By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Every day, I get messages of Indo-Caribbeans, a lot of Guyanese and Trinis, in the greater New York area falling to complications relating to Covid 19 virus. The Guyanese community, in particular, has been hard hit. We don’t know how many contracted Covid and how many died. Hardly a Gyanese or Trini or any family has not been affected with someone infected with Corona. With Corona’s deaths, one gets to learn about so many unsung heroes that helped to make the lives of their families and or friends or the community better.
We learn about their youthful days, achievements and hobbies growing up in Guyana or in Trinidad. One such personality was that of a most likeable Berbician nicknamed Wes Hall who succumbed to Corona in Queens some three weeks ago. No he did not play county or national cricket. But he was good as any of his time.
Nancoomar (Patrick) Ramsaran, formerly of Letter Kenny was among some 250 fatalities (?) of Guyanese in America. He lived in Hollis, Queens. He was a cricket enthusiast, well-liked and with an affable personality like no others. He was greatly admired by siblings and neighbors who spoke glowingly of him at virtual wakes held on Webinar during several nights. He liked to have a fun time and several reminisced about his life.
Patrick grew up as a very strong young man in Letter Kenny, a small dusty, rural village surrounded by others (Bloomfield, Whim, etc) like it that was underdeveloped, neglected by colonial authorities and pots-independence succeeding administrations. He started working at a very young age after reaching standard 4 at Auchlyne Scotts School. His father, like almost every father in rural Guyana at that time, needed him and the younger brothers in the rice fields; girls tend to home duties. Patrick also obtained a coveted regular salaried-paying job while a teenager in the “filter press gag” at Port Mourant Estate. The gang dispersed the blackened waste product of crushed cane that was used as nutritious manure in the cane fields of Port Mourant or on private farmlands. But manual manual field-work did not deter Patrick to pursue his favorite pastime, playing cricket hoping one day to follow in the mold of the cricketing heroes of the time like Joe Solomon, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, or others from Berbice, Guyana, and around the West Indies like Gary Sobers and Wes Hall of Barbados.
Patrick became a very talented cricketer playing as an all-rounder. After tending to rice fields in the mornings or his regular job at the Port Mourant estate, he would practice in the afternoon in Bloomfield or neighboring Letter Kenny ground and played competitive hard ball cricket on weekends. The cricket ground was by the trench dam in Bloomfield (coincidentally it was founded and prepared by Patrick’s father, the late Sonny Ramsaran, an Estate Driver, and his friends – the preceding generation that played cricket against the likes of Kanhai, Butcher, Solomon, John Trim, Randolph Ramnarace father, etc.). Outstanding cricketers from Port Mourant and Rose Hall played at Bloomfield in reciprocal matches and against Patrick’s superb bowling and batting.
Patrick played for Bloomfield Hot Shots in fierce competition with neighboring village teams (club cricket) and against the powerful Port Mourant team. Trophies were often sponsored by Ameer Abdool stores (that had a branch in Bloomfield and Rose Hall). Competition was mostly his team against Port Mourant (the likes of Romain Etwaroo, Berlin Shaheed, etc.), Whim (Ramnarace), Tain (Kalicharran), Ankerville, Rose Hall, etc. The team included Randolph Ramnarace who went on to play for Guyana in Shell Shield; Patrick was of the same mold. He played at several grounds but Bloomfield was his favorite. He was a sensation when playing against Whim, perhaps outshining Ramnarace – hitting 6’s into the Whim compound (stand) against their best bowlers – such as Bacroo and others. He was a left-hander and a fast bowler, some said even faster than Ramnarace who was also an all rounder. In fact, Patrick was nick named “Halls” after West Indies bowler Wesley Halls because of his bowling crouch, movement, and pace. Batsmen feared his bowling and bowlers feared his hitting. He produced fantastic bowling and batting figures for Bloomfield Hot Spots earning the team trophies.
Life was not easy growing up in a village. When not in cricket, Patrick was tending to his job at the estate and when out of crop, he was looking after his father’s rice land in Bloomfield Village in front of John’s Settlement (before it was converted to housing during the late 1970s).
