The Corentyne Highway by Ravi Ken Dre

By @ravidrepaul
The Corentyne Highway by Ravi Ken Dre

#Guyana #politics# Caribbean Writers#India Diaspora

Chapter 1

TheWindPush Generation

There is always something happening in Guyana although nothing really happens, especially in the little villages where mainly Indians live and hang out. The “Negros” tend to live in the cities, like New Amsterdam and Linden. The asian-looking Rupernuni of Essequibo are considered indigenous, though some say they are the original ice-age migrants from Greenland. Of the other counties, Demerara is African and Berbice is Indian. Guyana, like South Africa, is in many ways a failed state. It cannot function without significant help from outside but it what it does have is a pool of labour brought by the mighty British Empire and trade. My family, themselves part of this migration, chose some three hundred years ago to buy land in British Guiana as it must have been relatively cheap being mainly jungle with many snakes. 

“The country needs to be seperated” my father would say to my mother as he sat on the veranda, near where the long Corentyne River separates British Guyana from Dutch Guiana before it empties into the wide Atlantic and Caribbean Ocean. The tides are heavy and the land was reclaimed by the Dutch using mainly African slaves, inhumanely transported and stolen from their homes. My father began a petition in 1970, the year I was born, to demand independence for Berbice where the predominantly Indian community lived peacefully. Riots had begun in Georgetown and the government had seized the voting box with the help of the army and Indians were being burnt out of their homes as the Africans looked for “the gold that they dug,” as Forbes Burhnam would say. The country became the poorest in the western hemisphere and, covered in virgin rainforest and wild birds and flora and fauna, it slept like Rip Van Winkle. 

Many years later, I returned to Guyana and lived in the capital city of Georgetown but would visit my parents who lived nearer Dutch Guyana or Suriname. Further east is French Guiana where the Papillon was incarcerated and it was his book that made me want to visit when I was growing up in Southall. After prohibition I visited my granny who lived without running water and a Listor generator bought by my mother in the 1960’s, which might come on in the evenings to light a bulb or two. She lived opposite her son in small village overlooked by Black Bush Polder and the farming lands created by Dr. Jagan and his Communists. I remember the dark nights and the stars and how she would rub Limachol, a product created by Guyana Pharmaceutical company that made you feel cool but was also used for each and any every ailment. My uncle WInston, her youngest son who was a legless cripple, would bathe in in.

There was not much to do but play cricket and wait for the iceman to come with his crush ice and syrup and sometimes “Baker” would peddle by selling coconut bread and pasties, a journey of over twenty miles. And then the magar cows came home and that was the activity of the day. 

On weekends I would take a minibus that pelted up the Corentyne highway, the longest straight road in the Caribbean that passed New Amsterdam where the Bhadursinghs lived. Dr Bhadur was the district doctor and my father’s friend. Dr Singh had studied in India and my father in Zürich.  

 

My parents were not part of the Windrush generation that willingly came to UK, more that of the “windpush” generation . The resulting experiences however were similar. We arrived in Totteham in in the UK 1976. My father did not want to leave as he was old now, but he was determined to have nothing to do with the new fascist regime and the dictator Forbes Burhman, descendent of slaves whose parents became teachers after emancipation. He himself became a westernised lawyer and a pawn of Westminister who rigged elections and kept the populist Cheddie Jagan from rightful Office. Jagan was a socialist and the British and the CIA worked to keep their backyard clean amid tensions with Cuba during the Cold War and, in so doing, destroyed Latin America with drugs. 

My father, whose ancestors came to Guyana from Bharata in the 1800’s on a ship of the British Empire, was a fan of Mahatma Gandhi and the Mahabharata but also cricket, naturally. He kept his videos near his bed and, if he was not watching cricket, he would watch the Mahabharata copied for him by his good friend Dr. Patel at Broodmore Hospital in Surrey. We ourselves did not go to school as we were on tourist visas to the UK but my father was able to get Locums. This was 1977.

Finally we arrived in southall and I started school. My father, disenchanted with the Caribbean and in love with India, had found a house near the Punjabis and their gangs. 

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