Rayman Mandal and Release Publishers, Georgetown,Guyana
Preserving our literary heritage
by Petamber Persaud
March 4, 2007
“Mandal” means a place of intellectual and cultural activity in India.
Rayman Mandal has always been and continues to be intellectually inclined, gathering his knowledge from institutions around the world and from an exciting, fast-paced and rewarding life. Not onlydid he acquire knowledge but he also shared his knowledge in various ways, from politicking to teaching to writing to publishing.
His education was varied and complex, influenced by prevailing social, political, and economic conditions of his time. His early education came by way of the Ursuline Covent for Kindergarten at Camp and Church streets; Sacred Heart Primary, Main Street; and by private tutors. The private aspect of his education was coloured by ambitious considerations to suit the dictates of his father.
Mandal spent two years at Queen’s College but his father relocated him to St. Stanislaus College because Mandal’s youthful zest for life redirected his
attention to sports and art which his father thought were useless pursuits.
He finished college in 1960. Influenced by his main tutor, Jadu, and the exciting pre-independence conditions at the time, he became active in the Progressive Youth Organisation (PYO), youth arm of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), a move which catapulted him to Moscow, USSR, where he gained distinctions in his Diploma in political science.
In a relative easy transition, he was appointed to Budapest, Hungary, where he was Guyana’s representative at World Federation of Democratic Youth
(WFDY). There he became English editor of WORLD YOUTH, a magazine published in several languages. In 1966, he returned from Europe to a new Guyana, an Independent Guyana, and being intellectually inclined, he was determined to get higher education.
Mandal started studies at the University of Guyana where he successfully pursued a double-major in French and Spanish in 3 years. He had earlier passed his “A” Level exams in French and Spanish studying on his won. His pursuit of intellectual inquiry also fed his thirst for literature, and he opened himself to writings from different worlds and cultures, writings which eventually influenced his writing.
Mandal produced a “different” poetry – philosophical, satirical and abounding in symbols. Nineteen seventy-four found him at the University of Ontario reading for a master’s degree in Spanish, after which he returned to Guyana as Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Guyana. This constant returning to Guyana characterises his love for his country and his intention to contribute to its national development. Between 1976 and 1979, his first stint at the University of Guyana had ended.
In 1980, he was awarded a Fulbright/Laspan Scholarship, and was accepted at the University of Texas to pursue a Phd. in Latin American Studies. There he spent three years majority in Latin American Literature and Politics. Mandal passed his doctoral exams, but personal circumstances prevented him from completing his dissertation which was supposed to be on the Novel of the Dictator in Latin America.
Returning to Guyana for the third time in 1983, Mandal continued to lecture in Spanish and Latin American literature at the University of Guyana. After teaching at University of Guyana, he moved to New York in 1986, where, after teaching for twenty unbroken years at Horace Mann School in New York, one of New York’s most elite private schools.
Rayman Mandal was born in Durban Street, Werk-en-Rust, Georgetown, British Guiana in 1942. He was the second of ten siblings. His mother, Ursula Ragwoen, was born in Guyana while his father, Altafar Rahim Mandal came to Guyana from West Bengal, India in the 1930s. The father was a general merchant who continued his financial pursuit by opening the eventual popular “Bombay Bazaar” in Robb Street.
Although his mother was of Tamil decent (Madras), she was inclined to Catholicism, while his father was a staunch Muslim. That situation led the children to acquire the best of both worlds. Apart from using his experience as an educator and political activist, Mandal’s intellectual activity extended to writing poetry, starting a literary journal, “Release”, and a publishing house, “Release Publishers.”
“Release” was intended to be an outlet for the creative mind, be it in writing or publishing, and for anyone to appreciate. Mandal summarizes this in the poem “Voices”. Voices may “implode in silence”.
This was during the period when people were afraid to criticize the government. Therefore, writing had to be supported by its publication or else all is lost as “even the frog’s croak grows hoarse”.
“Release” ran from 1976 to 1979 parallel to his teaching stint at the University of Guyana. The journal survived the paper and ink shortages of the 1970s, but the survival of the publications was partially due to acquisition of the magazine and books by the Ministry of Education. The target audience of his publications was, among other things, the schools. From the Release Publishers came many significant and singular publications including “Poems of Resistance”
(1979) and “Poems of Affinity” (1980) by Martin Carter who was a contributing factor in the encouragement of the magazine.
Others books coming out of that house include Temples and Mosques by Karna Singh (1980), and Guyanese Sugar Plantations in Late 19th Century by Walter Rodney (1979).
Release Publishers also produced works on Amerindians such as Guyana Legends, Focus on the Amerindians edited by Dr. Walter Edwards, as well as Geomorphology of Guyana by Dr. Daniel. Mandal also published the first Journal of the Arts for the Faculty of Arts. Most of these publications are now
out of print and Mandal hopes to continue publishing when he returns to Guyana.
Rayman Mandal has now retired from teaching in New York and plans to return to Guyana in the near future to rekindle his love for, among other things, literature and publishing.
•Interview with Rayman Mandal, Georgetown, Guyana, January 2007