Autobiography of Alice Bhagwandy Sital Persaud (1892-1958)
The full handwritten text of this document is available to the public at the University of Guyana, Special Collections Room. This version was edited by Sushila Patil and Moses Seenarine during the winter of 1996 and published on Saxakali.com on January 1, 1997.
The autobiography was hand written by Alice Bhagwandy Sital Persaud (1892 - 1965), who later became Alice Bahadur Singh - between April, 1958 and April, 1962. The full, original text is reproduced here as written. However, in order to help readers understand the major themes the author writes on, the editors have added sub-headings, most of which are taken from the text.The sub-heading, Reflection, is dated and repeated in three sections of the text where Alice Singh talks about the process of writing her autobiography. Several paragraph breaks and punctuation marks, like periods, semi-colons, commas, italics, etc., were added to help clarify the text. There are several words in dutch which may have been interpreted incorectly or mis-typed.
In Memory of Gora Singh (1950-1997)
Reflection: April, 1958
Today is Sunday the 27th of April, 1958. The time is eleven am. It is a very wet day. I am sitting in my chair in my room while the radio is playing pleasant music. I am about to start to write about events of my life as far back as I can remember. I trust that my children and their children will at some time, when they have nothing better to do, read through these pages. It was my eldest child, Hardutt Singh who made this request. For years now he has been reminding me to make a start. If I have waited too long to make a start I am sorry but I do hope that there will be enough time, to at least write some items which will interest you all.
On the 22nd of this month, just a few days ago, I celebrated my sixty-sixtieth year. I have up to now outlived my beloved father by ten years and my mother by three years.
I have also outlived my much beloved husband who throughout our married life treated me with kindness and devoted love and respect. For the last decade he became my valued companion and friend.
My mother gave me the name Alice
I was born on the 22nd of April 1892 on a Friday morning at seven am. I am told that it was a very wet morning. It would appear that I was a welcome gift to my parents. My mother gave me the name of Alice after a good friend of hers. My father called me Bhagnandy, this is an everyday Hindu Indian name but it has a fine meaning which is "God’s gift."
The cottage in which I was born belonged to a very rich Negro gentleman, by the name of Jacob Hymans. His large house was on the one side of the large compound and "my" cottage was on the other side. The location was in Stenbakery Strait, Paramaribo Suriname. So I was born in the heart of the city.
On the third day of my birth Mr. Hymans drove my Papa in his carriage to the registrar’s office to have my birth registered. My Papa had intended to register my name as Alice Bhagwandy Sital Persaud. Mr. Heyman’s however had other ideas for the little baby girl whom he loved from her birth. He persuaded my Papa to change Alice to Elizabeth, his mother’s name.
My dear Papa against his better judgement gave in to him. My Mama never was told or knew of the change of name, until years after, when one day going through some documents came across my birth certificate. She could not believe her eyes. In the meantime I was called Alice! I was too small to know what sort of reception my Papa when he came home that day. I can imagine a severe attack of anger from Mama. Papa, I imagine with a sense of guilt, had no defence.
Goedoe Papa’s daughter’s tragedy
Mr. Heyman’s has been an important person in my early life. He taught me to call him "Goedoe Papa," this means "Dear Papa" and this I did until I went to Edinburgh. During this time he became very poor, he lost all his wealth, and all because his only daughter Marie, who was educated in England, became very ill and died. Before I was grown up Marie became ill.
She was such a charming and well bred young woman who was mush liked by one and all. When I was old enough to understand I was told that, a colored young man of her social circle had let her down. This she took to heart and went out of her mind. I remember sitting with her and seeing her laughing and crying. She was in this state of health for years.
We were all very sad, but the tragic part of the whole matter was, that my poor Goedoe Papa did not accept the doctors verdict that Marie had become insane. So all sort of people advised him this and the other remedy. People came from Paramaribo, Ajukas came - they all drew large sums of money for bush medicine and treatment. Of course all these were obeahmen and women.
But poor Goedoe Papa could not see this, and so his one and only child became worse. And when his fortune was exhausted no one came to advice him. His daughter died and he was a broken man. I was very fond of him, I was young and just could not understand why no more shining guilders (dutch coins) was coming my way, or why he did not send me to shoemaker to get measured for a few pair of shoes.
I was told that when I was a infant he used to take me for early morning rides, in his carriage holding me in his arm and with the other hand the reins. He was truly a remarkable character, and though today I do not often remember him, I shall never forget him as long as I live. Inahehip Johnson’s maternal grandfather was Goedoe Papa’s brother. He retained his wealth; I am told that he never turned to his seemingly foolish brother to give him a helping hand.
Somehow I can not remember our family moving away from that cottage. The next I remember living in a larger cottage in Graven that was just a little away from the military hospital, our only hospital in those days. At the time Papa was an interpreter and also a male nurse at the hospital.
Then a few years after we were living in a two storey house at Kleincombe a district just a little from the city, on the other side of Xommeldijk Creek. This creek is quite wide and deep. It divides the town proper from the new part. We did not remain in that house very long. We, that is my parents, had built a nice new two-storey house, very modern for those days. We had an attic quite spacious, and the bottom house was high and covered with shells, with long benches and a table, here we played and sat around. Our entire yard, which was quite deep, was covered with boat load of sea-shells, so we never has a muddy yard. Mama had fruit trees she planted all over the back part of the yard. In the front of the house she had a nice flower garden, and like magic every thing she planted bore fruits of all kind and all sorts of lovely flowers. I have no doubt that Mama had "green fingers." Thus we moved in that home and we were very happy. In fact that is the only home I remember well. In our home there was love, discipline, order and general happiness.
Mai’s story of coming to dutch guiana
My Papa, Sital Persad Doobay, with his mother, Mai to us all, came from India. I regret the name and year of the sailing ship and it is arrival has gone out of memory. My Grandmother’s name was Phuljareee, meaning a flower garden. She was a small woman, light red brown complexion, with a small straight nose. The mouth I remember was extra small, nice medium size teeth. On the whole she was a very pretty woman. I am told that she became a widow when she was quite young. Papa’a younger sister and brother died in infancy.
Mai and Papa lived on with Papa’s aunt and uncle. My grandmother, was the only daughter of the Pundit in charge of the Raja household at Jyrabad near the holy city of Ayodhya. She said that her in-laws were just farmers, but they had plenty of land and her sister-in-law was the de finian daris. When I knew Mai she was not young, but even in those days she was very haughty, so I can well imagine what she must have been in her younger days! She often told us that Papa was like his father, and so I concluded that my grandfather must have been a very grand person, because his son was a mighty fine man.
The Story goes that Papa with his brother, his aunt and other relatives were on their way to a pilgrimage, when they got separated in the large crowd. Mai, Papa and two other members of the family were together. They soon found "kind"? people to help them to find their lost relatives! Well the four of them found themselves after days, at the emigration depot at Calcutta. There they were promised a life of milk and honey in a new land. Well there was nothing for them to do but accept the proposal. On board Mai asked for her two other relatives, she was told that they were in another ship, Of course they were going some where else.
The authorities could not afford to send so many of one family together in case they had a story to tell. Papa told us that he has a vivid recollection of the trip, they were around thirty-six to fifty days reaching Paramaribo. Papa said that he was in fear about the ship because Mai always made trouble as she was not satisfied with life on board the ship. Papa said that he could not understand half of what was going on, but remember the dotter coming one day and (this is told by Mai) she was made responsible for all the unmarried women. Knowing Mai as I did, those women must have had a hard time!
Mai said in Paramaribo she and her son were sent to planation Jagblush, not far from town, just on the other side of the river.
This plantation belonged to the Barnel Lyon family of the Hague, Holland. There were two sisters and two brothers. One lived all the time in Paramaribo as he was the Agent-General, protector of immigrants. Mai told us that she was so shocked when she was given a little room for her and her son to live in. And when she was told to go and work in the field and was handed a cutlass, she showed her soft small hands. She there and then sat down and refused to move, so here there was real trouble. And because she was young, pretty and a fighter, the Barnett Lyon family were very lenient with her. She was made an assistant nurse in the estate’s hospital.
And so her indenture period passed. She would not allow her son to be taught Hollandisch. She taught him hindi instead with the result that Papa became a fine hindi scholar, and though he spoke Dutch well and read a little, he was a poor Dutch scholar. During her indenture period Mai was married according to the law of the land, that is she made a legal marriage. Dwarka Dauri who we called Baba was such a dear man. There was a son his name was Ramanand Dwarka. He was handsome and clever. Papa saw to it that he had the best education at then Dutch School. Both Papa and mama were very fond of him.
But sad to say he did not give any one pleasure. He was sent to New York to some college to further his education and later he would take up medicine. In a short time however, without having done any study, the Captain of the KWIM which he went by, brought him back some time after. Baba had to pay his return passage. He caused his parents and his brother much sorrow. Years after he made a queer marriage to a half Chinese girl.
