(a Guyana Prize for Literature winner) Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
September 17, 2006
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Gokarran Sukhdeo was born on September 11, 1949 on Plantation Wales, West Bank Demerara, British Guiana. Wales was the setting for his historical novel in a post-World War Two and Cold War era.
At primary school, he was a precocious child and mature for his age, resulting in him representing his school at national events including the patriot inspiring History and Culture Week.
But at age 15, Sukhdeo was forced to leave school to work in the sugar cane industry as a cane cutter. That happened when his father lost his job as foreman on the estate and the lot fell on Sukhdeo, as the eldest son (second of eight siblings) to supplement the family’s income. Despite this hardship, he continued to study privately, gaining seven subjects at the General Certificate of Examinations (GCE) – quite an achievement for someone who had not attended secondary school. Under the guidance of Mr. Solomon Ishwari Das, Sukhdeo passed the Third and Fourth Year Teachers' examinations in 1966 and 1967 and started teaching at Wales Primary (formerly Wales Canadian Mission) School.
The change in family fortune brought on emotional trauma in the life of youthful Sukhdeo – he lost the girl he loved. This distress was only appeased when he started exploring the lonely backlands and the alluring forests of his areas, developing a love for nature and the outdoors. His new love for the outdoors led him to read as many books he could get on the Rupununi and he fell romantically in love with that savannah land and its expansive sky.
According to Sukhdeo, the sixties was “an age of romanticism and chivalry and adventure” and imbued with such a spirit, he read voraciously books of that nature written by “Mark Twain, R. L. Stevenson, Ballantyne, Alexander Dumas, Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and R.D. Blackmore.”
Much more was happening in the life of Sukhdeo. Suffice it to say that during the mid-1960s when Guyana was wrapped in racial strife, he turned to the church in the form of the Christian Brethren Church at Wales, developing strong moral values, adding balance to his education and experience. About that time, he received village-wide commendation for an essay he wrote, ‘The Eradication of Racial Animosity’. Duly encouraged, he moved to another literary level by participating in the National History and Arts Council Literary Competition.
In 1967, like a fulfilment of a wish, he received a teaching appointment at the Parishara UFM (Un-evangelised Fields Mission) Primary School in the Rupununi where he taught for two years before the Rupununi Uprising in 1969 disrupted the most memorable years of his life.
Back in the city, he started classes at the University of Guyana, quitting after two years due to severe kidney problem which was remedied in 1974. However, he managed to complete his in-service teachers training.
He later returned to gain a degree in Economics from the local university.
Some thirty-three years after the first draft of THE SILVER LINING was written, Gokarran Sukhdeo happened upon the manuscript while he was cleaning out his study in New York where he had taken up residency. According to the author, he read it but couldn’t believe he had written that as a teenager. He decided to complete it and the rest is history. In 1998, THE SILVER LINING won the Guyana Prize for Literature in the Best First Book of Fiction Category. But, as the story of his life goes – dark clouds and silver linings - he was unable to return to Guyana to receive the prize and the accolade due to pending immigration issues.
Gokarran Sukhdeo migrated to the USA in 1987, living without his family for five years. Silver Lining came into his life again when the family was reunited in New York. Pursuing a career in Social Work, he acquired a MA in Psychology from City University of New York. He now resides in New York with his wife, Indra. His daughter, Jennifer Devi lives in Texas with her husband and three children. His son, Terence Anand Sukhdeo, lectured at the University of Guyana before migrating to Canada.
In New York, he is actively involved in the Association of Artists and Writers and is a regular contributor to the New York based Guyana Journal. In 2002, Sukhdeo published POEMS OF LOVE AND LIBERTY.
North America was not the first exile of Gokarran Sukhdeo from Guyana. On Christmas eve of 1982, Sukhdeo, his wife and two children, ages eight and seven, left Guyana for Trinidad to “live in exile and hard labour for the next three years,” years of grave travails, a promised work permit revoked, forcing him into construction labour.
His first exile from Guyana came about when sugar price plummeted and gas price soared, when there was social unrest and political repression, blatant discrimination in the distribution of food items, and jobs.
With a change in the social climate in Guyana in the mid-1980s, he returned to Guyana with his family. Sukhdeo worked as an Economist at the Ministry of Agriculture for a little under two years before his second exile.
He maintains he owes a lot to the land of birth especially the knowledge and experience he used in writing a prize-winning first novel and he hopes one day soon that THE SILVER LINING would enter the local education system as recommended by the relevant authority.
Sources: * Interview with Gokarran Sukhdeo, Guyana 2005 * Email correspondences with Sukhdeo, 2006