Tribute to My Father

My mother and father
By Dr. Vishnu Bisram

December 11 is the one hundredth birth anniversary of my father who left this world almost a quarter century ago. He didn’t have financial fortune or political fame. But he was a remarkable courageous, resourceful man, a guiding light to his children, a role model of decency. I marvel about all he was and all he did. He gave his all in everything he set out to do. He loves his extended family – his uncles and aunts and their children. He selflessly shared whatever he can to help others even when he was cheated of possessions. In spite of many adversities, like losing his mother in boyhood and lack of a prestigious job, he was determined to succeed in life and to raise a good family because he had a great wife, my mother, a most resourceful and energetic woman.  My mother would work up to the day she gave birth and at the sewing machine the next day.

It is precious memory when I think of the life of my pa and my ma with me and my other siblings. The legacies that my father, his father, and his aja and aji left behind and the helping hand that he gave amongst the large, extended family will never be forgotten.

My father, whose call name Baldat, was well known in the greater Port Mourant area. He was a taylor and he also came to be known by that call name. Before becoming a taylor, he was a salesman at Muneshwer’s in Haswell, next to Roop Mahal cinema; Muneshwer was my father’s first cousin who was called Bhaiya in the family clan being the oldest male among dad’s dozens of cousins. (Muneshwer’s mother and my father’s dad were sister and brother).  My father was also a farmer, cultivating rice and cane, and a cow herder. The hundreds of cows were owned by the extended family of my par aja and par aji. People knew my father because of his many jobs and farming roots. He helped in the family religious functions and weddings with cooking or “bhandara”. He was not much into sports but he liked horse racing and he did play ‘ball’ with Cheddi Jagan and his brothers (Oudit and Derek) as they lived near each other’s cottage. My parents immigrated to NY in March 1977 and worked at factories to help provide for the family.

My father Baldat

Baldat was born in Ankerville, across the trench (Side line) from Bound Yard where my mother and her siblings were born and where my eight ancestors from India were bounded. He was the second son of Mahadeo (one name) who was better known as Barkha Bhai (big brother); his siblings were Ramrattan, Eva, Baliraj and Simbhudas. Mahadeo was the eldest son of my par aja (great grand father) Ghurbatore (also had only name) who came to British Guiana along with my par-aji (Amru Rai) on the same boat as indentured laborers. Ghurbatore and Amru’s five children were born in Plantation Port Mourant as were all of their dozens of grandchildren and my siblings – 12 children of Baldat and my mother Gladys, a seamstress, who in January will complete a fine innings of 93 with fading memories of life in the homeland.

My father left behind fond memories of my growing up and of his life, his contributions to Ankerville and Port Mourant, and of raising his children. He was a member of the Port Mourant cane co-op and volunteered his labor for cultivation and harvest. His youngest daughter, Zenita died while a baby. His eleven other children, Kapa, Gama, Kamin, Lailo, Lathco, Ako, Ashmin, Mala, Besho, Ravi, Sunil, migrated to the US, becoming home owners; Mala died last year of complications related to cancer. All are educated in various fields in engineering, computer science, medicine, academia, and other areas of endeavor. Although he labored in the fields and on a manual sewing machine, he did not want his children to do same. My three elder brothers and two elder sisters did learn to sew and all of us labored on the rice fields and rice factories, but not as an occupation. He sent all of us to school, stressing the importance of education and hard work in life to become a great person. Two of my elder brothers and a sister became teachers before migrating to NY where all of my brothers and sisters became professionals. Although I passed Common Entrance for the government Berbice High, my father insisted I attended the private more prestigious Chandisingh High. I myself taught for some forty years in addition to being a Prefect in CHS and a prolific writer on varied issues and volunteering my entire life in service to Guyana as well as to the Caribbean, Indian, and Guyanese diasporas in America.

My pa, like my ma, set an example to others, for his integrity and loyalty to family and for his kindness. He was a man of peace, honour, and dignity. He was no boozer and hardly patronized rum shops. He spent extended periods in the backdam tending to the crops and the cows that belonged to the extended Ghurbatore family. He also sacrificed his years doing good for his neighbors and extended cousins, without wanting or expecting anything in return. And when his cousins were in needed of help, he would send me or my brothers or sisters to help them. All of my brothers and a few of my sisters helped in the business of his first cousin Aunty Bethlyn (of Ankerville) who had no children; I virtually spent every day over several years helping my aunt run her business.

There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to make life better for his family. We were always taken care of well by pai. Although we came from a poor family, there was always food on the table. We were also rich in heart helping neighbors, friends, and cousins. When we milled rice we distributed to cousins, neighbors, and the poor. When my father milked the cows, we similarly shared it. Our family learned appreciation for what we had, of caring and sharing, from our poor grandparents and having a dad and a mother that provided for us and who also helped others in need. And I suppose my mother and father imbibed generosity from their grand parents who came from India and their parents.

Pa struggled in his upbringing without a mother who died young. He and three brothers and a sister were raised by their aji, the indentured servant from Azamgarh. Match making led to marriage to my mom from across the side line. Though they came from poor families, they had the resiliency to work hard and provided for their children. (My nana died young, killed by a Port Mourant punt estate mule that he was attending; the family got no compensation, leaving my nanni to care for her nine children all alone).  After marriage, my mother worked night and day on the sewing machine and training hundreds of others to become seamstress. My aja willed my father and his four other children rice land that he owned, received from Ghurbatore, and my father acquired additional land for rice and cane – turning forests into cultivable land that enriched the nation with his labor. After harvesting of rice, every sibling was at the rice mill to help in the soaking, parboiling, drying, and milling of the paddy. We can’t forget that experience – labor intensive, back breaking work – at the end of which one gets delicious tasting rice that the Burnham state forcefully acquired with monetary losses to rice growers.

I think of the good times I shared with my pai, of his taking me to matinees, to Indian cultural concerts, to horse racing, to the Dara Singh wrestling match, to Cheddi Jagan meetings, to weddings and Jhandis of cousins, of watching him milk the cows, of his continuing the heritage brought by his grandparents from India. After years of pleading, I remember of him taking me to the backdam on the tractor to experience the joy of  the rice harvest on combines and chasing after ‘water hens’. When I did not attend to my house chores or did something wrong, I got a sound trashing, and deservedly so. During dry seasons, I had to fetch water from a mile away for the garden or for washing or cooking. I had to take cows to the pasture morning and returning for them in the afternoon after school. Otherwise, licks! He was a disciplinarian. I never thanked him enough for the discipline instilled in me and others. My father would not have approved of my political activism; he was quite upset when I co-led the student protests on the Corentyne in 1976 and 1977. He adored J.C Chandisingh.

I feel for father a quarter century after his departure, and I am satisfied that I am contributing to society the way he would have. Life continues without a parent (s), but I am who I am because of my father and my mother. And I am grateful to them both.

It is because of them that I have succeeded in university of being perhaps unique to study for four PhDs and multiple MA degrees and of making contributions to society.

The memories of my father’s activities will remain forever in his children as we remember his 100th. The legacy he left is what made the children what we are today and keeps us progressing in life. We are all more caring, compassionate, and empathetic because of our parents. I would like to think my father is around somewhere for in Hinduism, his and my faith, we are taught that in life, there is death and after death life will return in another body. I think it would be fair to say that my father left the world better than he found it cultivating rice and cane and sewing garments for factory workers in Georgetown at DDL, Banks, and other businesses that fed, clothed, and enriched the nation.