By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Ramesh Dalchand Kalicharran, a legendary, iconic Indo-Guyanese New Yorker, is no more – gone to the heavenly abodes on Dec 3 after being felled from a massive heart attack two weeks earlier.
Kali, as he was popularly called, was an institution in and a library for the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean diaspora in the U.S. Everyone who wanted to do research or find out some aspects of Indo-Guyanese life would come to him for information. He was widely known and recognized for his work in helping to shape and build Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean institutions in New York, being an asset to so many Guyanese opening doors to minorities when they were closed. His presence in the community is irreplaceable.
Kali lived a great life doing so much for the Guyanese diaspora in America. He served with distinction and honor, and even his worst critic would concede Kali has done great things for Guyanese as well as non-Guyanese and non-Indians. He had the most inspiring love for his home country of Guyana and his adopted homeland of America as well as his community in greater New York. He had great dedication and devotion to his community.
No one has done as much for the Guyanese or Indo-Caribbean diaspora as Kali. He has made New York or Queens a better place for Guyanese. As such, he was the recipient of dozens of honors from all kinds of organizations and varied politicians. He was/is worthy of the highest awards and accolades — though he was never honored with an official Guyana government award. And tributes have been pouring in to his family and on social media from all over the globe. His passing is a blow to the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean community for there is no budding replacement to perform the kind of service he has been rendering for some four decades.
Kali’s 69 years was full of life ever since he came into this world at Bush Lot, Essequibo Coast. Having risen from a humble, farm life on an estate, he excelled in school doing well at GCE to become a teacher at Diamond Secondary School, East Bank. From there, he migrated to study medical sciences in New York and eventually became a medical lab technician before moving on to owning businesses — real estate, travel, driving school, and others — the first among Guyanese since the early 1980s. He had a great life doing so much for the Guyanese as well as Caribbean and Indian diasporas in America. He was always willing to lend a helping hand financially or organizing events not only for Guyanese or Indians but for all communities regardless of ethnicities or nationalities or political affiliations.
In addition to the US, Kali was also widely known by Guyanese in England and Canada as well as in Trinidad and other countries. He organized tours of Caribbean people to India. Kali also organized tours to Europe, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, and Dubai. But he was more well known as tour operator to India(only Guyanese or Caribbean business accredited by government of India) running tours for over 32 years. I was at several of his tours in India reporting on them for the NY media. And whenever I was in India and his group was on tour, I would meet them as I did last October as well as last Feb and the previous October and so many other times.
Kali had a regular presence at Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean events in the greater NY area. He also attended immigration functions organized by politicians or African Caribbean groups. And he patronized varied functions regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation including those organized by police, fire, community, cultural, social, and business organizations. And not surprisingly, he received countless accolades from a variety of groups including politicians from New York State, NYC, and Washington as well as from police, fire and business groups. It is not an exaggeration to say no one has received as many awards as him .
As a Hindu, Kali not only had a presence at every public pooja, satsangh and other Hindu religious functions but also at those organized by Christian and Islamic associations. He was a devout Hindu observing all Hindu festivals. But he respected other religions never uttering a negative of other faiths. And he remains supportive of all religions giving a helping hand to all. He was among a few Hindus who was welcomed at Masjids. In fact, he helped several Islamic and Christian leaders to establish churches and mosques for their followers. He made many a donations to churches and masjids (and off course temples) in Brooklyn and Queens. Not surprisingly, he had thousands of fans and admirers around the US, Canada, and England and throughout the Caribbean.
Kali’s death has created a void in the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean community . He was a reservoir of information being in possession of a large collection of items written on or about Guyanese and Indians in America. He was an expert at providing information about Guyanese and Indo-Caribbeans as well as to those doing research on the Indo-Caribbean diaspora for he had a huge collection of materials going back to the early presence of Guyanese and Trinis in New York. The Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean Diaspora may never see a replacement for him. We are so grateful and thankful for his service and the knowledge he left with us about the diaspora.
Kali’s office was the venue of the launching of countless organizations — political, civic, religious and business orgs including the Indo-Caribbean Federation, Pandits Parishad, Phagwah parade, Gyaan Bhakti Satsangh, etc. He was also a founding member of Global organization of People of Indian Origin. And it was through his contacts that people like myself and Ravi Dev were able to meet politicians from India. Vishnu Bandhu stated that he is most grateful to Kali for providing space for the URP to host its first public meeting in America in the mid 80s. Kali also provided space and donations for other political parties of Guyana; he was non-partisan organizing and patronizing functions of varied groups regardless of political affiliation. Kali opened so many doors for me and countless others when we faced obstacles with a phone call — that was how much respect important people had for him. In fact, Kali helped to make the great Prakash Gossai, and several other famous Guyanese and Trinis in America.
Kali was a manager, mentor, friend and father to many who came from all walks of life to seek his assistance in his office in Jamaica, Queens. And he helped thousands, often giving passage money to some to get back home. He was a most generous philanthropist and sponsor of cultural and religious events. Guyanese and others are so privileged to have worked with such an amazing person, who had such a deep care about and compassion for people. He also taught us of working together as a team, tolerance towards one another regardless of ethnic and religious differences, and to be generous.
Kali never failed to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. He also embraced and helped people of all ethnicities. He employed and served people of all backgrounds. Unlike others who sought to build people and establish institutions from their own immediate ethnic or religious communities, Kali cultivated and shaped leaders from all ethnicities and faiths. He helped to make and build pandits, mulvis, pastors, singers, musicians, dancers — the only person perhaps globally to ever achieve this goal. And so people of all backgrounds (religions and ethnicities) respect and admire him. He helped so many Guyanese to obtain jobs and becoming home owners or business persons or to visit India.
And he also had the most amazing tenacity to stand up for his country. People would miss visiting his office or calling him for information or someone’s contact. They would miss his trips to India and of visiting Bollywood studios and of meeting famous actors, musicians and others from the film industry. I wish everyone could be lucky like me to accompany Kali on a tour to India or to work with a character like Kali. His sense of humor will always be remembered.
The tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at his funeral … “such a man as him walked the face of this earth” in large measure applies to Kali for he truly was an iconic figure, a legend in the New York Guyanese community. The community in America will always remember him as a leader, a fighter for Guyana, a nurturer of community youths, and a very resilient man. Goodbye dear brother. The community will forever miss you.