Dec 01, 2023 Letters
Much eulogizing has been done, all well-meaning, about the dearly departed Justice Prem Persaud. I wish to add to that line-up.
In an interview with him on July 19, he related his role in preserving the legacy of Prashad Nagar. Prashad Nagar was a post-World War II private housing scheme, built on land previously owned by the Bookers conglomerate in a geographical location referred to as “area H.” It was a built environment developed primarily from rice land, a virtual mud field. The builder of the scheme, Hari Prashad, Prem’s father-in-law, had the foresight and “animal spirit” (to borrow a phrase from Lord Keynes) to embark on a risky venture that eventually proved to be successful.
The plot of land Hari purchased comprised almost 77 acres, which would eventually be converted into 404 house lots of varying sizes. Residents, past and present of Prashad Nagar include David Chanderballi, Justice Rishi Persaud, Justice Clifford Baburam, Vincent Teekah, Dr. George Walcott, Reepu Daman Persaud, Dr. Vindhya Vasini Persaud, Pat Dial, Feroze Mohammed, and Justice Prem Persaud. Hari owned lots 9 and 10 on Delhi Street, opposite those of his son-in-law, Justice Prem Persaud, who owned lots 11 and 12.
As Prem Persaud observed, Prashad Nagar is one of, if not “the best housing scheme” within the Greater Georgetown area. Being a proud Indian, following its construction, Hari named all the streets in Prashad Nagar after members of his immediate family and friends. He included the following names of the streets in his village: Delhi Street, Shantinikatan Street, Amla Avenue East, Amla Avenue West, Rohintal Street, Bombay Terrace, Damanbir Terrace, Jasmatbina Terrace, Sachibazaar Street, Kaka Street, Bisessar Avenue, Purshottam Street, Santram Street, Deobirana Street, Agra Street, Munipur Street, Cheddi Street, Shribasant Street, Chandranagar Street, Premniranjan Place, Rampersaud Street, Puna Street, Ganges Street, and Amla Avenue.
Between 1970 and 1971, when John Meredith Ford (1923-1995) was the Mayor of Georgetown in a country firmly in the grips of the PNC, he “hosted independence celebrations in the nation’s capital” and “renamed streets to celebrate the country’s freedom” from British rule. As Mayor of Georgetown, Ford had collaborated with the City Council to change the name of part of High Street, which leads from Church Street to the Parliament Building, to its new name, “Avenue of the Republic.”
During the ceremonial event, performed on February 21, 1970 (merely hours before Forbes Burnham declared Guyana a “Cooperative Republic”!), Ford explained that the renaming of some of the streets in Guyana was “a necessary exercise” to preserve historically significant occasions “such as independence and the birth of the republic.” He initiated a campaign to have the name of Prashad Nagar removed from the suburb. It was an act wholly dismissive of the fact that the evolution of Prashad Nagar captured in some ways the historical contributions of Indian Guyanese. By the time the issue of the name change regarding Prashad Nagar came to light, Hari Prashad had already left Guyana, and he entrusted Prem Persaud as caretaker regarding all matters relating to Prashad Nagar.
Prem Persaud, deeply concerned about the Mayor’s decision to change the name of Prashad Nagar, paid a visit to Prime Minister Burnham’s office to lodge his complaint. He reminded Burnham that Prashad Nagar was a privately owned developed housing estate, insisting that no public official had the authority to dictate the name of the housing scheme, and the Mayor of Georgetown and the City Council possessed no authority to do so. According to Prem Persaud, in his presence, Burnham immediately made a phone call to Mayor Ford and issued a clear directive: “They got a place named Prashad Nagar. I would like to know that during my lifetime, I have left instructions that not a single piece of that land should be changed or renamed. Let those lands remain as they are.”
Prem Persaud had saved the day.
He also remembered, later, a conversation with another resident of Prashad Nagar, Mohamed Shahabuddeen (who became a member of the International Court of Justice and judicial tribunal of the International Criminal Court). Shahabuddeen had informed him that a plan was underway to change the name of “Ganges Street” to “Eastern Highway.” However, with confidence, Prem Persaud assured his erstwhile colleague that he had in his possession the original plans of the housing scheme and that he [Shahabuddeen] could rest assured that such a name change would not happen.
Prem Persaud took on additional responsibilities for any unfinished business regarding Prashad Nagar. Not all roads and drainage trenches were completed in the housing scheme when Hari migrated to London in 1968. Prem Persaud had to contend with the fact that there were a number of individuals who owned land in Prashad Nagar, but they were not living up to their end of the contractual agreement. According to Prem Persaud, “People occupied the land, and some still owed a substantial amount for the purchase of the land when the transport was passed. The people who could not pay the full cost, as well as the maintenance to upkeep the property, were mostly the poor farmers…We could not put them off the land because they had no place to go. So, we worked out a deal and allowed them to pay a reduced cost. That is what Hari would have done. I took care of all the necessary paperwork.”
The owners of Prashad Nagar eventually lost control of the administration of Prashad Nagar when the Municipal and District Council Act of 1970 vested control of the scheme in the Georgetown City Council.
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