By Alex Wayne
Having an opportunity to visit my home village, Calcutta, after an extended period was quite exciting since it isn’t often my busy schedule allows me leisure time to do so. I was already anticipating the squeals of delights from relatives upon my arrival, and I’ve
got to admit, colour rushed to my cheeks in anticipation of the words of praise from villagers, excited that they had a hand in nurturing a journalist who works at the country’s most popular newspaper. I felt proud that I’d taken in all my schooling, parental advice, and managed to surpass the expectations of my dearly departed grandmother, Euginea Williams. She passed away a few years ago.
Calcutta Village, is located some 32 miles from the city of Georgetown, in the district of Mahaicony, on the East Coast of Demerara. Nestled between the slightly smaller villages of Recess to the West and Catherineville to the East, the village is said to have a population of just over two thousand residents, residing along the main road, backdam, and ‘waterside’ areas.
Entering this quaint little village, one is usually greeted by the guffaws of topless men liming by the roadside, youths playing dominoes or card games, and of course the lovely lasses swishing their skirts and rolling their eyes dramatically at catcalls sent their way. It is also impossible to bypass many confectionary or parched nuts stalls as you enter the village.
What is notable as well is that the village, after so many years, is still in need of infrastructural upgrades. It was indicated that, over time, the once striking scenery of Calcutta Village has been drastically reduced reportedly to neglect by those responsible for its maintenance.
The first thing that caught my attention as I entered the village was that several large sections were overgrown with bushes. The road that links Calcutta and neighbouring Burma is in need of repair, and the high bushes on its parapet were quite a repelling sight.
I was jerked awake by the bus conductor who indicated that I was fast approaching my location. Looking outside, I realised that we had just entered the village of Recess. It was less than a five minutes drive to the village so I began securing my camera, writing pad, and of course my small suitcase. I had every intention of spending the weekend with relatives, so I had packed to suit the occasion.
I disembarked at the Burma Road Junction, and instantly, as expected, there were squeals of delight from my sisters and nieces. They were waiting for me outside the ‘Big Lexie’ Beer Garden. I was soon enveloped in hugs and kisses. One of my nephews grabbed my suitcase, breathlessly enquiring if goodies were in there for him. I was quickly relieved of every weigh I carried. My younger sister, Nikki, proudly sported my camera and notepad and curious questions about the nature of my radio quickly rolled off her tongue. She even asked me about being on radio. It was then that I realised our radio programme, ‘Talk to Kaieteur’ on Kaieteur Radio (99.1/99.5 FM) had fans along the East Coast of Demerara too.
I was soon settled in, enjoying some good traditional pickled mangoes, tamarind balls, and white pudding my sisters had waiting for me. It all tasted real good, and I felt as if I was re-connecting to my roots.
I rested just a little, then after a short moment, grabbed my camera and notepad and began my trek around the village. Try as I might, I could not persuade my two teenaged nephews to refrain from following me around. The younger of the two mouthed, “Man uncle Lexie, don’t send we home, we don’t get fuh walk around with no reportah in this village…Leh we come wid yuh nah man.” His pleading eyes and dimpled smile got the better of me, so I naturally invited them to tag along.
We stopped to chat with a villager, Oneca Williams, who spoke about the need for much infrastructural upgrade in the village.
“Calcutta is quite a nice village and it can get better if only the Government will pay some attention to us. For years we have been plagued with horrible roads, and it’s quite a horrible task to try to get into Burma. We have pleaded with the NDC and to the Ministry of Infrastructure for years about the state of the Burma Road but to no avail. Every time they send a contract, they do some haphazard works and the roads are back to square one in no time. I am glad that the authorities are trying to spruce up the playfield, but long awaited repair works on our main access dam has been halted because GWI is prolonging removing water mains so that the works can be completed.”
Businessman Sherlock English (Uncle Shilo) was very angry and disgusted with the issue of noise nuisance in the village.
“Residents in this village have no respect for adults…The young people have no manners and they are just rude and uncouth. There is a particular set of youths here who promote street parties just at the Burma Road Junction, and when that happens, residents who live close by, cannot sleep for hours. They play deafening music all night, drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, and fights often break out as a result. Complaining to the police at the Mahaicony Police Station is a waste of time, because until now, no one has even bothered to look into such occurrences. If you try to talk to the dance promoters, they are just ready to cuss you out,” he revealed.