Patrick, like most rice farmers, worked very hard; it was back breaking work growing rice as I experienced as a child accompanying sisters to the backdam. The family had two acres of rice land plus a transported piece in Bloomfield. Planting and harvesting was done in a community spirit; neighbors, friends, and relatives help in the process. Manpower was pooled. Up to the early 1970s, most rice planting was by hand and oxen plows; harvesting were done mostly by women with sickles. Children often accompanied the women; all labor was needed on the fields during and right after the harvest. Thrashing of the stalks of daan to loosen the grains was done by cows or mules stamping over the daan stalks. The chafe would be removed and daan sifted (with siftas performed by ladies). Paddy would be aged. Transporting of the daan was by mule carts.
Rice transports was also done by small wooden boats along the Letter Kenny/Bloomfield trenches which went from the end of rice fields to the sea with the water regulated by sluices and kokers. The bagged paddy was transported by mule or donkey carts to Rahaman’s Rice Mill at Letter Kenny and later Bloomfield Village – each village had 2 rice mills. (In he later late1960 and during the 1970s tractors were introduced for plowing, trashing and transporting rice).Other areas like Rose Hall also had mills but the closest the land was often chosen to store the paddy.
At the mills, after waiting one’s turn with so many rice growers waiting their turn, the paddy would be soaked in huge concrete containers for two days, parboiled with steam, placed in wooden barrows on wheeled carts and then dumped onto a large open concrete, space spread out with gangaram (a spreader) and scrapers. Several men and even women did the job. The paddy would be kicked at regular intervals in the hot sun to dry by workers and even children who would be taken out of school to assist with the process. Then it would be heaped together using scrapers and the gangaram and swept as the sun goes down, covered with rice bags. The following morning, sun permitting, the daan would be spread out again.
The process repeated at least for two days of hot sun. A specialist checks the paddy if it was dried enough for milling. The key to a good milling and high grade is the soaking, parboiling, ad drying. Then the dried paddy was bagged and moved manually one bag at a time on the back of humans or on barrows for storage inside the building waiting for its turn at the mill. At the milling stage, the bags were lifted manually into the hull of the mill in an upper platform, the outer covering of the daan removed and the rice bagged off, then hauled to another stage for a final reprocessing (polishing) if approved by the owner; most rice growers wanted their product polished which earned higher dollars. People preferred to eat polished rice although now nutritionists recommend eating unpolished rice. The rice would be bagged off again, weighed at 240 pounds, lifted manually and then transported to New Amsterdam to the Guyana Marketing Board for rating and marketing and eventually sent to GRB in Georgetown. It was not uncommon for government to cheat farmers on the grading of their rice to underpay them for the quality. Most of the time, farmers grew rice at a loss (not rewarded for their hard labor), but they did it for home use as Indian diet was centered around rice for at least two meals a day.
What hard work! Patrick, assisted by his siblings and his father did all of that work and the income from it was small – most of the time, farmers were cheated of price by the government or big purchaser who re-market the rice overseas for big bucks. The farmers would keep some of the rice for home consumption. He also shared rice with neighbors and relatives and others who assisted with the cultivation and harvest and with poor in the community; some was even donated to mandir or masjid for consumption during jhandis, bhagwats, Koran shariefs, and Eid celebrations in the village.
While he aspired to be a professional cricketer playing for Berbice, Guyana and West Indies, he was also pragmatic. He needed a better life. And so like thousands of his age group during the 1960s, Patrick imagined coming to America and how life would be better than working in the hot, putrid rice or cane fields or milling paddy. That dream became reality in 1968 when, guided by his younger brother Ashook, he arrived on a student visa, and like so many others who came to study, decided to work instead to pay scarce school fees and make ends meet. He soon sent for his wife Dru and later his 3 children to join him. He subsequently sponsored his parents and several of his siblings, as has been the norm for family reunification in America. He helped to give them a better life in America.
He was caught up with age and health ailments. Then eventually Corona visited him at his nursing home, and he was moved to a neighboring hospital where he could not bear the strain of the strength of the virus. He leaves to mourn wife, Dru, three kids, and seven grand kids and several siblings including younger brother Ashook ramsaran, President of the Indian Diaspora Council and former President of GOPIO and a recipient of the prestigious PBD award given by the government of India.
There are countless other stories of unsung heroes who were stricken with Corona. They had lovely stories of life in Guyana and they all deserve a write up of their struggles and achievements in life. I salute their contributions to Guyana and America.
Rest well Patrick! We will miss you!