Achievers must be justly recognized To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
November 28, 2001

In an article on Rohan Kanhai, CLR James wrote, "I take Kanhai as the high peak of West Indian cricketing development. People felt that it was more than a mere description of how he batted; it was something characteristic of us as cricketers. They felt that it was not only a cricketing question, because Kanhai was an East Indian, and East Indians were still somewhat looked down upon by other people in the Caribbean."

In a letter to the press, Mr. Freddie Kissoon disapprovingly lamented, "It has been no surprise to me that all the writings in the local press in praise of Naipaul have come from East Indians. Uncertain about an uncertain future in Guyana, Guyanese East Indians are looking for a hero they can identify with now that there is no Cheddi Jagan. One letter writer even descended to the level of analytical impossibility by situating Naipaul in the category of East Indian achievers, Cheddi Jagan and Rohan Kanhai. What immense foolishness! Jagan and Kanhai are prodigious givers to the Caribbean people; their feelings on race are virtually non-existent."

This "one letter writer" happens to be me. Of course, I disagree with him. East Indians are not desperate for new heroes; they only desire that achievers (and VSN is an achiever, regardless of his accent, views on race, or shoelace) be justly recognized. No one should confuse a need to respect for supposed anxiety. No one should assume that East Indians are destined for a future that is more (or less) "uncertain" than what is in store for any other race in Guyana. I believe that blacks share in Naipaul's achievement, despite their reservations. I suspect that they have the smart to regard him, like East Indians, with his setbacks. "Race" does not and should not determine everything in life. If, perchance, I have mistaken, then I will contend that their silence is an extension of what James noted in 1966, that Naipaul is "looked down" upon like Kanhai, because he's East Indian. The issue of East Indian heroes is linked directly to East Indian (and Guyanese) history. It is too serious a topic to discuss in one letter. I will attempt it in two, this being the first, sticking to literature/arts for the moment. East Indians want their writers/artists to be recognized just like anyone else, not obscured or scoffed at. Yes, they may align with VSN easily because he represents much of ourselves; a man from a sugar community who scaled the hurdles and triumphed; one who shared their disappointments and hopes, who, as an Indian, looked to India as a source of inspiration, awe and, at times, distant difference.

They do not seek to deify VSN, but will not discard him as others have attempted to discard East Indian achievement. Our first anthology of poetry, "Guyanese Poetry (1831-1931)", compiled by Norman Cameron lacked works by East Indians. So did the first issue of "Kyk-Over-Al" (1945), edited by Mr. A.J. Seymour who regarded it as "an instrument to help forge a Guyanese people." Fast Forward to 1989; during his speech at the Guyana Prize Award, ironically titled, "Communicating with Ourselves: The Caribbean Artist and his Society," Dr. Rex Nettleford (Asst. Chancellor of UWI) elaborated a list of West Indian writers/artists, including Latino musical genres rumba and mambo, but failed to mention East Indian artists, except for the usual VSN and Sam Selvon.

The Penguin Book of "Caribbean Verse in English" (ed., P. Burnett), in dealing with the oral tradition, mentioned singers like the Mighty Chalkdust, but again, there were no East Indians, no Popo (TT) or Chaitoe (Suriname). Of the folk/work songs selected, all reflected African/ post-slavery black community life, from the "Negro Song at Cornwall," "A Negro Song," to "There's a Black boy in the ring." Where is, for example, a song like "Tis time na lang time"? Of the 74 written poets featured, 3 were East Indians. Dr. Ian McDonald, in his review ("Kyk-Over-Al," no. 35), suggested that more East Indian poetry/songs would have "strengthened representation of the East Indian strain in our poetry."

True. Yet, in the Heinmann Book of "Caribbean Poetry," edited by Dr. McDonald and Stewart Brown, there are 7 East Indian poets out of the 60 writers featured, not much strengthening of this "East Indian strain in our poetry." In a book of contemporary Caribbean short stories (ed., S. Brown) called "Caribbean New Wave," there are 4 East Indian writers out of 23 writers listed.

Granted that East Indians are less involved in creative schemes, the disparity between well-publicized and unknown works is too drastic to be explained, much less excused by mere lack of creativity. Musically, East Indians have never been short of traditional music; the role of the "chowtaal" singers during Phagwah celebration must have some socio-cultural significance. In 1934, the "Anthology of Local Indian Verses" (ed., C. Ramcharital Lalla) was published, and in more recent

times, another anthology called "Shraadanjali" (eds., Laxmi Kalicharran, Kampta Karran, etc.), was issued in tribute to East Indian ancestry. Just examples. [Someone, maybe Mr. Yesu Persaud or Mr. Ravi Dev ought to investigate and bring these works out where they may be acquired readily.]

I can continue in this vein but that is not necessary, for now. Until the second letter. I am sure we can all see what has been happening. What is necessary is that people of all races recognize this problem and support the call to support, recognize, and cherish all of our writers and artists and heroes. It will be far more profitable to us all than quoting extracts from intellectuals, with no one remembering them.
Rakesh Rampertab