Rayon Bacchus, a very industrious vegetable farmer, spoke about limited avenues for development for framers in the village.
Rayon, a father of five, owns one of the largest ground provision and vegetable farms and his success story is certainly one to be told. Today, this very hardworking farmer is not only supplying residents of East Mahaicony with his produce, but also wholesale buyers from near and afar.
This country-bred lad is doing all in his power to ensure he gets his produce on the international market, but of course he is desperately seeking the assistance of the relevant authorities to make this happen.
Rayon added, “I began my small garden in the back dam and soon extended because the soil was very fertile. Encouraged by the good results, I soon after leased four hectares of land and began farming on a large scale. Besides that, I plant plantains, cassava and banana quite close to the Calcutta Access Dam because the soil is very good there too. But I had to find some way of getting water to both farming areas, so I came up with my own idea of using a water pump and hooking up my own makeshift device, and it worked quite splendidly…”
I don’t have any big money to pay employees… My kids and wife have learnt the farm work over the years and they are good at what they do. I make enough on the farm to take care of my family and cover other expenses, but what I want to do is to extend a little more and get my produce to the international market. I have many wholesale buyers but they take advantage of the fact that most of my produce are perishables and so sometimes they just want to pay me next to nothing… To extend my farm more, I will need money. It is my hope to get a business loan but I don’t know what the procedure is. When you live in the countryside, there is no one to direct or advise you about anything… I had spoken to Minister Harmon when they visited several months ago and he had promised that they would get back to me, but I have not even received a call,” the farmer confided.
He nevertheless added, “I take care of my farm by the grace of God… and I want to extend to such a level that I can give my produce freely to the elderly and the needy. I also need more sprinklers for the farm, and I also need a motor blower… I always hold a good focus and I got to get up in this life to the highest level, but I need guidance and I need financial assistance.”
THE GOOD ‘OLE’ DAYS
To shed a little light on the makings of the village back in the day was villager, Rudolph Williams, who said he never forgot the tale, which was told to him by his grandparents.
“Way back in the 1960s Calcutta Village was a ‘very bushy settlement’ where one had to climb a tree to view the church and other main buildings in the area. It was separated by a lone canal from the neighbouring Catherine Ville, which is sometimes mistaken for an extension of Calcutta.
The level of ‘harmony and deep love’ between villagers is not as evidence as many youths have grown disrespectful to their elders and would torment them on a daily basis as they traverse the village.
Employment in this village is minimal, and this has contributed over the years to conflicts between villagers, since unemployed young men have developed the habit of stealing mangoes and coconuts from the properties of others, which they transport to the Stabroek and Bourda Markets for sale.
There are also cases where persons would steal sand from lands belonging to others and sell it right under their noses.
The law-abiding residents are mostly engaged in farming, poultry rearing, and to a lesser extent broom-making. Hence, it is a customary sight to see vegetables and ground provision farmers making their way through the village with their produce laden on donkey and horse-drawn carts. Some even ship produce to the city.
Regular employment is available periodically during the rice harvesting seasons, when rice farmers in Calcutta and outside villages require plenty of manual labour for harvesting, paddy drying and, of course, milling. But that aside, Calcutta is mostly a very peaceful and quiet location.
The village usually comes to live sometime around 03:30 hrs to the sound of fishermen chattering noisily as they ride their rusty bicycles to the various canals and trenches for their predicted daily catch of ‘bush fish’.
Calcutta Village now has a sports club. The Cat-re-cal-ab Sports Club is used by residents of Calcutta and nearby villages including Recess, Little Abary, Catherine Ville, and Burma.
‘Uncle Esszie’ Grocery Shop and Liquor Store is the main location where housewives gather and chat merrily as they purchase their meat and daily kitchen necessities. Menace Nightclub was the focus of all entertainment; but this facility has not been operational for quite some time, according to villagers.
On Emancipation Day every year, villagers would don African wear and sing, dance and engage in great festivity in the streets. There is also a candlelight parade, where villagers would walk through Calcutta to the adjoining village Little Abary, singing folk songs.
There are quite a few single-parent mothers in the village, but what was noted is that these mothers are not waiting around for the irresponsible fathers to ‘come up with the cash’, but instead they have found jobs.
In my opinion, although Calcutta remains a rather picturesque location, it is in need of a lot of sprucing up to make it stand out among the neighbouring villages.
Join us next Sunday when we unfurl the mysteries of Malgre Tout Village on the West Bank of Demerara.
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