Later he became a hospital technician at the Military Hospital. Mama and I were here in British Guiana when he died. He drank heavily then; his wife and children had left him long before he died. He was so likeable and so bad to himself. Since his return to the colony and his marriage he has lost caste with the family, you see in those days when these things happen it was very difficult to come back into the fold. Today it so different. There are so many standards. Well after Papa died, Baba was ill - the result, he became a mental case and died. Poor man, he lived through so much sorrow.
Reflection: April 1959
9th April, 1959. At last I am able to put down a few lines again. My time seem to be taken up so much here and there. And also because one is not always in a writing mood. Also, because I do quite a bit of correspondence which takes up time. Well while I am about defending myself I might as well be honest and admit that I have not tried hard enough to make time. I seem to forget that time is running out on me.
Papa was proud to be a brahmin
As far back as I can remember Papa was an interpreter of Indian languages that is Hindi and Urdu. Papa was quite a handsome man, with light brown skin. He was a man of regular habits. To me he seemed to be a humble man, and yet I can remember some thing about him, which I did not understand but was able to solve as I grew older. Did I say he was a humble man, but his bearing and superior air belied the humility. There was always present that under lying thing which only a Brahmin known how to give.
He did it calmly and evenly, in my opinion he made it felt that he was a man of high caste, this fact he never lost sight-of. I do not know how he did it, but where ever he went he commanded respect and trust, and you know, I know for a fact that some people stood in awe of him! There was once a party who were not pleased with him in some matter or the other, but they could not tell him so. And because they thought that Papa had too much power, they thought they should do away with him. And so a man was sent to him with a stick, at a spot near government house.
Papa had a brave and upright bearing, so as he was walking along he heard a cat-like step behind him, he turned around just as the stick was coming down on his head. The poor man was so scared he just dropped the stick and held Papa’a legs and blurted out the whole story. Anyhow, Papa took him home fed him and soon after got a job for him. Papa had a strong personal alibi no doubt!
From now on I will write of Pa and Mai. I do not know how the change came about but it did. Pa had his own method to go through life. With his person he was neat and clean, he changed into a clean suit of clothes every afternoon. His suits, white or silk, underclothing, socks, etc., were all initialed and numbered, and these numbered garments were never mixed.
Even in those long ago days he dyed his greying hair and moustache, he also had special clips to hold up the end of his moutah, these were taken off when he was fully dressed. He shaved every day. He wore closed up tunic jackets, under the tunic collar he woe a straight-up collar, and a gold collar button peeped through the hook and top button of the tunic. He never used any other but white handkerchiefs; Eau de Cologne was his perfume.
His shoes were always spotless and in all shades of brown, he had either a crooked handel walking stick or a rolled up umbrella. In our district folks set their clocks to correct time by his coming and going so regular was he and on time. He always smoked cigars, he had a cigar pouch but never matches. These he always borrowed. In the office it was a standing joke because at the end of the days work, the men had to go and collect their loss of matches from Pa.
Everyone, even those in authority, consulted Pa especially in matters concerning Indian affairs. He had a quick wit, and humor, but as I said before he was a person with plenty, of dignity. Of course he was a Brahmin! For his very troublesome mother he had great respect, I always felt that he was afraid of her. He was most anxious to please her.
At home, he was a docile person, kind and understanding. He gave no trouble, but then again, he had the art to wheel authority without an effort. He was my good friend. He never told me to be good, or not to have this girl or that boy as friends, or to be careful at parties! Instead he told me what God, my parents and friends expected of me! And up to today I never lose sight of that advice.
Pa and Ma differed in taste of food and mode of living. What the one indulged in the other did not like. But these facts did not make any difference in the smooth running of our home. I have never heard my parents quarrel; if they has their differences I never heard of it. And though the salary was small, I never heard it said in our home that money was short or that ends could not meet.
Ma came from a devout christian family
Ma was a hard working person. She had a servant and yard man, but still she worked all the time. Her home was in ship shape order. She never complained about this or the other. She was a home type; she did not take part with Pa outside the home. Later I will explain the reason for this. Of course I have had lots of time to do some thinking and piling things.
Ma’s father was a chatrea from Bengal. He came to Grenada as a Christian interpreter. He knew many Indian dialects. I am told that he knew the Bible, the Geeta and the Koran in and out. He was seconded to British Guiana and after to Nicherie Suriname as an interpreter. He was a small man. Like Tappie, he was proud and I think a bit cruel. His false pride caused much sorrow and grief to his only daughter. My grandmother died, so Ma and (her) brother lived at Nicherie with their father. They sometime went to Paramaribo and even then his children did not have a nice time.
Unfortunately for Ma, Pa saw her and on two occasions riled the heavy seas and took passage on outgoing slopes to see Ma. How my Ma was punished on those occasions I rather not describe. Pa was a handsome young man, poor, plucky but his greatest misfortune in Grandpa sight was that he was an ordinary coolie, heathen boy who had dared to aspire to his daughter's hand.
Every one at Kicheriei was in sympathy with my Ma. But she was under age. So with help she left home, went to Paramaribo to live with Mai where a Hindu marriage was contracted. She was below the age oftwenty-one years and thus she could not make a legal marriage without the consent of her parents or parent. So she lived with Pa at Mai and Baba in their home.
There was the case of a well brought up young woman with the teaching to be a devout Christian like her father, who accepted for love, another way of thinking and an entire different mode of living from the one she was accustomed to. I could not understand her. Very often through the years of my growing up I wondered what ailed her, for though nothing was ever said of her early life I knew that there was something wrong. Perhaps wrong is not the right word, but there it is. I wondered at something which I could not piece together.
Ma gave up all for love and eventual happiness
Now that I am an old woman with experience of human nature, I will put it this way. Ma gave up all for love and eventual happiness. Pa went through much insults, hardships, and danger for her too. (He faced) insults from my grandpa, hardships, because on three occasions he crossed the open sea in a sloop from Paramaribo to Nicherie just to see or get a glimpse of Ma. (He faced) danger because Grandpa had hired men, who were crack shots to "shoot that heathen coolie boy." He got off because these men had a heart; I suppose it was a case of the world loves a lover! It looks as is I straying from the point! Well it boils down to the fact that this poor young girl, Mary Dully, started life among strangers and though they were high class/caste people, their standard was different from Ma's. But this I must say that for all these drawbacks, Ma was greatly rewarded with Pa's loves and devotion. When Ma was twenty-one years old she and Pa had the proper civil marriage; no doubt this brought her some comfort.
Her father was to my mind a cruel man. He looked on Ma as an outcast, an enemy who had completly destroyed his teachings and beliefs, and upbringing. He turned his back on her and so she lived her life with one friend "Sa". Her spirit was broken no doubt, though she was kind and did not give up her religious teachings. She rarely laughed or indulged in frivolity.
There were three children Harry, I and Willem. My elder brother was three years and three days older than I. I supposed we grew up to be healthy children, who were brought up to be polite, good and God-fearing. With Harry and I, she was very happy; she certainly was a good though a strict mother, When seven years after my birth Willem was born, and at the age of four months from a fall from Mai's high mahogany bed, he started to get fit and he did not walk or speak for years. The result was that he had indeed grown up to be an invalid who could not reason for himself or be taught to read and write. So here again poor Ma, who had a few happy years of respite to get herself adjusted, was submerged in grief.
She was a good wife and mother and therefore she was always engaged in doing something for our advancement and comfort. This helped her a great deal to forget. In spare time she had her flowers and poultry to occupy her. At this stage I remember her to be happy. Once a year she would dress herself for shopping, after which she would visit a few kind friends. This day would be a whole day affair, and Pa loved to see her go out and enjoy herself. I do not know whether she did this outing for pleasure, but, or from a duty point.
No matter how Ma felt she never showed it in her appearance. She was at all times very well dressed and shod. She never told her affairs to any one. Come to think of it, she was indeed a great character; and strange to say, I have only discovered this while I am writing these lines. She has experienced great tragedy during the sixty-three years of her life! She lost her mother when she needed her most; she had a most unkind father. She began her married life totally against the code of her teaching and home life. She made a go of it.
Pa became a diabetic at the age of twenty-seven. There was no cure for this in those days. Pa's medicine came from Germany at much expense. The treatment he adhered to strictly. He of course never got over it, he died at the age of fifty-six years - the result was at some stage of diabetes, after having contracted a cold. Ma also lost her much beloved only brother, when he was quite young, he was an overseer at Plantation Jagbush. But for poor Ma the worst tragedy was yet to come.
