British Guiana (BG).
Immigrant Number 51 was a young “brown” Bouree man from Bancoorah, West Bengal reduced to just a single distinctive name, “Persaud” in the 1838 British Guiana (BG) historical files.
The group of strong, young friends in their 20s, had all signed up for their foreign adventure when the wily recruiters passed through the farming village in Bancoorah District, West Bengal promising steady jobs and good money.
Trouble started aboard the “Hesperus” sailing ship from the time the ruthless 25 year-olds Henry Jacobs and his friend Charles James Wiltshire were appointed the only two interpreters for the mixed group of 167 pioneering Indians bound for British Guiana (B.G).
It was still stuffy when the 22 men stealthily set off for the swift-moving river, slinking among the shadows in single file and silence late one Monday night, as they sought to spot snatches of the water through the bushes in the sickly light of a slivered moon.
For nearly four long months aboard the crammed “Whitby” the two little girls precariously hung on to life, as grown men groaned, suffered and died in the low, dark deck of the sailing ship.
These days, the impatient visitors stream through on noisy trains and tour buses, scanning the horizon and stopping for quick refreshments at the rest-houses that line the Indian coast.
An elderly Indian father, desperately searching for his two missing sons embarked on a fateful sea journey of no return when he crossed the “kala pani” or black waters.
In Indian legends he is the much-loved baby, Bala Krishna, the holy, curly-haired child with huge eyes and a prankish passion for fresh milk, sweet cream and smooth butter.
The salt air, sea winds and ever-stronger spring tides sweep in from the swirling Atlantic sliding through the thick bushes and around the tall coconut trees that have taken over the long perished plantations.
Paid at least “a guinea” or about 21 shillings for each Indian indentured immigrant delivered alive to the destination colonies in the West Indies, seasoned medical doctors appointed as surgeons-superintendents wielded significant power aboard commercial “coolie-carrying” ships.
Borne upon the ocean’s foam Far from native land and home. Midnight curtain, dense with wrath.
“Bye and bye make very long journey, Cross Kalla-panee I shall go…” excerpt “Bengalee Baboo” satirical song, 19th century.
The sharp scent of freshly ground spices, the cooking of traditional foods and the dull drone of drums like the dholak and the tabla would have helped make the tough ship-rolling-journey more bearable for the Indian indentured immigrants during the “Sheila’s” maiden trip to the West Indies.
“Away, away, what nectar spray she flings about her bow. What diamonds flash in every splash that drips upon my brow.
“Sweet Evelina, dear Evelina, My love for thee shall never, never die. Dear Evelina, sweet Evelina, My love for thee shall never, never die.
“Oh, naughty, naughty Clara, how could you serve me so? I’ll go to Demerara, if you tell me to go.
Her expressive eyes are deep and dark, a certain painful poignancy to them as she stares, so serious, straight into the camera, leaning slightly, with full lips slightly open.
Leading chutney artiste, the young Terry Gajraj shot to fame with a restless reworking of old lines in his “Guyana Baboo” hit composed during an astonishing creative outpouring with friends one noisy, nostalgic night in a tiny Bronx, New York apartment in 1992, far from the fertile Fyrish fields and modest mandir of his buoyant Berbice boyhood.
The early afternoon of Monday January 14, 1991 started like any routine assignment for us covering Parliament but by the end of the dramatic day, we would witness historic scenes of acerbic anger, unprecedented disorder and ugly uproar.
Out of the corner of my vision, I notice the faded maroon Camry with bits of rust and sanded unpainted gray patches suddenly pulling off the main street to park at the curb just in front of me.
Rustling leaves hang to the ground creating a lovely, lit space. We were relaxing at home under the graceful green canopy in a cool clump of giant neem trees with the sea wind sweeping hair, birdsong overhead and the dogs lolling at our bare feet.
I have a slender ring with a glowing nugget of Guyana gold, accented with pale side slips of grooved platinum, a poignant parting girlhood gift from my older sister as she tearfully left our Georgetown home permanently, decades ago, for a new life in the Netherlands.
Facing an uncertain future, batches of battered Guyanese who have lost nearly everything in the recent hurricanes finally flew back home this week with few bags and their weather weary children.
Until Monday night, the humble cottage at Lot 243 South Road, Georgetown was a house of love, laughter and long life.
Nearly three years ago, a bright-eyed dog was curiously sniffing her way through a routine examination of a small Westwind business jet that had landed early that evening for a quick refuelling stop at Luiz Munoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico.
In our home, stands a prized life-size panel of fine Belizean mahogany carved with an imposing figure of Hunaphu, one of the handsome hero twins of the Classic Maya creation myth, soundlessly striding with the axe that he furiously wields to help his brother Xbalanque defeat the lords of the underworld in a series of intense battles.
As the faint remnants of long lived Irma finally weakened into light scattered showers across the distant American valleys of Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee, shell-shocked survivors slowly started to take stock following the latest deadly hurricane.
As I write this column, the huge Hurricane Irma is directly hurtling towards our former Leeward Islands’ lovely home of Antigua and Barbuda, threatening to trash the small islands and test its’ big-hearted people like never before.
“It has been raining again. I have been indoors, meditating on the shortcomings of life” is the opening line of a lesser-known poem “Reforming Oneself” by American writer and attorney, Max Ehrmann.