Absurd criticism
Guyana Chronicle
February 5, 2002

I've just read Terence Roberts' article "Literary Freedom in an Educated Society" in the SUNDAY CHRONICLE of February 3, and I am very happy. Roberts' article is fresh air in a landscape of lingering toxic fumes generated by absurd criticism of Haslyn Parris' short story, "Coolie Tom Puss."

As I followed the dispute in the newspapers I became concerned about the potential psychological harm mindless and malicious criticism could have on emerging writers of fiction. Would they want to submit stories and poems again for forthcoming issues of the Guyana Christmas Annual? Would they continue writing, for that matter?

Terence Roberts' article provides ample encouragement to budding writers, as well as necessary illumination to uneducated readers. Some Guyanese readers need to be open-minded in their attitude to local literary output.

The magazine KYK-OVER-AL once published one of my short stories which began with the following sentences: "The old man squatted comfortably astride the two planks in the red corrugated iron latrine and regarded the brown trench water below with a look of contentment.

"...The old man washed himself with the Ovaltine can of water he carried into the latrine, dried his wrinkled hands on his khaki pants as he fixed himself, and emerged from the latrine with a sigh of relief."

Some friends criticized me vehemently for writing that, arguing that I presented East Indians as backward people.

The story was set in the early 1950s when sugar workers lived in logies and relieved themselves in communal latrines. My father's sister lived in a logie at Uitvlugt Estate. One morning I entered the male latrine nearby and what I observed was exactly what I described in my short story. Isn't a writer supposed to write about what he knows firsthand?

Fiction often reflects reality. Since the real world is imperfect, fictional characters will have imperfect attitudes to race, gender, religion, etc.

Recently, I read Jack Kerouac's novel, "On the Road", whose main characters are post-war restless American youths indulging in free sex, drugs, hard drinking and seemingly aimless journeys. It is one of the most wonderful books I've read, an example of good prose writing, and has been hailed rightly as a modern classic of American literature.

Keep on writing, Haslyn. Thanks for your timely article, Terence.

Hemraj Muniram,
Toronto, Canada