She, at least I thought so, could not take it, when in 1919, her eldest child and son was lost at sea, when his ship struck a floating mine, and nothing was heard of the ship and the men. This happened between Holland and Bordeaux, going to England. My brother Harry, was just then appointed in the Suriname government as Captain on one of its ships travelling from Paramaribo to British Guiana. He never heard of this appointment however. Pa and Ma had made such plans for his home coming!
Well these are the viscitudes of Ma's life. I wonder if these things happened to her because she did not obey her father? Who knows? Still she lived on, and at no known time did she cry on any one persons shoulder or asked for sympathy. She was indeed a brave woman! And when she died she wore a happy smile. She died here in British Guiana. I must say that Mai outlived her - Mai also gave her much trouble to the end. Although Ma gave Mai part of her pension, she was disabled.
Here I must mention that when Pa died Ma leaned on his religion, perhaps for comfort or perhaps she wanted to give up something to his memory. And so when she was dying she never asked for a Christian burial. I forgot to say that Ma loved other people’s children and her hands were always filled looking after orphans. So I have had many adopted brothers and sisters. Ma gave her children all they needed but not all they wanted! And so when Ma died, Willem and I were left. I hope you who will read these lines will be able to wade through them. You see I am no writer, neither am I a scholar; and as I write, thoughts come tumbling on me.
Ma had a very beautiful head of hair slightly waved, she had a lovely plait, which was as thick from the head to the end which reached her ankle. Her hair was, in her youth, a show piece which people admired. Ma, like I am, was not progressive in accepting new methods and inventions. So when the first automobile came to Paramaribo, and people who wished to take a drive had to make their bookings far in advance and only for an half hour at high cost - Pa made his booking. And while we were waiting in turn Ma was not happy, but like her, she did not complain. At the appointed time however she lost us ten minutes because she would not step in, and asked after if she liked the drive, she said yes, but she was soared stiff!
When we first had gas installation in Paramaribo, most people were very pleased. I for one was happy because the cleaning of all the kerosine oil lamps in our home was my special job. Of course not from choice. Every morning before I was dressed for school, I had to wash and dry all the glass chimneys and trim the wicks. This was done by rubbing a large cork over the wicks, and God help me if at evening the chimneys were stained or if the wicks were not even. However I saw to it that this did not happen often. Well now I am straying, from the first gas installation.
Pa was among those to have our home filed with gas light, the meter was placed under the step which lead to the second flat. Well when the first time came when our house was going to be lit up, Ma found herself long before six p.m. walking up the road away from our home...anyhow, afterwards she liked it, except the breaking of the mantels. She also held on to her old furniture. She even used on her bed a woolen quilt, which we called in those day a "moltow blanket." These were quite expensive. Like Pa my Ma was a neat dresser. The only thing was that she did not go out much.
Ma took much care in simple things, like picking fruits
She had two sapadilla trees which bore the best fruits I ever tasted. Now the picking of these fruits was an event. Ma had a young fellow to climb the tree. His first duty was to lightly rub off the rough grainy stuff on the sapadilla - if the spot is yellow then the fruit is ready to be picked. But before one is picked, four of us children are moving around the tree with an outspread sheet, each holding one corner.
In the mean time Ma is giving orders such as, "see that you do not break of the stem," "you children there hold tight and do not let go or else you will bruise the fruit." When the fruits were all picked... of course as fast as they came down on the sheet, Ma picked it up and put it gently in the basin. Now the fruits are going to be washed by her - the stem must stay on because if it came off, the fruit well ripen but taste sour.
When the fruit is dried with a towel each one will be wrapped up in soft clean rags to get ripe. And right enough, every sapadilla was beautiful in look and taste. I wrote this just to show how much care Ma took in simple thing like picking fruits. She was known among our circle for her lovely sapadilla. She also had flowers of the most delicate hue and quality. She seldom picked them for her house decoration, she rather liked to see them blooming.
Her chickens and their eggs were also things which she priced and was proud of. She was a good cook, she preferred food to taste good in enough quantity than have dishes of "wishy-washy." She was not good at doing the various curries and rotis; for special occasions we had a friend of hers, who we called ante Boodhia. She was a muslim; she was kind and good. She was born in India (and) came to the colony as a young woman. She made lovely sweet meats.
As I said before Ma was house proud, and for those days her furnishings, such as carpets, window blinds, chairs, tables, lamp globes, etc., were up to date, and they always shone. She liked to collect nice porcelain and glassware. So you see with all her ups and downs, her mind was active in the right direction. She liked a little gossip with the neighbors, or her tenants, the milkman and the woman who came to sell at the dam. But her kind of gossip was never malicious, such as it is now-a days.
Ma and her dressmakers had many a passage at arms. You see her cloths had to fit well, her neckline especially was the difficulty, this should never come in contact with her neck, and too near her ears. As she explained, her best-dresses were not often worn, so she must see that they did not get soiled or sweaty around that area. Of course, very often these dresses were cut down for my use. I used to be very pleased about these dresses.
Papa’s meals and fortune telling
Ma was a fish and meat-eater, with enough salt and pepper. Pa on the other hand had to eat, plenty greens and his fish or meat were stewed or boiled. I always shared meals with him, that is why I do not like much salt or pepper. Pa drank claret at his midday meal, with cold water added in the evening and in between he took soda water, with eating soda added to it. His coffee, without sugar was something special to look at and to smell.
When his meals was laid, two other bowls were put beside his plate. And as he went to (the) table, his dog, and ordinary dog not even a nice one, called Indal, came and sat by his chair on his left, and his cat Mimi sat on his right. He always dished for them first, and then settled down to his own meal. Of course he always ended up his meal with dhal and a little rice, when he could get it he added dahee to this - what a mixture!
Of course, this which I am relating was in my childhood days. I do not know if the method was changed later. I read the daily paper to him from cover to cover, everything. And when he related the contends of the daily one would think that he had written the articles, etc. I often wonder how he could retain so well. Now I hope that I have told all the things about my parents which I remember so well.
There is one more thing which I just remember. Every evening Pa told us fortunes, ours. This was quite exciting. He had a small book, written in hindi, (and) there was a short piece of wood, as long as my finger, which had numbers on the four sides. This indicated the number of the page from which Pa would read. The person who wants his or her future told, must take this little piece of wood in his or her hand, and gradually let it slide from the other hand down their finger and fall on the book. This has to be done three times; Pa would find the page and read.
It may sound strange but these things came to pass, some time long after you had forgotten all about the reading. After this there was prayer. Without warning Pa would start to pray. Sometimes if taken unawares I would feel like giggling, when my brother would give me a gentle kick, and steady me.
Brother Harry and his friends played many pranks
I think I must start with someone else, my brother Harry for instance. My best recollection of Harry was as a schoolboy. We got on well, in fact we were very fond of each other. We never fought, at least he did not, but what a tease he was!! He got me so mad I would rush at him, but he was so swift he moved away, and when I thought I had him he moved away again ; well I had to give up. But when I wanted to be bad I would start to howl.
Ma would come and demand what it was all about and when I related my story, she would be sorry for me, but the offender was never punished, and then we were friends again. He helped me with my homework. He and his friends, nice boys of his own age played many pranks. One was going to fairs; though they had money to pay, they to liked to sneak in without paying. We called that sluiken shik, and if one was caught he never gave up the others. Harry had to be home not later than seven p.m.
They loved to go to a small Chinese shop to buy, nuts and bananas. The young Chinese was their friend, he spoke talkie talkie and very badly too. These boys were his good customers and they liked one another. One evening, however they turned off his kerosene oil lamp, and raided the shop. They got away... the china man could not complain because he did not know the surnames of the boys and in those days the police were not so alert either. Anyhow the following evening they went and paid for the damage they had done. The Chinaman and the boys became great friends again, after they promised that they would never trick him again.
Harry used to take violin lessons from a fine teacher, Mr. Mesquita. He had given Harry some theory to do and to return the manuscript to him, and to practice from the copy which he had made. However he forgot all about returning the sheet, until he was already dressed to go to lesson. He hurriedly made the copy, after which he went to pick up his violin, his room was breezy so he hoped that the copy would dry quickly.
But to his confusion when he returned to the table the thing disappeared. He sat on his chair to look in the desk draw, even though he knew he had left it on the desk. He gave up and got up to go to lesson and there on the chair was the copy, he was so glad. He set forth. He had to explain why the manuscript was not returned, while he was giving his story, Mr. Mesquita asked him if and when he had made his copy, again a glib reply came.
Mr. Mesquita went red in his face and asked Harry whether he had made the copy with his hand or his "gat" meaning ass. Now it was Harry's turn to be shocked, but he was at a loss. Mr. Mesquita took him to the mirror and told him to look at the seat of his pants, which was white and dull, and there he saw that the notes came out very distinct on his seat. Of course, this happened when the sheet had blown to the chair and he in his hurry had sat on it. He was so much ashamed of his fibs and at home he was punished again, to stay at home every afternoon for a week.
