By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Shri Sugrim Singh of London, formerly of Ankerville, Port Mourant, passed on a couple weeks ago. He would have been 85 on February 9. Hindu rites and Cremation of his mortal remains is on February 5. Sugrim had a most remarkable personality. We always had pleasant exchanges. He would relate family experiences of his childhood, the passing of his mother when he was very small, and the struggles of life in England.
Sugrim was a second generation Indian born in 1936 in Ankerville. He was among a handful from the second generation who were still around until his passing. He came from a very large extended family of first cousins. Most haves passed on. His cousins Math Dyal Mangru, Rickey Mangru, Bodo Ramjitsingh, and Betty Mahase are the remaining second generation survivors.
Sugrim lived in Ankerville and Boundyard and also spent time with relatives in Rose Hall and Tain. He told me he went for vacations at his brothers’ in laws in Bengal. Ankerville, Port Mourant producer notable cricketers like Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Alvin Kalicharran, among others. The great Prime Minister Dr Cheddi Jagan was also from Ankerville.
Sugrim attended Corentyne High School (CHS) in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was the premier high school in the county of Berbice. At that time, there were no GCEs, only Senior Cambridge offered through Cambridge University. He left for London in 1956 to pursue medical studies at a time when there were no tertiary institution in Guyana and when those wishing higher education left for the UK. With its racism, living in UK was most difficult for immigrants and foreign students like Sugrim.
Sugrim came from a well known family. His father Ramjee Singh was from India and his mother Sanicharee was among the first generation born in Guyana. Sugrim’s grandparents and the extended family were highly revered in Port Mourant and the greater Corentyne area. Once the name of his grandfather Ghurbatore was mentioned, people knew them and express admiration.
Sugrim was the brother of well-known business people (late) Hindu (of Tain), Baljeet (Gama) also of Tain, Lilmatie Hilton (of Rose Hall), Bethlyn (of Ankerville) who was married to Bissoon, police Superintendent Ramjee Singh (Bodo) of Robb Street, and Golin (married to Pandit Bangat of Tain). He was uncle (Mamu and cha cha respectively) of Sailo and Kumari who also are alumni of CHS. He was a first cousin of Muneshwer, proprietor of that huge Georgetown business empire of the same name.
Sugrim, Kumari, Sailo and so many others, including me share common ancestry – indentured immigrants from India. Sugrim’s maternal grandmother or nanni (Amru) and maternal grandfather or nanna (Ghurbatore) are my paternal great grand-parents. His mother is the sister of my aja (Mahadeo also known as Bharka Bhai). He was the first cousin of my father, Baldat, also known as taylor, son of Mahadeo. Sugrim’s father was Ramjee Singh (called Ramjee Babu, a title of a mark of respect), an immigrant from Madhuban, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. His mother, Sancharee was born in Port Mourant of indentured immigrant parents, first generation born in Guyana. Sugrim was very proud of his parents. He would always say he was a Ramjee, meaning one had to subscribe to certain standards to retain the respect people had for the name and the extended family.
Sugrim left for England at a time when there were few Guyanese. Almost every Guyanese who departed for England went as student and decided to settle down. Life in England was very difficult, but for sure better than Guyana after the 1960s. Studying medicine and working was almost impossible in UK. He needed to work for survival, suspending his studies. He worked at various jobs. He also became a restaurateur which he abandoned for more lucrative opportunities. He eventually managed and owned another very successful business that employed several workers. He was very generous with funds helping several individuals. Later, he helped several of his staff in London to start their own businesses.
I had several encounters with Uncle Sugrim when he visited Guyana in May 1986 for the funeral of his sister Bethlyn, New York in early 1990s, and in several trips to England, the last one being in October of 2019. Covid led to the cancellation of a London trip in 2020. I enjoyed his recounts of his growing up in the plantation of Port Mourant and his attendance at CHS. He also talked about his early years of experience in England – life was very, very difficult for non-Whites. He also offered a lot of business tips.
Sugrim was very conversational and chatty in our exchanges. He was also very witty and jovial. It was always a joy engaging him.
Over the last several years of his life, Sugrim had become very religious. He had become a devotee (Bhakt) of Lord Krishna. He used to grow tulsi plants and sharing with others. He came to be known as “Tulsi Baba”. He had provided funds a decade long to raise two children in Mathura, India.
Sugrim is survived by his six children and several grand children. His family should take comfort in the fact that he was kind and generous even to non-family members.
I will miss Uncle Sugrim immensely.