– By Petamber Persaud
(Extract of a lecture delivered on Friday May 28, 2010, in the Conference Room of the National Library by yours truly under the auspices of GOPIO [Guyana chapter] to commemorate the arrival of Indians to Guyana.)
The first book-length work by an East Indian was ‘London’s Heart Probe and Britain’s Destiny’ by Ayube Edun, published after his visit to England in 1928.
The first anthology of writings by East Indians was An Anthology of Local Indian Verse, edited by C. E. J. Ramcharitar-Lalla in 1934. However, most of the twenty-one poems in that collection were steeped in Victorian influence as seen in a poem by W.W. Persaud, ‘reluctant be to throw aside the reins of England, as thy guide’. This work also included the poetry of the editor, the Ruhomon brothers (Peter and Joseph), and J. W. Chinapen.
This publication seemed to surface in response to Norman Cameron’s Guianese Poetry 1831-1931 which did not include any work by Guyanese of Indian ancestry who were writing during that period and actively involved on the literary scene.
For example, Peter Ruhomon was a founder/member of the British Guiana Literary Society launched by Cameron in 1930 which included Rev. Dingwall and Rev. Pollard. Peter Ruhomon was also part of another literary group of that period which included Ramcharitar-Lalla, which may have fallen under the umbrella of the British Guiana Union of Cultural Clubs.
Further Peter and Cameron lived within shouting distance of each other in upper Charlotte Street. So it could be deduced that Cameron knowingly omitted the writings of Guyanese of Indian ancestry.
The early 20th century saw the rise of an Indian intellectualism in Guyana perhaps influenced by what was happening in India in the late 19th and early 20th century with formation of the Indian National Movement; Tagore winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, and the rise to prominence of Nehru and Gandhi. The rise of the Indian intellectualism gave birth to formation of social and cultural organisations.
Drama played a major role in the development of this new thrust by Indians. During the 1940s, the British Guiana Dramatic Society (BGDS), which was established in 1936, came to prominence but for most of its existence it was guilty of producing plays from out of India as was the case with the other groups mimicking English, Dutch, Portuguese and German plays.
It must be noted that this BGDS was an East Indian organisation promoting such ethnic interest in Georgetown; it was started by the Singh clan comprising of J. B. Singh and his wife, Alice Bhagwandai, later continued by their daughter, Rajkumari Singh, and grandchildren carrying the torch into present day and into the Diaspora. This organisation distinguished itself by publishing a journal, the Dramag, and also establishing cultural ties between this country and Suriname. Dramag was the first journal on drama in this country.
Peter Kempadoo is the first Guyanese of Indian Ancestry to write a novel. That book, Guiana Boy, was self-published in 1960 by a small press, New Literature (Publishing) Limited, founded by Kempadoo. One of the reasons for self-publishing was that major English publishing houses at the time wanted the language of book to be refashioned to suit English readership. But the author of Guiana Boy was not inclined to follow suit as did most of the other Guyanese and Caribbean writers. (The novel writing tradition of Guyana started with Mittelholzer in 1940s with the publication of Corentyne Thunder, which is also the first novel dealing with the Indian peasant experience and written by a non-Indian.)
The 1960s seemed to be a fertile period for women writing and on the whole Guyanese literature. Rajkumari Singh was part of the Guyana Writers’ Group which was very active and established herself as the first recognised East Indian woman writer in Guyana, pioneering and enhancing the slighted ‘coolie art forms’, and becoming the ‘surrogate cultural and artistic mother to younger writers and artists’.
In 1960, she published A Garland of Stories exploring various themes like racial prejudice and racial integration. In 1966, she won the prize for the best radio play with Roraima. Her other plays are Hoofbeats at Midnight, The Sound of her Bells, A White Camellia and A Blue Star and Bohemian Interlude. In 1971, she published A Collection of Poems, which tells of her perception and true feeling about issues affecting her.
Other Guyanese women of Indian ancestry writing around this same period included Mahadai Das, and Shana Yardan. Das was the more prolific of the two, with three collections of poetry to her name, namely I want to be a poetess of my People, My finer steal will grow, and Bones.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: [email protected] yahoo.com
• The Guyana Annual 2010 issue is now available at Guyenterprise Ltd. on Lance Gibbs and Irving Streets, Queenstown.
• The new closing date for the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport literary competition for schools is July 9, 2010. Please contact me for more information. This competition includes three follow-up components via a writers’ workshop using entries submitted, performances of shortlisted entries and a publication of the outstanding works.
• A big THANK YOU to all (family, friends, and organizations) that made My Birthday Literary Lime another satisfying and fulfilling experience in my life.
Sep 22, 2019In overcast conditions at the Everest located a ‘stone’s throw’ from mighty Atlantic Ocean, day two activities in three-day Indigenous Heritage Games continued yesterday and climaxed late into...
By Sir Ronald Sanders “Hurricane Hell” and “The Bahamas is at war being attacked by Hurricane Dorian. And yet The... more
Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]