The thread of life

Like many young Guyanese men, my tall, handsome teenage brother bravely headed off into the bush to seek his fickle fortune labouring with ambitious friends on a private mining dredge.

The enigma of a spiral

With a gnarled trunk of fat knobs and twisted scowls, the sea grape tree squatted over the alley-way, the wrinkled branches laden with slender columns of ripening fruit.

Superbugs and mere mortals

A conscientious Guyanese agricultural worker, with no known underlying medical issues, suddenly develops an unbearable burning sensation in one dark brown eye.

A water song

Growing up along the pot-holed paths of south Georgetown, we were lucky to find water unpredictably trickling and sputtering from the shared standpipe in the yard.

Law of the fish

As books go, this one hardly appeared impressive. Wrapped in bare red cloth, stored in an unlocked steel cupboard and reeking of the natural insect-repellent citronella, the long, narrow brown leaves opened like a fan in fragile, individual sheets, held through holes by a white cord stretched between crude covers made from bare pieces of wood.

The Cacareco effect

During his career, the Pulitzer Prize winner George de Carvalho reported on the landslide win of a surprise contender, Cacareco, in neighbouring Brazil, who ended up being an unlikely international inspiration.

The Devil’s Thrills   

Inspired by a vivid dream, the best-known work of the gifted violinist Giuseppe Tartini is a haunting solo piece, the “Devil’s Trill” (Trillo del Diavolo) done in several movements.

Sines of the times

The Italian Renaissance philosopher and statesman, Niccolò Machiavelli, described as an immoral cynic, a genius strategist and a wicked man inspired by the devil, famously maintained that politics has no relation to morals.

Peas be with you

The delicious fragrance of a simmering pot of black-eyed peas cook-up will soon waft through our homes on Old Year’s night as Guyanese continue their comforting compulsory ritual for promised prosperity.

Wines and spirits

Among my earliest Christmas memories is watching my father carefully open an aged bottle of fragrant Guyanese rum and reverently pour out the first warm capful on to the linoleum-lined wooden floor.

Types and “typee”

Two-year-old Zainab Mughal seems like any toddler with her huge smile and love of toys.

Kit, kin and “kinnah”

We frequently feasted on the juicy, orange “awara,” pale nutty “korio” and oval, thin-fleshed “kokerit” fruits from far flung palm trees.

 The heart of a banker 

Bankers never die…They just lose all interest. The popular saying goes that the problem with banker jokes is that bankers don’t think such quips are funny, while ordinary people don’t think of these as jokes.

The song of the wind

With no television around, and none in sight, for decades, even remotely, in the south Georgetown backstreets I and my varied pals haunted, we children regularly begged adults to relate scary “stories.” Experiencing another prolonged blackout, books few and nearly impossible to read against the thin, tired flame of a slumping paraffin candle, we would remember the expensive batteries being forever too low to power the sputtering Radio Demerara.

A sense of shame

Close to Christmas, I was visiting a popular store in downtown St John’s, Antigua, searching for gifts when a woman suddenly flared up nearby.

A BAT and the blue spider

Hiking through the humming forest along Guyana’s upper Potaro River in the deep dark of night, the American herpetologist slowly swung his flashlight, scanning for secretive creatures.

Wheels of fortune

The faint wisp of pale smoke would curl through the top hole in our covered tin can like a weak, wavering genie, as we sucked in our breaths, impatiently waiting for the big blast.

Minutes to midnight

Worried about the heavy rains like thousands more residents, Jizzelle Baldwin kept trying to get home last Friday evening, but all the usual routes in Central Trinidad were already cut off.

Hiccups runneth over

It would come without warning, often after dinner and just before bedtime. My elderly mother’s response would depend on whether we were sweating in the usual city-wide blackout and struggling to sleep in the late night’s heavy heat.

A saga of Smurfs

Back in the 1980s, an unlikely colony of bright blue, cute, elf-like creatures soared to international success through a hit television animated series that aired on Saturday mornings.

Of monkeys and men

A Greek comic poet of the 4th century BC, Eubulus joked about alcohol consumption and its deleterious effects recommending no more than three measured drinks as sensible.

The dark beauty

As elegant beauties go, she is extraordinary and unforgettable. Yet only a fortunate few can claim to have ever met her.

The spirits of cricket

Leaping into the air, the lanky Trinidadian medium-pacer with the trademark tan mohawk took a spectacular right-hand catch, gripping the ball even as he tumbled at mid-on.

A final journey

For over two incredible months, the 34-year-old labourer fought valiantly to live as many weaker souls perished around him.

A ship’s mystery

As the “Louisa Baillie” careened in cold, rough seas not far from India, the decisive drama of fragile life and certain death played out aboard the ill-equipped sailing ship.

Passage to India

At first glance, the mottled paper cover of the old, obscure book looks like polished granite with its uneven patches of dark brown against bright cream.

Don’t rock it so    

“God just pass through,” the Rasta man concluded while calmly filming with his phone, the chaotic scenes in one of the busiest areas in downtown Port-of-Spain (POS).

The eleventh hour

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.

The Kahaur pani

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 Rajpoot sirdar

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.

An unquiet wait

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.

Delusions and dismay

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.

Of God, Queen and country

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.

Many moons to May

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.

Love and loss

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.

The Bellevue birds   

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.

Sweets and tears

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.

The boy from Bancoorah

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.

  Habits of industry

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.

A wish for more

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.

Slaves for a time

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.

  Two Johns and a few Gladstones

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.

Rum and rousing

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.

Jagannath and Jatra

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.

All saints and sinners

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.

The unsinkable Mollie

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).

 Pickle and Prasad   

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.

A band of brothers

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.