When he grew bigger, older, there were more pranks. Yhis one was very serious. He asked if he could go one Sunday morning with the boys, to an estate, where one of the boys father was a factory engineer. When Ma heard that they were going in a row boat, he was refused permission. Anyhow, Sunday morning came. Harry did not come down for his morning meal, in our home no one ever thought of strolling down at their leisure to meals, you just had to be on time. I was sent to his room to see if he was ill, but all I called (and) knocked no answer came from within. The door was locked. Pa and Ma were much alarmed, anyhow the door had to be forced open.
To their great shock the room was empty and the windows wide open. Where could the boy be? He did not pass through the door, and the house was too high for him to have climbed out of the window. Anyhow, we were all pretty desperate. My Pa went to the window and to his surprise, he saw a long strong rope dangling from the window sill to the ground. So that was that. When the other parents were contacted Pa was told that the various sons had gone in a hunt to plantation Marinburg. Well the tension was somewhat eased.
You see, if they went in a punt, there would be experienced people to take the punt across. So the day passed, while the rod was being pickled for Harry's return. Dusk came and no Harry. All the parents got anxious, then a message came from Forte New Amsterdam to the harbor master to say that an open sloop was sighted at the mouth of the sea, and it seem the men could not handle the ship; it was considered in difficulties. Launches went out and true enough, it was a sloop with boys manning it. Any how they were brought home safely. As always for Harry, the rod was not used.
Now that I know better I know that he only got off, from share relief which Pa and Ma felt. Marinburg is our largest sugar estate; to and from Marinburg, two rivers meet, de Suriname river and de Correntyne just at the mouth of the sea. So one can well imagine what the current must have been. Harry told me after wards that he enjoyed the trip, any how, he said, I might as well get used to rough waters because I am going to become an engineer and travel over the wide seas.
Harry love to roam the sea
I laughed at him because I knew he was doing his apprentinship with one of our best chemist in his drug store, after school and on Saturday. When he left school, he would then enter medical school at the Military Hospital. He then and there told me that he was not going to do medicine and that he had made up his mind to go to sea. So when I heard Pa speaking with so much pride, of the time when Harry would be a doctor, I felt sorry for Pa and Ma. Because of my loyalty to Harry, of whom I was very fond, I never let on or gave him away.
There came a time when he was about to take up his studies in Chemistry or the other subjects seriously, for this he had to have private lessons. But instead of attending his classes, he used it to attend instruction at the government foundary in engineering. When Pa found out! Oh my, I rather not describe the scenes which I remember so well. Both Ma and Pa took it very badly; they were broken up. Perhaps it was wrong of them to have chosen for Harry without finding out from him what profession he would take.
Well Pa and Ma took the advise of those were able to give the best advice, and so Harry was sent to school in Rotterdam and lived at the seamen's home where students, also from Suriname, lived in. On a visit to the Hague to see the Barnett Lyon family, he was persuaded to give up engineering and take up navigation instead.
They painted a vivid picture to him of an engineers' position compared to that of a man who would become a second and first mate with the opportunity to be a ships’ captain. They also pointed out that an engineer always had stained hands and soiled cloths. So Harry changed over to study navigation, but when he went to be enrolled he was told that as his parents being British subjects, the Dutch could not teach him navigation. This was now a problem. Well Harry wrote home and explained the change over and the problem with which he was faced.
Pa, being a resourceful person found himself at the British Council. There I must explain that in these days, the British Council was an important person. He was what we call in Dutch an af gerant, meaning an ambassador. His job was to look after all peoples’ and affairs which was British. He was therefore an aristocrat and highly educated person. Well so much for that. This council listened to Pa and advised that Harry was a dutch subject having been born under the Dutch flag. So he wrote to the Holland government accordingly. But he also told Pa that Harry could claim that he was a British subject when he liked to do so.
And so Harry became a ships officer. In the year 1910 he came to Paramaribo as the third officer of the Banana ship Commewyne; he looked very smart in his officer's uniform. And that was the last time Ma saw him. Pa however had spent a little time with Harry in Rotterdam, when he was coming from India and travelled via Holland. There was one first very unfortunate incident in Harry's life. As a student , his ship encountered heavy seas and Harry was washed overboard by a large wave but strange to say the same wave washed him back on deck. Though his life was saved, he struck his ear which left him with a slight impaired hearing.
Of course, good sight and hearing are very important factors which goes to make good sailors no matter in which capacity they worked. Of course as the years went by Harry was unable to take his Masters examination for fear that his slightly defected hearing would he discovered, in which case he would have to resign as a ships officer. However, he was employed on the huge ships which was then called the East Indian Company, "oost Indis he Stoon Maarschappy."
He lived for years in Java and the various places where his ship touched. When I lived in Edinburgh during 1914-1919, Harry promised to come on leave to Holland and then to cross over. And all was well, we had a nice time, and he used to tell us all the amazing tales of the sea and the various people whom he had met. He had 200 white suits, a like member of light underwear, socks and what not. These large numbers of garments was because he had to leave all his soiled cloths behind, to be picked up perhaps months after when his ship touched that particular port again. His cabin boys were mostly Chinese or Japanese boys, and could they steal! He loved to roam the sea, and he was quite happy.
Oom Mungal was his good pal in those days, but either he "stole" Oom Mungal's girl or the girl was so charmed with him that she did not look at Oom Mungal again; which of course did not please him. So the girl, I forgot her name now, asked Harry for an engagement ring. This he complied with, the day before he left Edinburgh. This ring he bought for one shilling and sixpence, which Mungal delivered. Was the girl sad about the ring and the departure of the giver. So Mungal was in her arm again.
Harry’ travels and life during the war
Though Harry's entry in Britain and his trip (was) uneventful, his departure was just too bad. It happened like this when he arrived in London from Edinburgh. He had a visit in his hotel room by security officers; they demanded his passport and his pockets and baggage were searched. All was in order, and all might have been well, but for an address in his pocket-book. Here I must tell you that his pocket-book was in his possession since his student days, given to him by a German boy, who lived in Berlin. You see a student such as Harry was, has to have so many days at sea before every examination. Harry had never had the opportunity to visit this young man in Berlin. When he was asked who the person was, poor Harry said he did not remember.
Of course he was marched to the police station where he was locked up for the night and the following day. In the meantime, we in Edinburgh were contacted and questioned. Holland had to give an o.k. The fellow whose name was in the notebook and who caused all the trouble was contacted. Poor Harry had a bad time, first he was an alien and then he had German association. On the third day he was set free. Instead of going back to Holland, he came straight to Edinburgh to put our mind at ease. In these days when every one is so selfish this may sound strange!
We went to meet him one early summer morning at the Waverly Station, every one came came off, but not Harry. I was so scared. Just before the train was about to move on its way to Glasgow, a very sleepy, unkept looking Harry jumped to the station. What a relief, then he stayed for 2 more weeks with us. What a time we had!!
On his first visit he had bought a red velvet dress for Ma of which he was very fond. He told us that while he was in the lock up, he actually saw Ma coming towards him in the red dress. He shouted out her name, and the guard came to see what was happening! The time came when he had to depart again, and that was the last time I saw him, with his broad and happy smile waving to us.
He went back to Holland and got married and on the request of my parents he stayed ashore for some time. Then the wanderlust took hold of him after Leela was born, and though he did not join his company again just to satisfy our parents, he took a short trip on a freighter from Rotterdam, Bordeau and Cardiff, this last township never reached and was never heard of again. "If," such a small word which can be so weighty, he had taken the advise of his parents not to go back to sea until after things had quietened down from the after war effects, he might have still been alive.
Anyhow so we lost Harry and the bereavement was a terrible blow to us all. It was just then that Harry was appointed Captain of the Juliana, the Suriname coastal steamer from Paramaribo to Nicherre, Coronie and Demerera. He never heard of the appointment, as the disasters had just then taken place. In the meantime, he had got married and had a baby daughter, just a couple months old. He who had always said that sailors should never get married and that he was one sailor who would never marry! And that just before he lost his life he should be married have a child and have a fine appointment in his own birth place!
Harry had many girlfriends and a kind heart
Well the ways of the Lord are beyond finding out. Harry was a gay person and had many friends, especially girlfriends, each one of them anticipated marriage. But being a sailor he got out of all little jambs. In his students days his various girlfriends used to write to me, and he used to teach them such awful talkie-talkie words which they proudly wrote to me, such as "me na lawman," "I am a fool," "me jeersie kiskisee," "I resemble a monkey," etc., etc. Of course the other passages I will not bother to write about.
Harry had an operation for appendix; in those days this was a serious operation. All the nurses fell for him. I must mention here that in that hospital all the nurses were gentlewomen who did not depend on salaries; they were all independent. One nurse asked Harry to give her an Indian name, so he promptly called her "amie" which as you know had nothing Indian about it but was just the word for friend. The girl was delighted and expected all sort of things to happen, but by the time she had looked around, the "Bird" had flown.
