Earlier, the sky was a clear kind of blue that floods the soul with happy, happy feelings. Now, the rain clouds have descended upon Craig Old Road. It isn’t a storm but it isn’t quite the sort of early evening calm that usually greets us at this time of day. Nani sits in her usual spot on the couch, the neighbours are quarreling about the stray cats and some BBC reporter is walking confidently among Thai protesters on the television screen. Life isn’t like it used to be, Nani says. She was born in 1939 and has seen many blue skies and many little showers of rain. She has lived through storms. I ask if she would answer some questions. She smiles and nods. I believe the state of our people’s minds is the true reflection of what we have achieved since May 26, 1966.
Do you remember when Guyana gained Independence? How old were you?
In 1950…no wait Rohan bin born, he was a couple month old baby. So we gained Independence in 1966.
Who was the leader at the time?
I think Jagan.
How did you feel when Guyana became Independent?
Me di feel okay…but after that he [Jagan] and Burnham split.
Why did they split?
They split because when they went to India and come back they were at loggerheads.
Why were they at loggerheads?
Jagan kept certain meetings and he used a certain term. That would have no doubt upset Burnham.
What term did he use?
Well it was one term. Aapanjaht. It means nation for nation.
Why do you think he used that term?
I guess according to what was going on he felt the need to do something like that. Advantage was being taken on Indians.
Did Burnham ever say anything like that?
He na use it in a language like Jagan but he spoke about it in sentences and people understood what he was saying. At Bourda Green Burnham spook about the goal mines. He said to look at who was mining the gold and who was wearing the gold. He said that the gold must be taken back.
What were things like before Independence?
Under the white people, that was the British, well to me the wages were small and so but you used to get everything. There was no kick down door. Robbery and murder was not rampant. And even though groups of blacks were in the kick down door campaigns there were one one Indians among them. The Indian presence in those things was not as prevalent as it is today. You could walk the streets in the British time. You could buy one big basket goods and still have lef’ back after the month was done.
And what happened after Independence?
We suffered a lot to get things because they kept saying that Jagan was a communist.
Did things change when Burnham took office?
For his first term or so we had access to things but then he banned the imports like flour and said that we must use local. Wasn’t a bad thing but we na had other things. We couldn’t produce our own. The decision was too rash. Maybe if it was done gradually it would have been more successful.
Where was Jagan during this time?
I remember sometime in the 60s Jagan called for all farmers to stay away from the market for a week. If Burnham was going to punish us by banning flour then we should punish him by not taking provisions to the market. But we still went to the market. We couldn’t stay home. We needed sales, we needed money, we had to survive.
And then Hoyte took up office?
Yes. Hoyte did a lot of good but the price and so were high. When he came in there wasn’t much crime because he passed a law for hanging. Is da wa bring hatred between us so much.
What brought the hatred?
The disturbances of the 60s. Me can remember a time when Black people and Indian people used to live as one family. Now even though we still live good we don’t really trust each other you know.
Do you think Jagan and Burnham could have avoided this?
If they had preached the right things on their platforms then we wouldn’t be here. Where was the need to further split us because of politics? I can remember in 1964 when the Black were burning down Georgetown. Is Black people house we used to go and hide.
Which Black people were burning down Georgetown?
They used to say Burnham had he thugs. But is not the Black people who were our neighbours and friends. No, not them at all.
And what about Rodney?
I never met Walter Rodey but I remember that Rupert Roopnaraine came to our village once and he wanted to hold a meeting in front the shop so he could get light. But we didn’t give them light because we were afraid that people would pelt our house and attack us.
Do you regret not giving them light?
Yes. I sorry in one way but you try to protect yourself and your family. In these fights you always have to choose between the good they promise and yourself and your family.
How do you feel about Guyana now after almost 5 decades of Independence?
Everybody want fast life.
The new politicians and the old ones that still around. They just won’t sit and get things done. Look at parliament. They row whole day. They won’t learn to sit and agree so that the country can go forward. Their attitudes na good at all.
Who do you vote for?
Me does always vote for the PPP.
Why do you vote for them?
Because I seh more seat they get they would have more power to look after the people.
Do you feel that they are looking after the people?
I really can’t say with what going on. They got too much going on. You can’t deh in parliament whole day forming law and brukin law and not coming out to see what is happening to the people. Where is the money? Imagine, dead man getting pay in office.
Is this PPP the same PPP you voted for when Jagan was alive?
No they aren’t the same. They aren’t the same at all. They are vastly different. Everybody wants a fast life. Everybody wants to full their pockets.
What about APNU? Do you think they would do better?
APNU? But APNU was in it too. Granger and Greenidge were in it back in the PNC days.
Do you think it’s fair to blame young people like James Bond for what happened back then?
No that is not fair at all. And that is the problem. The old people need to learn that their experience is good for guidance. They need to step back and let young people take up their rightful places. When the old continue to make a mess of things is the young people will have to clean it up.
If all of those men and women in parliament were your children would you be proud of them?
No. I would be very upset with them. All of them, not just any one side.
What would you tell them?
I tell you like it is. I would tell them ‘You are not doing the right thing’.