By Petamber Persaud
At 91, Ada Debidin had achieved a most remarkable feat – publishing her second book, a collection of stories for children. For a female, for a female writer, for a writer at that age in any country in any part of this world, it is a noteworthy achievement.
Just as remarkable, when she was 85 years old, she published her first book, a collection of poems, ‘Saman Sunset’. This book was described by the publisher, Kampta Karran, as adding ‘an interesting dimension to our literature…peaceful coexistence of nature and humanity’.
When she was 52, she realised her first published poem; ‘Lines at Bartica’ was published the Chronicle Christmas Annual (now The Guyana Annual) of 1965.
Ada Emily Bhagwandai Debidin was born October 1913 in Cummings Lodge, East Coast Demerara, third child of 11 children – 9 girls and 2 boys which included a twin girl, penultimate in the line-up. And yes, they were a cricket team when the game was still a man’s domain. Debidin recalled the coconut-branch bat and green limes and young star apples used for balls.
Her father, David P. Debidin, direct descendant from Bengali immigrants, a hunting people in India, exhibited hunting traits in Guyana. He took to fishing and hunting game as a hobby. His occupation as an interpreter and clerk in the courts which took him to various parts of the country lent in no uncertain manner to his hobby. Despite numerous house moves, the father was a strong influence and the driving force in the education of the children.
Her mother, Rebecca, was an educated housewife which was an asset to the family for she ensured that her children took schooling seriously. The mother was blessed with a comely singing voice; this was passed onto all the children, making a merry household.
Debidin attended the Graham’s Hall Primary School not far from home. She remembered those days as characteristic of discipline and more discipline and clean fun.
Reading was a big part of growing up. Early in life, she was influenced by the writing of Shakespeare, Tennyson, Scott, Dickens and the Bronte sisters. She was excited (when interviewed in 2004), and she could still correctly quote huge passages from the classics she read as a schoolgirl.
Later Debidin, sometime about 1930s, qualified as a pupil teacher and became a teacher at her alma mater. A period of which she was proud, a period in her life that she said sort of made her a complete human.
She couldn’t remember when they moved from Cummings Lodge to Kitty village to live in the house of John Carter in Sandy Babb Street. But it was here her father started to rear cattle and the children had to help. This involvement of all family members translated in a time of financial prosperity for the family.
Too soon it was another house move (it must be noted that moving was part of the family way for the father’s job entailed travelling, opening new vistas, and various cultures to them). This time the move took them to Carmichael Street, in the heart of the city of Georgetown.
This move to the city brought about many changes and improvements to the family. Two of the girls went to the Bishops’ High School while the others attended J.C. Luck and Jimmy Ramphal schools. Jimmy Ramphal’s Modern Education Institute produced a number of ‘sirs’, including Sir Shridath S. Ramphal, son of the owner.
And there was extra-mural schooling: Ada Debidin and some of her sisters took singing lessons and learned to play the piano, became socialites, attending the London cinema in Camp Street, dressed to death, for attending the cinema at that time was a special occasion. ‘Talkies’ not too long came to Guyana and took the town by storms.
The Debidin family and the Singh family of Lamaha Street, comprising of Jung Bhadur, Alice Bhagwandai, Rajkumari, Gora and others became close. Ada Debidin acted in plays put on by the British Guiana Dramatic Society. It was here she met other writers and artistes.
But for all the socialising, she remained a loner, turning to her writing for comfort. Debidin wrote about racial conflict because she was deeply affected by that sordid situation in her country. But her writing was not negative for she wrote in a manner looking for solutions as portrayed in an unpublished collection of poems titled ‘The Search’ – in search for happiness. Kampta Karran described her early poems as exquisite works on nature.
Talk about nature, beauty and hope, her poem ‘Lines at Bartica’ published in The Chronicle Christmas Annual 1967 gives a taste of that talent:
At Bartica where Mazaruni
The mysterious, meets great Es’quibo
What blissful ease tis to listen
To the mighty waters foam and flow….
Bestowing a timeless moment
A moment rare, ineradicable
As to my feet was spread a golden path
Beck’ning me to grasp the unreachable
The last house move was of a permanent basis, the family bought a huge property on Vlissengen Road opposite St. Joseph High School. Debidin lived here in a well-preserved Victorian mansion with Victorian and Elizabethan furniture until the time of her death in 2010.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: [email protected]
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