In Java, no ship’s officer was allowed to sit in house at the theater among the "natives." They had by order to sit in the best seats. They often wanted to defy their law because the best seats were expensive for them. Harry told the other officer them that he was willing to break the rule, so the bet was on. Though they knew that Harry would do it they were afraid for him. So it happened that the show began and there was no officer in the body of the theater but all of a sudden someone stood up and called out to the other fellows and behold it was Harry fully dressed as an Javanese gentleman. The other fellows were amazed. Anyhow Harry collected his bet and the ships authority could not touch him because he was not in uniform.
When he was a schoolboy there was a standing joke about him in our neighborhood. You see Harry had a great love for children, black, white or brown, (and) his little friends were of the lower class who attended public school, which we at home in Dutch Guiana call "arms school," school for the poor. There I must say that about half dozen schools was located in Gravenstaat. The Hendrik school, like Queens college, where Harry attended. Then St. Paulus school, like the Stanislaus, with its public school on the other side. Then the Louise Convent, which I attended, with its kindergarten for the better class and the poor, separate of course, the big school for the poor and the junior school for them also.
Well so to comeback to Harry, on his way home, all the children from our district poor or otherwise, looked out for him. I do not know who collected who, but there it was. Harry marched up the road with a number of children. Harry carried their book bags, wiped their dirty faces, and took them, or perhaps they took him, to the nearest shop where he entertained them with sweets and "schaafers" shave ice. When Harry was broke he bought a long sticks of licorice and every body had a suck.
Harry was a fine fellow, it is regrettable that his life was cut short, he was only 30 years old. All the little happenings about him which I have written here may not interest you who are going to read these passages, but to me they are valuable and stand out in my memory when I think of a beloved and considerable brother. I forgot to mention that when Harry was in Edinburgh his mails were forwarded from Rotterdam.
Among them there was a notice to say that his payments for the widows and orphan funds were due. He threw the notice down on the table and said, "this thing must stop. I will stop paying. For years it has been going on, and further more I am not a marrying man." Anyhow, we persuaded him to pay up, and as always he took our advice. What a good thing he did as it proved afterwards.
When he was a student in Rotterdam he wrote home saying that he had a cycle accident and that his summer suit was badly damaged and he had to order a new suit. Of course Pa and Ma were so sorry for him and sent the cash at once. But in truth another few students was badly off for a suit, so Harry with his kind heart had to supply him with a suit at the cost of my poor unsuspecting Pa. I think I had better stop writing about Harry and start on Willem.
Brother Willem was proud and had good manners
My younger brother Willem was seven years younger than I. He was born in the district where my Pa was an interpreter. When he was about four months old, through a fall from Mai's high bed, he was badly hurt, he used to have fits with the result that he never walked for years, he could not speak for years and years, and when he did it was found out that he was quite backward and could not reason.
Of course he could not be taught to read or write. He was very musical and was able to either hum or whistle any song. He could also keep the time of the time with the tip of his finger on a table or anywhere hard. He had a good sense of humor, and he too did not take any shout or insult from anyone. When he was able to walk well Pa had to get a man to follow him, for fear that he got lost. Believe it or not this young man, Merhai, dared not walk along side of Willem, if he did Willem would tell him to walk behind him.
He was always well clad and shod. He was well know and he knew whom to salute. He was the man who walked up to the immigration Agent General, who used to visit our home (and) who was out walking with the Governor, and asked them for a light for his cigarette. He learnt to smoke at the immigration depot where immigrants were landed before they were allotted to the various estates.
Willem was always supplied with "smoke" as he called it and a pocket full of coppers, which he preferred to silver money. He was neat in his habits, he conducted himself at meals, but he had to have his glass of water before he picked up his spoon or fork. He could be very polite for instance if he was seated and anyone came in, he would get up and offer his seat. He also knew how to make his authority felt, especially to servants and later on, his nephews and nieces.
Willem was to have gone to Holland as a resident in a home for boys handicapped like him. This is how the idea first came to Pa and Ma, but sad to say it was later rejected. You see Pa had friends in all walks of life and so he had a friend who was a Roman Catholic priest. This priest used to visit my Ma's tenants and he and Winfrie (Willem) became great friends. One day Winfrie lifted his habit and wanted to know where his trousers were! Anyhow the priest was about to go back to Holland and it was he who suggested to Pa to send Willem with him to Holland. He promised to take great care of him and as the Home was in his hometown he would visit Winfrie often. At his home we hoped he would learn music, handicraft etc.
Will my dear, with great excitement, cloths were made for Willem, bags brought, cigs bought, etc., etc. But when the day came on which Willem had to depart, both Pa and Ma weakened and poor Willem never had his chance. No one was able to persuade them that Willem would not be ill treated and what not. Even when Pa was alive, Ma used to bring Willem with him to British Guiana since my return from Scotland.
On one such trip Ma was presented with a fairly large account from the ship’s purser. When Ma question the bill she was told that Willem had treated the other passengers. Ma had to pay; when Willem was questioned in the cabin, he put his head down from guilt. You can imagine how Ma wagged her finger in his face and no doubt their must have been one or two hunchers!
When I lived in Hight Street there used to be a cab stand by the assembly room now the royal tribute sight. Well Winfrie was dressed as usual in the afternoon in his serge suit, he just called a cab, and went for a drive. We were frantic with worry. Ma and I, and the servant, took a different direction to look for Willem (and) we all arrived back home without Willem. It was almost dusk. Just then a carriage stopped and there Mr. Willem, who was seated in the middle of the seat, was getting out. He had a long ride all over, in the meanwhile smoking his cigarette. We had to pay off the cab man and gave Willem a severe scolding.
Did I already say that Willem had very good manners! He knew how to get up and offer his seat to anyone who came in, and he liked to chat with lady patients who came in an out of the surgery. He liked to show-off when a beggar came to the door, in a big voice he would ask, "what you want, money?" And he would get a few pennies out of pocket and throw it in the beggars calabash. When the poor fellow walked away, Willem would follow him and call back for his coins. Ma always prayed that Willem would die before her but he lived many years after her.
This was a good joke. One afternoon, he was quite young, passing our water tank in Paramaribo where the passengers for the ferry steamer were landing, Willem saw a Chinee man struggling with some parcels, and he offered to carry one. The man was so glad! It happened so that Pa’s good friend Babir Lachman Singh was living nearby where he also had his store. He saw Willem coming along with the parcel. When he asked Willem where he got the parcel from, he said "Chinese," meaning a Chinaman had given it to him. So he put the parcel down on the counter.
Baby Lachman Singh lit a smoke for him and when the China man who was passing and was frantic about the man and his parcel, spied Willem relining in the store, he rushed up to beat Winfrie. But when Babu explained to him he was very sorry. He gladly took his parcel away. On top of that Winfrie told him to get out!
Ma was quite fond of him, since it was partly through her fault that Winfrie got hurt. After Ma died, Willem became our charge (and) we were all very fond of him. Uncle Pil used to take him over to spend time and to fix his teeth. He used to love to go but all of a sudden he did not want to go anymore.
Asked why, he said he had seen a Jorka meaning a ghost. And though he went now and again, he never stayed overnight. Now Willem used to pull at Papa’s cigar and he used to like to give him a few pills. Many times Winfrie offered to take off Papa shoes for him but this he was never allowed. Long after, he told me the reason. He said, "you know, after all, I cannot allow a Brahmin to take off my shoes." This shows what a Hindu Papa was.
Now about Ma’s orphans. She had a Brahmin girl who married Dalay Ling, who was in the police force and had quite a few children. Maghi whose name was Magdalena married a young Brahmin interpreter. They had no children. Ramdan was a handsome and charming fellow, but he drank himself to death. Maghi afterwards went funny and died in her home where she was discovered days after. She left quite a lot of cash, which Ramdas’s brother claimed.
There was Herman he suffered for years, so much so that he had to be sent away. A long distance away where these people got "blew stone" and later salvaarsan treatment. I cannot remember what happened to him. There was Tewari who is a muslim. Nice fellow he is. After Pa died, Tante Nadia took him over. He is employed at the P.W.D. He nearly took the job that Omathu had got for him. Because when his name was called he did not answer not knowing that he had a muslim name. Anyhow he and his children are o.k., and now he is a Muslim. He is still around Tante Nadia and Omarthu.
Anna became in every way like Ma
Then Parbatti who was named Anna. Her mother had died in Hospital. She was a tall, good looking woman of fair complexion. Anna too was quite fair. She was taught Hindi, but like myself, forgot it all. She did not go to school; Mai again was responsible. Anyhow, Anna grew up to be a good housekeeper, and she has all the ways and customs of Ma. Sometime I wonder how she became in every way like Ma and I her own child had not taken after her with such accuracy. Anna was some years younger than I and was a good companion. She too, like Ma, cared for flowers, livestock and all the other things which Ma liked.
