A double whammy of nostalgia
Cassandra's Candid Corner
September 2, 2001
Since, in all likelihood, this will be my final column (for a while anyway), I wanted it to be special - you know, going out with a bang and not a whimper. Yet, I could not find a topic suitable enough to engage my customary superficial attention. I thought I'd take a last lash at organized (and disorganized) religion, but they are so vulnerable, so shallow, so hypocritical, it is almost like taking sweetie from pickney, if one embarrasses them. In the end, I decided to bore you with my take on why so many people, in spite of overt and attractive overseas beckonings still remain in this country, and why so many of those who have left our shores yearn to return.
I could sum up this phenomenon in one word: memories. If we have had happy childhoods and adolescences, then these periods would be indelibly etched in our brains and not only do we not want to forget them, but we often want to relive them. This truism became clear to me last week when I received a double whammy of nostalgia in, of all places, a newspaper. Sunday Stabroek of 26.8.2001 carried two features, one on horse racing and the other on bird racing. Both provoked reminisences of the happiest period in my life.
Horse racing is more than a sport (and more than a sure way to lose money). For me, the pilgrimages to D'Urban Park quantified and embodied excitement and brought it to a new level. I still remember the awe with which I gaped at and stroked the Master Mechanics' greatest creations, race horses. Although I never wagered, the adrenaline rush on hearing the shrieking, shrill commentaries of the Luckhoos, as the horses rounded the St Sidwell's bend, neck on neck, has never been surpassed. We craned our necks over the rails to see whether Malayan Prince or Ulupi or Dancing Master would falter or finish first. And we were dumbfounded when Swiss Roll, owned by a Chinese family in Princes Street, returned to the paddock after a race and collapsed. She fought death as valiantly as she had warded of challenges during her career on the track. We cried as she took her last defiant gasp. The vet said she had burst a blood vessel in her brain. But my stepfather knew better. He was her groom at the stables in Lyng Street, and he had warned them about pulling the straps too tightly around her body. Of course the track cognoscenti knew that she had been overdosed with dee ting.
Mr Lloyd Luckhoo mentioned jockey Naidoo, in passing. But the people's favourite at the time was jockey Sunich (Eddie?), and the clashes and competitive spirits of these two lightweight titans added to the drama of a meeting.
Later, as destiny (?) would have it, I was to write a doctoral thesis on the effect of stress on sports horses. Research took me to the premier race tracks of Europe, my favourite being Newmarket, where intense academic studies were being carried out on race horses. And I always found time (and do to this day) to recapture my D'Urban Park youthful experiences, by going to the stables and petting these magnificent creatures.
Really, only one sensation is better than stroking a thoroughbred's nose and hearing the appreciative whinny, and that is to be in the saddle, galloping through the open landscapes. It matters not whether the steed is a spirited Arabian or a deft and supple workhorse in the Magyar (Hungarian) Puszta or a small-boned but irrepressible Spanish descendant during a round-up at Pirara in the Runpununi North Savannahs.
A quick personal aside, but one which is relevant to the influence of memories. I mentioned my stepfather just now. This man was a dray-cart driver. Ah, but he was so much more. He was our stability, and he showered kindness and love upon us without restraint and without favouritism (each of us believed to this day that he loved that one best). He made me realise that poverty does not necessarily and imperatively mean unhappiness. The gift of a cent or penny at the end of a hard day could just as well have been a million dollars - the pleasure it evoked. When he allowed us to chase the cart before taking a springing, show-off leap on to the tray, before going for a drive "around the block," that was quintessential and undiluted joy, superlative to that which rich kids might achieve when they receive, say, a watch as a gift.
Poverty, dear friends, may be an inconvenience, but it surely is not to be equated with misery. Misery is when the soul suffers deprivation. Such deprivation we never experienced. This supports my contention that because there was no agony associated with our formative memories of Guyana, my generation is less susceptible to the new attractions elsewhere.
Let me continue along the memory lane which was conjured up by Mr Luckhoo and Mr Walker. Mr Walker (no, not the Ghost who Walks, the Phantom) wrote a wonderful piece on towa towa "racing." Again, I recall such great exhiliration at listening to the chirping of two well-trained racing birds. In those days, there were competitions all over the place - at Parade Ground (it has a new name now) and at Bourda Green, when the politicians were not on their soap boxes. Word somehow got around that there would be a "race," and the whole tenement yard (the "hood" in today's parlance) would be emptied. I have experienced the chagrin of an owner whose bird had sped to 49 rackles, but would not produce the final whistle to win the prize money. We were uncontrollable in our delight and support for the underbird (an avian underdog) challenger which slowly and painstakingly but consistently chirped its way to overhaul the mammoth total of 49 rackles of the champion bird who could not, in spite of all the manipulation and cajoling, bring forth the final and winning tweet (peepeeyow). "Patsy" Peters, the centre half of St Barnabas nearly used his soccer dexterity to deflate the argument of the old champion's owner who was maintaining that a particularly long rackle should have been counted as two.
Ah yes, we found happiness in trivia. Small things amuse small minds. Or did we learn something fundamental on that day: the race is not necessarily for the swiftest, but goes to him who endureth to the end. To this day, I remember that stout?hearted bird which maintained his focus and purpose, while the other had shot ahead with effervescence, braggadocio and even contempt, only to falter at the end. I wonder how many of us might have subconsciously absorbed that scene and put it into practice as part of the armament for one's day to day life.
Thank you Mr Walker for reminding us of our living culture. Is it not quite amazing, even troubling, that a foreigner has to come and document a piece of living Guyana? Too few of our great authors put pen to paper to thrill the young (and old) ones about activities (folkloric and otherwise) that are part of our past and present culture. Where are the stories pertaining to blacksmithing, to the science involved in the production of burnt red brick, to boat building?
Allow me finally to thank the Editor-in-Chief for allowing me to use his newspaper to pontificate, to voice faecal matter on sundry topics and to try to reduce those who like to pamposett: Of course, my gratitude extends to the gracious Sunday Editor, who must have seethed at my late submissions, but who always made me not feel guilty.