Nov 24, 2022 Letters
For the last five months or so, I have failed to keep up my practice of writing brief notes about persons, obscure or famous, who have died. This failure is due to my new circumstances. Not surprisingly, it has come to my knowledge that curious watchers of what I do (or do not do) have raised questions about my failing to pay tribute to individuals I know, and am known to value highly. I shall also take the chance of recalling some moments and events that could have been valuable teaching lessons in our present state of mind.
Of those departures, I want to list first of all a sister I shall call “Sister D,” so that I do not expose her family to the suspicion of being politically aligned. Sister D was a working woman with offspring I do not know, with whom I had a very fond relationship. In fact, she developed a fond relationship of a sisterly kind with all she considered to be freedom fighters. Her attitude puzzled me for some time until I found out that her mother had been one of the street mothers of the late 1940s in Buxton-Friendship. These street mothers named Martin Stephenson and me “two small boys” because we had found it necessary to expose at street corner meetings the sympathy of old village councillors towards Enmore Estates Ltd., part of the Booker’s Empire.
I was told about Sister D’s passing in a rare telephone call from Brother Mboya, closer to her generation than to mine, whose name became public during the conflict of President Jagdeo’s visit to Buxton-Friendship. While mourning my Sister D, I became aware that I missed the passing, at age 100, of Dolly Burgan, whose married name I never knew, and who was the daughter of Canon W.G. Burgan M.A., who lived with his family in Buxton as an Anglican priest for some twenty-five years. These families were the type of local aristocracy expected to set standards for the masses. In the case of this family, Dolly Burgan was the one much liked by villagers and as we would say, “spoke to everybody.”
Next in order of departure came the Honourable Balram Singh Rai. He too was over 100 years old at his death. He was a villager of Beterverwagting and member of a family that set the pace in social change in many areas of life. Since his passing, I have written nothing about Mr. Rai and I am not now in touch with any member of the family. I had encountered him as a villager from another village, as a supporter of the same candidate in the 1947 general elections, and as a visitor to the Jagan’s home before the birth of the PPP. I have known him also, even better, at the philosophical level through my friend and fellow teacher Albert Ogle of Beterverwagting. I shall have more to say about Balram Singh Rai, his sister Mavis Rai, and her husband Reepu, whose funeral I was able to attend in Beterverwagting. My link with Mr. Balram Singh Rai in recent years had been through telephone calls originating with Mr. Rampersaud Tiwari, who would use his phone to put us in touch. When I spoke at the University of Toronto in Winter of 2012, it was Mr. Tiwari who introduced me to the audience at an event chaired by Dr. Odida Quamina.
Mr. Tiwari was, in fact, the friend and age-mate of my younger brother, the late Malcolm King, who passed away in 2006. They attended the same high school, Wray’s, in Georgetown. It was after my brother’s death and Rampersaud’s retirement from the public service that our relations deepened. I shall have a lot to say about Mr. Tiwari’s contribution. In my situation, all I could do previously was to send my condolences and a short tribute which some read at the funeral in Toronto.
Among these notable departures, were two I nearly forgot. The first, is Mrs. B whose husband called me to say “Sister B has left us.” What did he mean, I asked. Then he reported that she had passed away that morning after a brief illness. This woman used her skills on the computer to help in the production of many of my shorter writings. And one or two longer writing by persons I recommended. She was, in no way, a political activist. May her qualities inspire others.
George Lamming, like V.S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott, is a symbolic name in Caribbean and world literature. Like Tiwari, he was someone I knew personally. It was in 1953, he burst on the world with his first novel, In the Castle of My Skin. I never read it but I am sure that its theme was responsible for the self-empowerment of many communal and artistic communities hardly recognized in those times. I first met Lamming in 1966, when he edited my article on the 1763 slave uprising in Berbice in New World, the Guyana independence issue. He invited me to use as a reference Frantz Fanon, who was then a person much discussed globally. George Lamming was a close friend and associate of Walter Rodney and almost a member of the Rodney family. He was also close friends with CLR James and Selma James. He came to Guyana several times, and once during one of my public interests, hunger strikes or fasts, interviewed me to get the wider picture. His friend, the late Andaiye, who transitioned before Lamming, has written much about him and his remarkable novel Natives of My Person. He was born with no silver spoon in his mouth. For me, Lamming’s most impressive contribution was contained in his beautiful paradox of his own life, “my mother who fathered me”, a dramatic contribution to the conversations about gender.
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