Ma had given her a hen, which became blind in the one eye, and how Anna cared for this bird. It happened that one day the hen disappeared. Anna was frantic. Two days after her loss, Ma send her either to the shop or the market. But Anna was away for quite a long time. When we did see her coming she was accompanied by a police, a man and a hen. Anna had seen this man trying to kill the hen, she recognized it as hers, promptly called a police who arrested the man and the two marched up to our home to have the bird identified. Now what do you think of that? I can assure you that during that time Anna became a sort of heroine in our neighborhood.
Then came Lena, a small sized girl. She was a good little soul. She married a nice young man. However he died early and she too died soon after leaving twin girls. I do not know what happened to them.
But I have not finished with Anna. Many young men liked her for marriage but she did not like them. So they were all turned down. Anna loved to dress. She always wore a wide dress sash and a big bow in her plait. She went with me in 1914 to Edinburgh. My children were very fond of her, especially Loo the youngest who promised to buy her a pink silk dress and a bow for her when he grew big and was a doctor and a lawyer.
Of course, as you will hear later, this never came to pass as he died in 1919. Anna was now back home with Ma. When Pa died and the family came over here in Lamaha. Anna was married to Pilamber Doobay. And the morning they were leaving to live at de Linderen W.C.D. they both looked very handsome and happy. She has since had seven daughters, they all died except Leela. Pil died too in 1953; his death was much felt.
Then in 1910 or 1912, when I was here in British Guiana with Ma also, Nelly Singh went with us to Paramaribo, where she lived with my Pa and Ma until Pa died. And they came off and on to British Guiana. Ma died also and Nelly was with us until she went to Trinidad; later more about her.
Reflection: April 1961
Today is the 25th day of April 1961. A few days ago I had my sixty-ninth birthday. It is a long while ago since I wrote down anything on these pages. I am sorry for this because time is running on and I do not know when the time will come when I shall not be able to write anymore. Well of late I have not been in the best health caused by bodily ailment but more so from mental strain.
I am truly ashamed that I let myself go and many a day instead of making myself useful, I idly sat down thinking and wondering how I can help my children in one way or the other. For this I am ashamed, I pray the good Lord to forgive me for my lack of trust in his guidance and trust. And as I write these lines down, that the Lord will forgive me for wanting to take things in this life in my weak hands, instead of trusting in his mercy.
Attending the Louise convent school
I have had quite a good childhood, in our home there prevailed law and order and we all had to abide by them. My brother and I were good chums. I did not go to school until I was seven and half years old. Ma had to actually smuggle me out by a kind neighbor to the Louise convent in Gravenstaat. I was placed in the kindergarten class, which was then called "bewaar school," meaning classes for keeping small children. I was so much bigger and indeed I felt clumsy. There children were taught to play, paper folding, arranging blocks, etc.
There were two forms in this classroom. When I was put in the big ABC I learned quite a lot and so my school days began. When my poor Pa heard that I had my first day at school he was left with his mouth open. But when Mai heard she did behave badly and she "knew" this was a very bad beginning for me. And my poor Ma had a very bad time of it, but as I was her child, Mai could not dictate.
I do not remember any other Indian child in my school days. I belonged to the middle class of course, but I was always clean and neatly turned out. I was very thin and had weak ankles so I had to wear either button at the side or lace up boots. Very often I wore my boots wrong side on. Ma would be cross and send me to change them, but to be on time I sneaked out and the other children had much fun at my expense.
Nadia my friend helped me to put them on right before class was called in. Nadia was an orphan, she and her sister and they certainly belonged to the upper middle class. She was always nice to me. I was quite happy at school especially when my homework was prepared. We were taught french; this I used to know well; English this I found not too difficult as my Ma spoke it; (and) German. I found German quite hard and I did not have a good grasp of the language.
The other regular school subjects were o.k. But whenever we had class examination this is for promotion; I suffered from severe cuttings in the bowels. That is how I came to be sorry for Tappie when he complained of the same thing, as I believed him from my own experience. I was always promoted on my classwork since my examination work was poor and half finished. I was always very quick to grasp the examination of most subject, but I am sorry to say I forgot just as quickly.
Tante Nadia left in the 5th form as her aunt died, and she and sister had to go to live with her great uncle and family at Rust en Werk, the second largest sugar estate. I finished school in the sixth form. Needlework was a must for all the pupils from the second form and I must say we learned very fine work. I was quite a favorite with my teachers, all nuns. They were all well educated women and had special diplomas in their special field.
I always walked to school. Before I left for school, I had a lots of small duties to perform. Get up not later than 6 a.m., pull your net, strip your bed, clean chimneys and wicks of all our household lamps, clean your shoes, brush your the teeth, etc., into the bath, dress, (and) either you did it yourself or asked for your head to be combed and plaited. Kiss your parents good morning. To table to eat and drink you cocoa, put your wears to the pantry (and) off to school.
At school, we were not only taught lessons, but we were given duties which would teach us to be punctual and helpful. So every week one girl had to take a jug of drinking water at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. around the class where cups would come out. Then also once a week a girl had me to sound the school bell every half hour for the change of subjects in the various classes.
We were made to pick up any scraps of papers for which we were responsible before we left school even though the room was going to be swept up. We said, "goodbye" and "good morning" when we left and came in the classroom. We had to walk out and quickly out of the gate to the streets. And we had especially to be careful of our behavior on the road, because there were unseeing eyes behind the convent shutters watching.
Growing up with girlfriends at home
I used to learn piano from Tante Julie. Sorry to say I was not very serious at this art. My Pa, who came to British Guyana on a rice matter with a D.C., (and) he bought me a brand new piano from the firm of Strong and Driver. He paid a sum down and every month he used to send a draft until the piano was paid for. I might have done so well with this instrument but in spite of Ma watching and advising me to practice. I was just not able to sit long at the piano and so I played simple pieces, and of course all the songs from the then popular song folio.
I was not good at plain serving, but mending and fine needlework I was good at. I was taught how to do light washing and starching. Every Friday, I had to iron out all hand towels and handkerchief. I was very good at this. I had a school chum, she was from Holland. Her father was the financial secretary. Her mother was a nice person. They lived up the road a good way from us. This girl used to stop and do some ironing. She enjoyed doing it, such a nice girl she was. She and her parents became real Surinamese, but poor girl, later on she was not very happy.
Another girl of my class was the Attorney General’s daughter. After finishing school she returned and married a judge. Very handsome young man, but a rotter and this nice girl too was most unhappy. Then I had another friend her name was Jettje Baal. She lived with her father and step-mother. Quite nice people. This girl’s sister lived with their own mother, she was a fair women with jet black hair, he daughter Jettje was fair with light hair. The other girl Nelly was like their father, brown.
Now my friend was happy in a way, she was good at school, but later had to stay at home to help her step-mother. Later still, she married a young man who was their tenant. He had a joiners job; (and) they had a child who died. Jettje had to return home, and when her parents died she left alone to struggle. In 1949, when I was home she came to see me at Tante Nadia. Poor soul, she was spotless but poorly dressed. She told us that she was a washer woman and that she lived in a poorly furnished home at grotto combe. She was the fun of her neighbors. We were so sorry for her. I feel that she might have done better, but after shame and disappointment she let herself go. When I think of her I do so with a sincere regard for our childhood days.
Once in so many years I used to have a birthday party. With cake sweets and ice cream. There was a three piece orchestra which was quite popular. The headman played a concertino, the other bass horn and they other an iron triangle. And this man who played the brass horn was by profession a cab driver for the Barnet Lyon family and when the music was at its best and folks were enjoying themselves someone would shout "Roesier," (or) "cabman hear me." And then, thus encouraged, he blew harder and harder; oh dear it was fun.
The party started at 4 p.m. and ended just before 6 p.m. One birthday party which stands out in my memory was the time when the ice cream was served it was as salt as brine. It was so hard and nice but it was discovered that the can which was an old fashioned local made thing had sprung a big hole and how I cried! The children left and I nearly had a good beating, but Pa saved me. I never had another party.
Family Life with Ma and Pa
I used to go with my parents to excursion and outings. Also my brother, Pa and I went to Kathas and other Indian functions. Pa always saw to it that we had a good meal before we left home. In those days the meals were serve late. We travelled to see far distance place in stages - we started by walking, then by cab, horse drawn, then on donkey cart and last of all when the road was too bad, we had to walk again. Anyhow we enjoyed it all! Of course those were the days when Harry an I were small children. Funny how I remember those days up to today. These functions always took place during later September and October, when we had the dry season and we had out six weeks school holidays.
