There is not a word in Parris's story that is insulting to Indians
Stabroek News
January 26, 2002

Dear Editor,

I find no less pleasure in responding to Miguel Thompson's letter captioned "I was not impressed with this story" (SN 22.01.2002) than I found in replying to R. Sukraj's (SN 19.01.2002).

Mr. Thompson, to his credit, has gone further than Mr. Sukraj in his criticism in that he has presented myself and the public with a curt, flawless and obviously well constructed critique of the story, Coolie Tom Puss, written by Haslyn Parris published in the Guyana Christmas Annual 20001.

I have a particular penchant for deconstruction Mr. Thompson. I'm going to begin with your description of one of the main characters in the story, Valerie, as "dougla". Paragraph 4, pg. 7, of the Guyana Christmas Annual 2001 begins, "In his thirty first year he had met Valerie a good looking, brown skinned primary school teacher of African descent" That, I recall, is the only description of Valerie's race. A lesson in critical analysis, Mr. Thompson: you cannot, under any circumstance, develop your criticism independent of the actual text of the work.

Mr. Thompson finds as "most objectionable" the title of the story. Assuming that it is the word "coolie" which has raised the ire of Mr. Thompson, then I suggest he would be equally offended at seeing David Dabydeen's Coolie Odyssey (Hansib, 1988) or Clem Seecharan's Bechu: Bound Coolie Radical in British Guiana (UWI, 1999). The Guyanese Association of Manitoba not long ago featured a successful dramatic presentation based on Seecharan's work using the first four words of the title. The more you read, the more you know, Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson refers to "the prejudice of the Joneses". Phrases like "there wasn't a prejudicial bone in Sherlock's (Mr. Jones) beingÓ" or "the workers in the mechanic shop (Sherlock Jones') had been employed purely on technical merit, and so comprised an ethnic mix mirroring the community" must have surely escaped the hawk like attention of Mr. Thompson. There is no mention of any sort of prejudice in the Jones' daughters; indeed, from their interactions with their Indian neighbours it must be assumed that there is none. Valerie, Sherlock's wife, is, on the other hand, absurdly prejudiced. That is the point of the story. You cannot satirize racial prejudice without a racially prejudiced character. Imagine All in the Family without Archie Bunker.

Mr. Thompson argues that Sherlock and Valerie Jones are not "remarkable". They don't need to be. They are no more remarkable than any character in any story published in the Annual; they are no more remarkable than Silas Marner or Homer Wells or Ras George Mac Williams or Hendree. If anything, you've pointed out the extremely obvious. The age of heroic literature is over, Mr. Thompson: get over it. Metaphysics of the mundane, et al.

Before Mr. Thompson prepares the bonfire for The Guyana Christmas Annual 2001 (obscene, suggestive and unfit for the eyes of children) I suggest that he also make some space for Volpone, King Lear, Canterbury Tales, A Brighter Sun, The Jumbie Bird, Jazz (required reading throughout my secondary school days) and, oh yes, The Holy Bible ű taught in Sunday schools world wide. Until then, I recommend you put away whatever cup of hemlock you've taken out for Mr. Parris.

Mr. Thompson points out that Mr. Persaud and his cat are used "to demonstrate the prejudice of the Joneses and their wayward daugther, Rosie and serve as a butt for insults and damage the image of Indians in Guyana." For the record ű there is not a single word in Parris' story that is insulting towards Indian people or domesticated cats. The Persauds and the Alis are peripheral characters in the story and are juxtaposed as is "High Wine" James within the story to highlight both the results of ethnic social interaction and ethnic prejudice (again, the obvious). The Jones children have had their vocabulary enriched by their interaction with their Bajan father and their East Indian neighbours. Even Valerie has benefited in her culinary expertise from her childhood interaction with East Indian neighbours (not the Persauds or Alis) but she has "never learnt how to cook East Indian sweetmeatsÓbecause of her reaction to the fact that these same neighbours showed no interest in learning to cook African type or Amerindian type dishes like met a gee or pepperpot. Valerie subconsciously interpreted this circumstance as evidence of some kind of pre supposed ethnic superiority on the part of East Indians; and never considered that the main ingredients of these dishes were 'haram' for religious reasons." I suppose that a portrayal of East Indians as steadfast in their faithfulness to their customs and religions within Parris' story is extremely damaging to their image here in Guyana. What we know of Mr. Ali is that he is a devout Muslim and cattle farmer who, in one short chapter in the story, the drunken Mr. "High Wine" James accuses of selling him (James) "jackass foot for cow heel, the evidence being that when James had boiled it the pot had sounded 'gabedick, gabedick, gabedick' just like a galloping jackass." The prejudiced Valerie, although she is certain that James has made up the tale to get back at Mr. Ali for complaining about James' pigs wandering into his yard, acquires her cow heel elsewhere. No direct action is ever ascribed to Mr. Persaud or his family. We are simply given the sentence, "Immediately Rosie piped up that Mr. Persaud's 'tiefin' cat had troubled the pepperpot." Would Mr. Thompson have us assume that Indian (Hindu) people do not, as a rule, own cats, or that cats do not steal? Would the story's point have been proven better if Rosie had accused one of Mr. James' pigs of sneaking into the house and stealing the pepperpot?

As to whether I would have featured/published a short story called "Nigger Ram Goat", please check my letter published in Sunday Stabroek (20.01.2002).

What does Guyana no good whatsoever, Mr. Thompson, is the postulating of pseudo intellectuals who believe that they are the quiet literati, the shadow guardians of literature ready to pounce on anything that insults their sensibilities but unable to initiate any sort of literary revival, or social discourse of letters, themselves.

In regards to your charge of mediocrity, I'm not going to embarrass you further by listing the people and publications that have been impressed by my work. And to return to Mr. Sukraj 's comment on the grounding for the future of Guyanese literature: the Janus Young Writers' Guild, featured in the September 2001 issue of The Guyana Review, is soon to be featured in an article on post colonial studies to be published in Imperium, an online journal out of the University of Luton, England.

At 21 years of age, my youth and enthusiasm is in bountiful supply, Mr. Thompson. If you are ready to engage in some sort of informed debate, I'm ready whenever you are. Until then, do your homework.

Finally: that an Attorney At Law, Ms. Sonia Joseph, should find as lovable an uninformed piece of correspondence, in which the writer admits to violating another person's legal copyright, seems sadly manifest of the overall decline of our legal system. I love this Q and A joke (absolutely and honestly)! What do you get with a busload of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A poor start.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson,

Editor, The Guyana Christmas Annual 2001