The Arts Forum
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by Adele Ramos
[This review first appeared in AMANDALA Belize on 15 May 2005]
Karan Chand. FROM BENGAL TO BUSHLOT TO BELIZE: The Indentured Servants. Self-published, 2005, 114 pages.
(A compelling story of an indentured servant and two generations that follow him)
Guyanese-born Karan Chand, known locally as an administrator/educator at St. Michael’s College, Belize City, has woven the life experience of three generations of his family, beginning with his grandfather, into a humorous yet serious story of the hardships of poverty and indentured servitude—an odyssey over four regions: India, Africa, South America and Central America.
Under the title, FROM BENGAL TO BUSHLOT TO BELIZE: THE INDENTURED SERVANTS, the story begins with the main character Mattai—an illiterate poverty-stricken boy of 14, who, in 1893, was falsely accused of stealing rice from a local merchant in India. Mattai was looking for work to help his family when his misfortune occurred, and before he knew it, he was in police detention. However, the police tricked him into indentured servitude.
Chand tells a shocking tale through Mattai’s eyes of the dreadful crossing from the boy’s native Calcutta, India, across the “Black Waters” as he and a crowd of other Indians— mostly men, but also women and children—were hauled to the Western Hemisphere by the British who had duped many of them into thinking that they were going to a land of promise with easy work and riches.
But before the voyage came to an end, they realized that they were in for a life of suffering and hardship, as they soon became underfed and plagued by diseases amid growing insanitary conditions aboard the passenger ship.
Then they arrived in the West Indies where Mattai tries to escape back to India —but to no avail. Instead, he stays, marries and raises his family in Guyana (British Guiana). A large part of the story is based on the life of Chand’s father, Sooknanan Ghasi, who is now deceased. The book culminates with the sad news of his father’s death, which Chand receives after migrating to Belize (formerly British Honduras).
Chand introduces a few words from his native tongue in his book and explains their meanings in footnotes.
While the story tells of the life of three generations of Indians, it also opens the reader’s minds to the struggles of the poor—both nations and people, as well as the corrupting influence of external colonial powers and capitalist ideologies on people’s lives.
From Bengal to Bushlot to Belize is sure to leave readers with a deeper appreciation of international politics. It introduces Cheddi Jagan, a former premier/president of Guyana [as a character in the work] who Chand describes in his book as a “savior”. Jagan asserts: “Capitalist is moribund. It is failing everywhere. What we need is dictatorship by the proletariat. The people have to take charge; they have to run their affairs . . .We do not need the British to govern us . . . We don’t need foreigners to boss us.”
Chand bravely exposes the hypocrisy of some proponents of communism saying: “…communism failed and collapsed. It became known that the communist system in Russia and other places was fraught with hypocrisy, double standards, empty promises and dictatorship by a few and not the majority. The rich leaders and their families, the bourgeois, were living in luxury while the poor masses, the proletariat, were bullied, starved, tortured, imprisoned, overworked and killed. On the other hand, only the party faithful, lackeys, stooges and ‘wannabees’ were saved from this miserable existence.”
The book, from start to finish, exposes the very essence of this evil philosophy—from the caretakers on the passenger ship that hauled the indentured servants over “Black Waters” to the overseers of the sugar plantations where Mattai worked.
Still, despite the serious messages that come across in Chand’s book, it is a fascinating read because Chand eases the reader’s anger over the inhumane treatment of people with unexpected humour.
The 114-page book is an easy read that employs everyday vocabulary used to create vivid pictures of the events that unfold on its pages. Chand was especially mindful to describe the scenes of many of the events in the book, giving the reader a vicarious travel across continents and centuries, and permitting them to see through the eyes of the main characters.
The book closes with Chand’s sojourn in Belize where he first migrated and from where he observed many common threads between his native homeland and his new home.
In the foreword, Chand’s brother, Lutchman Sooknandan, attorney-at-law and Guyana’s Honorary Consul to Belize, wrote that the novel ‘reveals the plight of the Indian Diaspora. It depicts a story of resilience and triumph from colonial times to present day…”
This novella, an historical odyssey, covers a century of the struggle to survive under colonialism among indentured Indians from India and their descendants in an independent Guyana who later relocated to other parts of the New World. For the most part, the work is based on research, the oral tradition and personal experience covering three generations of a family.
From Bengal to Bushlot to Belize is available at the OnLine Bookstore: Belizeanartwork.com and from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Karan Chand was born at Anna Regina (Essequibo Coast, Guyana). He has been a teacher all of his adult life. He attended the University of Guyana and graduated with a B.A. degree and, later, a postgraduate Diploma in Education. Between 1980 and 1989 he taught at Abram Zuil Secondary School, Alleyne High School, Anna Regina Community High School and Anna Regina Multilateral School.
In 1989 Karan migrated to Belize (formerly British Honduras) in Central America and taught at various secondary and tertiary level educational institutions including the Belize Teachers’ Training College and the University of Belize. During that time he attended Miami University where he secured a Masters in Education degree majoring in Educational Leadership. Back in Belize he continued as a teacher, lecturer and high school administrator culminating his career there as a principal at St. Michael’s College. He also taught in the Turks and Caicos and in the USA. He has written a book of twelve short stories titled, “A will to survive” and several poems.
In 2009 Chand migrated to Canada where he has been teaching adult students from all over the world, including many Guyanese, at the Adult Education Centres of the Peel District School Board, Ontario and can be contacted at email@example.com
Adele Ramos is Assistant Editor of AMANDALA, Belize.
The editor of The Arts Forum Column, Ameena Gafoor, can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone: 592 227 6825