With Ma, we went to church during the festive seasons. Poor Pa he went too but always slept, and I was so amused when Ma made me give him a gentle nod. When Pa had the yearly Katha for Mai, Ma worked hard to help. And so with good understanding Pa and Ma sailed smoothly over the years. Later, when Pa died, Ma gave up going to church and did all the pujas that she knew would please Pa. When she came to British Guiana off and on, she would of to Kingston Methodist church once now and again. When I was about fifteen years old, I finished school and went to learn typing at the Immigration Department. The deputy agent General’s daughter, Blanche, was also there. And once we got a bonus of 25 guilder each how proud we were. Blanche went to school in the same class with me. Years after, she went with her sister to Holland where she had to be put in a mental home, when she later died. During those days I used to help Pa to keep the ration list for immigrants who came from India. Pa saw to it that they were well fed and made the methai-walas make sweets for them. We all partook of these.
Some things I cannot forget. For some reason or the other, I always get the blame for something that I had not done. And of course, though these were minor things such as pushing Winfrie, or one of the slow, or spilling something, it still hurt. Of course you dared not defend yourself. As I said before, I did a lot of fancy work and darning. These jobs were done, not from choice, but they had to be done.
In those days my Pa used to get photographs from his Aunt in Jyrabad, from eligible young men - who if Pa agreed, I was to go to India to marry. I used to be so amused at these pictures. One was of a young man who was going to be a doctor, one from an old looking man who was a landowner, and so on. One fellow had a striped blazer. How I laughed. You see, in our country men did not wear such things.
Papa’ old friend, Babu Ramprasad
Anyway non of these kind suitors were accepted because Pa had his plans made years before with his old friend Babu Ramprasad. Now Babu Ramprasad was a compounder on board the immigrant ships. He was an able and fine person. Pa and he were great friends. Since I was a small girl, he was quite fond of me and he brought me some lovely gifts from India. And so as I grew up Pa and he decided a marriage for me. And this was to be with his only sisters child, his eldest nephew.
This young man was with him and his father, in Bengal. His name was Jung Bahadur Singh. His father, Dhan Singh, and mother, Soubhagea, lived at Good fortune on the W.B. of Demerara, (British Guiana). Here most of their thirteen children were born. Babir Dhan Singh was indentured from Nepal. Soubhagea was the only daughter of Babu Khedarnauth of Bengal. He too was a ship’s compounder.
He was very wealthy in between employment on the ships. He spent months in British Guiana. He married and had two children born here, a boy and girl. The boy he took away with him to India when he finished his education. He came back to British Guiana, his daughter was then fourteen years of age, fair and good looking like her father. The mother had a little while before he died, and so he thought he would marry out his daughter. He wanted a man from India, he was to be much older than the girl, for as he said, he would not return to British Guiana again and this very young girl would have a good protector.
Babu Dhan Singh had just then finished his indentured period and had set up a small tailoring shop and so this girl was married to him from the home of Soodeo uncle’s home. A bride of 14 years and the groom was 30 years old. Now the father put them in a good business with their own home. He did not return, there was no point (as) he had his son and his daughter was settled.
His son, Babu Ramprasad, however came often to British Guiana and to Surinam on board immigrant ship. His father send large supplies of silk, etc., for his son-in-laws business, and the brother saw to it that his sister was financially o.k. So the business, which also included peddling on the sugar estates, flourished. But sad to say, Babu Singh was a good tailor of men and various fancy cloths, India style, but he was a very bad business man. His work debt became so bad that, though he owed no one, he had to close down and start on a very small scale again.
His wife’s father was so angry with him, that he never again did anything for him, so much so (that) he did not like to hear his name. In later years he told my Pa, who was in India at the time, that he could not forgive his daughter’s husband, because the man was educated in hindi and that he was no youngster. And also that he saw that he was having a large family. Anyhow his wife died at the age of thirty-six when she had her last child, "the Great Indal Singh."
Babu Dhan Singh lived to the age of eighty-five years. His children grew up by the help of Babu Rampersad and later by Jung Bahadur. Babu Rampersad had bought a house and land at New Road were the family removed to. This was before the sister died. Well after the sister’s death, Dhan Singh start peddling his goods to as far as Berbice. In those days Kurtha’s for the men were very fancy, and wide skirts and julas, short blouses with puppet sleeves and well decorated front and back was worn by Indians. Years after Babu Dhan Singh married again, from this marriage there were twins, one died the other was Nanda Lall.
When I was a little over 15 years old, one day sitting at the typewriter at the immigration department some strangers came into the office. My Pa looked for one who seldom showed emotions in those days, quite pleased and excited. He greeted these men one old and one quite young, after which he took them into the agent general. When they came back to the general office there was a round of introducing. So Jung Bahadur Singh was prefix to me. He was quite smart, well-dressed. For one, he was overdressed, since we in Dutch Guiana dressed simply.
The name seem familiar to me and when I remembered, which was almost at once. I knew that this was Babu Rampersad’s nephew, who I was supposed to be married to someday. Years later he told me that he knew me at once, as he had seen me when he was about seven years old. My face had just appeared to him when he was at play and he never forgot. Of course this became a standing joke but he insisted that it was true. So they went away to india to return the following year with an immigrant ship, to be reached; it was in February, 1908.
Marriage to Babu Rampersaud’s nephew
There we two other compounders. Babu Rampersaud and Mahadeo Panday. There was an engagement and wedding fixed for two years after. There was rejoicing by Babu Rampersaud and my Pa. Ma was not impressed, as this young man had no special qualification and in her opinion, a conpounder was only a dispenser. She had such hopes that I should be well settled in life, through a good marriage.
Since then, Jung and his uncle came back once, that was in 1911. They were to return later for the wedding. Babu Rampersaud however did not return. He was coming well and on ship, just before on water when the ship was nearing British Guiana he had a stroke, died and was buried at sea. When we received the news we were very sad indeed. On board the ship there was also Bissondejdal. He sent a parcel with silk for my weeding dress. But the other gold gifts, and I am told there were plenty, were not sent.
Soon after Jung came and there was a new compounder, Sew Panter Singh, and on the 23rd of February on a Wednesday, we were married at the office of the marriage officer - this we call the Burgerlijtstand. We drove up, I and Pa, well dressed and followed with the two witnesses, one was the Agent General, the other I do not remember. There was a carriage with my Ma and two flower girls, followed by two bridesmaids.
From there Ma arranged that we should go the Infirmary Church for the blessing. After this there was a gala reception at the large home of Babu Latchman Singh, a wealthy landowner and a good friend of my Pa. So I had my civil marriage, so this complied with law of the land, (and) my church blessing for Ma. But the real thing was in the evening my hindu marriage. This was a brilliant affair. The Immigration Depot was loaned for the occasion, all decorated. The maro was ah so beautiful. There were hundreds of invitees, Indians and others.
All the Pundits in the land took part. There presence was to show their approval of the union between a Brahmin girl and a Singh. At first the situation bordered to sin and scandal. Pa somehow was able to overcome this, and in the end all was peace. Just imagine us sitting there until all the pundits had their say. Anyhow the ceremony was finished at 12 midnight - after this there were fireworks, music and a feasting. This lasted a whole week. Somehow I was not able to see it all, because after the ceremony we had to sail for British Guiana - the boat sailed at 2 am.
Moving with Jung to british guiana
On this trip, Ma accompanied me and there was also Lena and Hersankar Singh. We had a good sailing by the William II, a RWIM steamer. We arrived in British Guiana early on Sunday morning. Our baggages were collected and taken to the ferry stelling by George the porter, a small young porter, who since then looked after our baggage to and from British Guiana. We travelled on a ferry board called the "Amy" which had a great big wooden wheel which moved in the water of the river. And so we arrived at Vreedenhoop.
We took a cab to the house while George came on with our baggage. We got off and there were Baap, and a whole lot of urchins, all boys, except one little girl with a sickly looking. This was Baby Indal in the arms of an adopted sister, who had taken charge since the mother's death.
The house, the original cottage, was there with an addition of a kitchen and a bathroom. The toilet was away at the back. There was a flat downstairs divided in rooms for the boys and Bappa. This property was brought, I said before by Babu Rampersaud and transfer was given to his eldest nephew. So the downstairs flat was full by Jung, just before our marriage. The upstairs was comfortable in a way, this way was not mine. Anyhow at the time all was well, since everything looked cosy and new.
That evening, there was feasting and fire works, cooking, eating and drinking. Quite a number of guests came upstairs. The Bayne family, Thomas Jenhi and his one month old bride, his sister Ruby Chands' mother. Ruby was a little girl. The downstairs apartment was crowded out. The furnishings were what Pa had brought fashionable Bentrud furniture, my piano, crockery and kitchen ware. All these my Pa had sent a month before by our George.
