Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

"I asked him if he had a problem with Muslims"

In the current issue of Transition, the Indian writer Achal Prabhala thinks back over his recent sojourn in Georgetown, and reflects on the contradictions and absurdities of contemporary Guyana, in an essay titled "Guyanarama: In Search of Walter Rodney":

Nearly everyone I met seemed to be playing with the politics of self. Sanjay from Bangalore was now Kabir, and his spiritual guide was an African Sufi leader called Kerry. Sandra and her Swedish husband bathed themselves in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean every Sunday morning to pay homage to “dem Hindu Gods and so.” Drupti was Catholic but liked to pray to the Hindu Gods that lined her mantelpiece, while her son Rajesh vaguely thought of himself as an Indian Dread. (If nothing else, he had the locks.) So when the man I had been told to look for as James Alexander told me he wanted to be called Ram Bhajan as a sign of his spiritual transformation, I readily assented. It was still in progress, apparently; when I called him Ram he looked around in confusion, and when I called him James he admonished me. I asked him if he had a problem with Muslims. “Not yet,” he said after some thought.

walter rodney poster

Poster from the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Walter Rodney's assassination; Georgetown, Guyana, July 2005

(My favourite bit comes near the beginning, as Prabhala tries to recall what he learned about Guyana in geography lessons at school:

The only thing I thought I remembered for certain was that Brazil got its coffee from the Guyanas. It inspired hazy notions of dark, rich coffee in a dark, rich land.

As it happens, most coffee drinkers in Guyana are content with Nescafé, and Brazil mostly grows its own.

Naipaul wrote about the impossibility of getting a decent cup of coffee in Georgetown; it's one of many small brilliant turns in The Middle Passage. Visiting Guyana myself 45 years later, I discovered nothing had changed in that regard. I drank Nescafé--the chemically enhanced caffeine seems to go straight to your heart--every morning, and I'm not sure I've ever recovered.)

No comments: