The wife of a prominent lawyer made contact with me. She said her aging aunt in London eagerly reads the daily newspapers and came across something last week in one of my columns and would like more information, but she hasn’t got an e-mail address or phone number for me.
The something is a reference to the 1995 suicide of the secretary of the then Minister of Agriculture, Reepu Daman Persaud (deceased). I have made several references to this death in past columns, so the aunt must have missed it. I was told that the aunt was a fervent young parishioner of Minister Persaud when he was the officiating Hindu priest at the Seaforth Street mandir in Campbellvile. She would like to know about this suicide.
The death was reported in the Chronicle. I got to know this young lady, weeks before she took her own life. She told me her name was Shanti and she lived at Cornelia Ida. I have never written about what is to follow below but here it is now. After the PPP came into power in 1992, I thought I would like to leave UG and go into farming.
I was never attracted to the idea of a long career in academia, and country life was curious to me since I felt, as an urban boy my whole life, I needed a change of environment. All my wife’s cousins, aunts and uncles were rice-growing people. I wanted to try my hand at rustic life.
At the time the new PPP Government of Cheddi Jagan had advertised for application for state land. I applied. At the time, Mr. Datadin was the head of Lands and Survey. It was a lengthy process and I had to be back and forth at Mr. Datadin’s office and that of Minster Persaud. That is how I come to know Shanti.
As I typed this letter, Shanti is right in front of my eyes – petite with sand brown complexion, flowing black tresses and kind of short in stature with a definitely winning smile. I would put her age at about twenty one. At the time, the Minister would have been roughly forty years her senior.
For the short months I knew Shanti, she opened up to me about her sexual relation with Minister Reepu Daman Persaud. The problem was not her sexual affair which to me she showed no particular disapproval of. It was the Minister’s failure to secure her a visa that he sincerely promised to get her.
I had no particular words of advice for Shanti, because it was clear to me she liked the Minister, trusted him and was just waiting for her visa. But Shanti was depressed because the visa wasn’t coming. The last time I saw her, before I got the land, she told me she wanted her passport to be returned because she felt she had enough of the Minister’s promises.
Mr. Datadin eventually assigned a plot of land to me at Mahaica and I was instructed to go to Minister Persaud for him to sign. The Minister was not there but Shanti was in a terrible state of depression. It was clear she needed counseling immediately. She told me the Minister tore up her passport and she pointed to her replacement in the office that the Minister had brought in. It was clear to me that the Minister had used Shanti and had now moved on. That was the last I saw of this tragic young woman. The next week the Chronicle reported her suicide.
Almost forty years, yes forty years before Shant took her life, I had urged my mother not to attend the mandir where Reepu Daman Persaud preached. I told my mother that he was a total snob of ordinary Hindus and that he only conducted private services (like durga pat’ jandhi, yags) for rich Hindus.
At the time, the competitor of Reepu Daman Persaud was Gowkarran Sharma, a Minister in Forbes Burnham’s Government. He was a Hindu priest with his own mandir at Camp and Quamina Streets. He was my mother’s first cousin (his sons still carry on their father’s tradition at that very mandir which would make them my second cousins) but my mom was an ardent supporter of the PPP, so she preferred to worship at the temple of Reepu Daman Persaud.
The other side of Reepu Daman Persaud is well known in Guyana and it certainly is not flattering. I will leave that for another discussion on this most controversial Hindu pandit who died several years ago. I hope these notes satisfy the lady in London. I hope it has opened her eyes. In the academic world, we call it, revisionist history.