Well in the course of days, I unpacked my trousers - very helpful in those days - print dresses for the house, overall aprons, afternoon dresses, some best dresses, blouses in color and skirts. Then, there were my underwear, corsets which were called "ribbon corsets." These were from the waist to over the hips with four suspenders. And tight bodices which as now called brassieres. In the true sense of the word, they were so tight that one could hardly breath. The pants were regular pants, knee high which were tight around your waist with four piece - two for the front, two for the back, of tape. To finish off the legs one had either lace, embroidery or crochet hand-made lace.
Then there were ankle length slips which were called petticoats. This garment was all bedecked with insertion lace; at the waist and at the back there were two pieces of tape which you brought forward and tied securely, so the waist was well gathered. Dresses were all ankle length, silks, wools, etc., all elbow length sleeves, high-necks, and some of these dresses were hooked or buttoned from the neck to the waist. Of course there were also aprons in overall style, linen bed sheets and pillow cases, colored covers, bath towels, table cloth, dish and hand towels, runners and tea cloth for the many small tables.
I should like my night dresses, all were long sleeves, high necks, some with huge collars with plenty of lace and embroidery. What always bothered me was the close fitting sleeves, which could not be rolled up and so, when you brush your teeth, the toothpaste ran freely up the lovely lace and the border of the sleeve. It was always a nuisance, but there you are - it was the fashion. I forgot the foreigners one, "loose dresses" which are now called housecoat. They were made from woolen and from silk materials. I think there is enough of this.
Now there was housekeeping. Ma and Lena also came over with us (and) left after two weeks. After this Jung and I carried on with the help of Ellen, Ruth Haynes' mother. In the meantime with we took our outings and made visits. Except for the Bayne family and Lily Richford who lived in town, most of the people were not my kind. But being my husbands' friends I smiled nicely and made myself happy.
In the meantime, Mungal who had gone to Parimaribo to attend my wedding, had arrived too late, returned and took his abode with Baap and the boys. These boys were all timid and shy. Anyway I did not make much headway with them. But Baap was o.k., he was quite nice. And so here I stayed for two months, and on the 20th of April, I was put on board the Commeyne, a banana ship, by a very sad young husband and his friends. It was quite a sad parting. Jung was going to India to return in a few months.
But I was going home, and I must say when I saw the shore of Dutch Guiana I forgot all about British Guiana. We had cabled to my Pa to expect me, but the cable did not arrive in time, so no one met me. I took a cab and on the way home, about 2:15 in the afternoon, I saw my Pa who was on his way home from office. The cab stopped and believe or not I burst into tears. Pa came in the cab, he was bewildered and too started to cry. Anyway I explained why I was back, we got home and there was general rejoicing, especially as it was my 18th birthday and there was a lovely birthday fare. And so I settled down at home and I met my friends. My two best friends were Nadia and Jaques.
Childbirth in dutch guiana ...and so I waited
Soon after my arrival I was not as well and doctor said there was going to be a baby in December. So I settled down and waited and I really got serious. Letters from India were far in between, and sad to say, Jung did not get the immigrant ship from India. The other Compounders bribed heavily. And so Jung joined the medical college in Calcutta and in between he made a trip with immigrants to Fiji - and so I waited. Of course in those days one did not speak about these feelings to parents or friends. And in our family we did not complain or sought sympathy.
And on the 26th of December my baby was born. And on the 23rd of February, my first wedding anniversary, Jung arrived with an immigrant ship in India to Paramaribo. He stayed for one week as he was promised a ship from British Guiana to India. This he was appointed on. In India he waited and went back to college, made a trip in between to Fiji and Mauritius. Again, no ship to British Guiana until late in the year when Jung arrived on the 5th of December 1917.
As I said before I was brought up not to complain and so I waited patiently and was looking after my baby. So when I received word that Jung would be arriving in British Guiana on the 5th of December, my Pa and Ma being the understanding parents they were made a wonderful suggestion and that was that - I along with baby to arrive there before Jung arrives. This they felt would be a big surprise for him. But later as I grew older and became more understanding I knew that they made this expense for me because they felt that his returning would give me pleasure. God bless them wherever they may be. I am so glad that I, at the age of seventy, can remember my parents kindness and appreciate their love.
Well, so we arrived in British Guiana in good time, but sorry to say, that the surprise was not what it would have been, if some thoughtless person had not told that we had arrived a week or so before. Anyhow the joy and love expressed by Jung was worth it all. He was thrilled to see Hardutt now nearly a year old.
Early in the new year we left for home. In February Jung received word that he should go to India to come back with a ship to Suriname... So there you are. I saw him off and a couple of weeks after I sailed with my baby for home. I settled down and almost at once I became ill. The doctor said it was a baby, I somehow did not keep so well this time and by June I had lost weight and my kidneys were now very bad, "loaded abdomen" said the doctor. Somehow all the care did not help. I remained very unwell. In July early, Jung arrived, In the meantime the abdomen was so much that the doctor had ordered me to bed with a diet of pure milk and water. So I was in bed for a couple of weeks, where I was to stay for another two months.
But for my good luck, the baby girl, was born premature on the 6th of August, a month before she was due. The doctor was relieved and so was the family. So Loo is a eight months baby. She was a big baby, very soft and flabby, her head was so delicate from the front to the nape of the neck. She required much care, and when she was one month old, she became firm all over. But I still did not do well. In September, (he) left again for British Guiana to India, to college and to Fiji.
Somehow here I can not connect up; as far as I can recollect, he returned to British Guiana and came over to Dutch Guiana in May the following year. After a couple of months he sailed again to India for a ship to Jamaica. There I was waiting again. The abdomen took over again and on the following year, on the 5th of March, Soo was born. But before his birth, Jung had arrived in Jamaica in January and how we looked forward to another return, but it was not to be. There was pox on board and they had to be quarantine. When Jung wrote saying that (he) would not be able to come to Dutch Guiana as he had to go back to India for a ship to Parimaribo in May, I gave up.
Today I know exactly how I felt then. I was by then matured enough to view the future very seriously. I made up my mind that life was so full of disappointments and uncertainty that it truly was not worthwhile to hope and wish for things to go the way you would like to go. So the ship arrived in May and here Jung saw another new Baby. He told me that he was not going to India again and that he had made up his mind to go to England to become a doctor.
I said to myself well here he goes again. Well what of it. I was used to these partings. Anyhow one evening Jung asked for a family conference, Pa, Ma and I. It was then that he told Ma and Pa that he had planned to go to England in June. Pa and Ma learned, but when Jung said that he was taking his wife and children along, both Ma and Pa exclaimed, "No, no, that could not work." I, for one, was silent. I did not quite grasp the situation. Jung was firm and said that this was the only way. He turned to me and asked if I did not agree with him. My loyalty was divided and (I) did not know which way to say. Anyway I gave a feeble yes.
Moving with Jung and the children to England
And so we started to prepare for the trip. In the meantime, we received from British Guiana, a letter from Mungal. He wrote to say that Buddie wanted him to get married and had brought an engagement ring which he should take to Essequibo and get engaged to a girl of Buddie's choice. Mungal complained bitterly, and knowing that Jung was going to the U.K. to further his studies, Mungal asked to be taken along to read for the law. Now Jung on his own could not have managed this undertaking, so my Pa promised to get periodic loans of money, which he would forward to us.
So we left via British Guiana, where we picked up Mungal and a compounder friend, Sew Sankar Singh, who was a Guianese who lived in India between "ships." We left British Guiana by the R. M. Steamer Chinecto to Trinidad where we went on board the RMS Tagus. We travelled all the way first class and because of our number, eight in all and all Singhs, we had a family rebate on the cash of the passage. So we paid 17 pound Sterling per adult and 1/2 price for Hardhead and Moon and for Sooch was free. It was a lovely voyage. The steamer was full of passengers. We, that is our family, and one Chinese gentleman from Trinidad were the only people of color in the first class. The food was very good and so many varieties.
We landed in South Hampton. I remember when we were passing the Isle of Man why the place is so well fortified which was so in case of war. Every one laughed and said war is something of long, long ago. We took (the) train from South Hampton in the afternoon to Edinburgh. Mungal and Sew Sankar took train to London. When we were passing through our first underground, the children and I gave a loud cry Well no one told us of tunnels. The experience was horrible. We travelled all night and arrived at Waverly Station early in the morning. The platform was crowed with white faces, but believe me, the most beautiful face which we saw was Genge Berry who we spotted in the crowd.
We got into a cab and stopped at the Green Cafe. This was on the Northbridge, not too far from Patrick Thompson not too far on the right going down. There we had something to eat, and we crowded in the cab again, and we stopped just by the pay house near Melville Terrace. We were there for hours while Jung and George went to the house agent and we got a house - 15 Melville Terrace. He brought beds and a few chairs, pots and kettle and plates and cups. And from the cab we went straight into the house.