Dare I risk taking on the Jaganites and the Burnhamites? Dare I question the counterfeit images of dear old Cheddi and dear old Burnham that have survived for my generation to see? My only answer is this: why else do I have a mind if not to question everything endlessly so that in the end I may believe only in those things which I have found to be true and genuine?
In the 90s I grew up with Cheddi and Burnham in Craig Village. Cheddi was like the mamoo or chacha I never saw and Burnham was the line-up-fuh-soap-and-butter man. Cheddi was the sustainer of the great and powerful roti and Burnham was the man who tried to choke the nation to death with rice-flour bake and roti.
But somehow, many of my Indian elders were convinced that Burnham’s grand scheme to choke the nation was somehow the fault of the black man. I still wonder if they’ve ever realized that black people ate and choked on the same rice-flour bake and roti.
There have been moments in my life where I have felt that I know Cheddi and Burnham more than I’ll ever know myself. When the old Indian women met at wedding and jandhi houses to clean katahar and make puri there was always an endless supply of Cheddi and Burnham jokes. But always, always Burnham took the brunt of it.
The problem is that jokes aren’t just jokes to a child. As a child, these jokes taught me that Burnham was a man to be feared. And because they had made Burnham the symbol of the black man it followed that the black man was to be feared. As for Cheddi, they said he was the hero of the Indian man and no one else. These women were selfish with their Cheddi.
How could they dishonor Cheddi and Burnham in such a manner? And how could they not have known what they were doing to my mind? The answer is simple: grassroots politics.
All my life, they’ve been trying to make me know Cheddi and Burnham; at least the images of Cheddi and Burnham that they were fed at bottom houses. But the truth is that I (and all young Guyanese for that matter) will never know these men. I think Ian McDonald says it best:
“I remember long ago when I was a boy my father held a dead bird in the palm of his hand and said the beauty all had gone – to see it like that and describe it alive, alive and flying, was to see ashes and try to tell about fire.” (“Well Remembered Friends, Cloud of Witnesses, p. 348)
Cheddi and Burnham are the dead bird. My generation will never know the real men.
As for my elders who still cling to the ashes of Cheddi and Burnham, for now I have given up trying to decide how or what I feel for you. I did not choke on rice-flour but I choke on something far worse in my time. I am sorry that you had to choke on rice-flour but I am even sorrier that you do not yet realize that I am choking in a far worse way than you did. The bottom line is I think it’s time someone told you that rice-flour was not your black brother’s fault just like the current corruption in Canecutopia is not entirely our fault.
Sharing a quick moment with you while I’m on the go.