Reminiscences of Cheddi Jagan by Janet Jagan
We Will Carry the Torch He Lit by Janet Jagan
(Text of Janet Jagan's tribute at the State Funeral for President Jagan held at the Public Buildings on March 10, 1997)
We have all been deeply moved by the demonstrations of love, respect and genuine grief which we have seen demonstrated by so many Guyanese of all strata of our society, of all races and religious groups, and from the young and old. That in itself tells the tale of the man who today we mourn. I have known him longer than any, other than his brothers and sisters.
I can testify to the very special qualities that have made him what he has become in the hearts of all Guyanese. He was, above all a fighter, a man dedicated to win advances, not only for the people of his native land but for all humanity.
He was a man who never gave up. When the odds were high against him, in the face of almost hopeless situations, he never lost strength, never lost the will to achieve his goals.
I can testify to his goodness, to his honesty and integrity, to his lack of concern for the material things of life; to his remarkable intellect, always seeking answers, always examining all aspects of a mater, always seeking the truth.
He was constantly analysing, looking at two, three or four sides of a problem in order to arrive at the correct answer.
My greatest regret at his death, aside from the loss of my companion of over half a century, the father of my two children and the grandfather of five, is that he was not given the time to complete his plans, fulfill his dreams.
He had many dreams for Guyana, to eradicate poverty, to build a strong and independent nation, to consolidate the democracy he had struggled to restore, and above all, to unite the nation. He fervently sought unity and never succumbed to pessimism. He always knew that the battle for unity would be achieved. Today we are seeing his hopes come true.
Those who carry on despite this great loss, have worked under his leadership and know his direction. They have been his students. Those who have stood by him faithfully all these trying years struggling for the people's rights, know his wishes, his dreams his plans. All of us will carry the torch he lit so many years ago.
We say farewell to our dear comrade, our friend, our hero. Cheddi, rest in peace. Your name will live on."
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
March 22, 2001
Cheddi the politician, the prolific writer, the commanding and eloquent orator, the statesman and the grass roots leader is well known to most Guyanese, both here and abroad.
However, on this, his birth Anniversary (March 22) I would like you to join me in remembering Cheddi Jagan, the warm - hearted husband, father, grandfather and family man.
He was a man who believed completely in women's rights, and at many times in my life, when I preferred a back seat, he would urge me to the front, as he did when I became a candidate in the 1947 elections and those thereafter. Even though he spent all his time writing, speaking and organising, he would help in the kitchen, wash dishes, carry out the garbage, etc. Unlike most Guyanese men, he accepted whatever meals and household arrangements were made without a grumble or a demand.
He loved working in the yard and planted many fruit trees. He got great satisfaction in watching the trees and plants grow and produce. How he enjoyed his home grown mangoes! It was a pleasure to watch him eating his mangoes. He had a favourite dungs tree and used to delight in picking the dungs which he took to Freedom House and gave the workers there, along with sugar cane he had cut.
He loved children and adored his five grandchildren. When three of them lived with us for a while at State House, he used to encourage them to eat local fruits and foods.
Each year during his presidency, on his birthday, at his request, the gates of State House were opened and a celebration took place, mainly aimed at children to which anyone could attend. The fair on the lawns of State House. This become an annual event to which hundreds of children attended and had a great time.
He used to appreciate immensely the hospitality shown to him when he moved around the country side. Homes were opened to him as he travelled and meals, which he greatly enjoyed, were in profusion. He never liked going to restaurants, always preferred home- cooked meals.
My grandson kept his lunch bag after he died. He must have been one of the few presidents in this world who carried his lunch to work. I used to prepare a snack, fruit and a flask of juice or coffee and put these in his lunch bag.
As to coffee, he remarked once -- and as I said earlier, he was rarely critical of meals -- that "Sis" at Freedom House made the best coffee. Mine couldn't match hers. I think he was right!
All five grandchildren used to love to go to his office at home (Bel Air) or the one at State House and swing in his hammock. He loved hammocks. The children used to play while he sat at his desk, and later they would "fight".
He used to play-fight with them and they loved the "roughing -up".
Cheddi was a well beloved man and played his role in national events as well as having a warm homelife. I think one of the most pleasant times was when we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in 1993 with some 60 members of his family.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
March 6th 2005
We come together, again, on this day, the 6th of March, to commemorate the death anniversary of Guyana’s hero – Father of the Nation – Cheddi Jagan.
I wanted to share with you a beautiful reflection by our daughter Nadira, who presented her father with a stunning photograph of Kaieteur Falls which she had taken, with this inscription – “Dad, at 76 you are still strong and vigorous as the mighty Kaieteur, your presence as majestic. Your dreams have become a reality. Guyana has seen the dawn of a new day. Your ideals will live on forever, flowing through the lives of all whom it touches, just as the waters of the Potaro, will always flow into our mighty Kaieteur.”
A person’s worth after death, will, to some extent, say something of his worth while alive. Since Cheddi Jagan’s death in 1997, his ideas and thoughts continues to influence Guyana, and, of course, the Party he built and nurtured and loved. His writings and ideas are preserved at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre established in 2000 and used by many researchers and students. His major book “ The West on Trial” has now gone into its 6th edition and republished by his daughter.
His ideas and plans continue to influence the PPP. But not in any dogmatic or slavish way. He always sought the widest opinions on vital matters and was never afraid or reluctant to ask the views of a wider spectrum of people. His mind was never closed to new ideas and this attitude has pervaded the thinking of the Party’s leading members.
On moral issues, the Party leadership is constantly reminded of his unwavering adherence to the principles of honesty and integrity.
Cheddi Jagan never forgot his roots, was proud to be the son of indentured labourers bound to Port Mourant. He used to tell me that he felt refreshed when he went amongst the people, as he did frequently, always seeking ways of alleviating the poverty that so many endured.
He was a man with a vision, never defeated, never giving up. During the 28-years of PNC dictatorship, when to many the future was hopeless, Cheddi always knew that things would change. After the many rigged elections he said “We have been cheated, not defeated.”
Thus it came be, that in 1992, the PPP won elections and a new era began. We can all appreciate and respect this man who created a new spirit in Guyana and who led his people forward to a better life.
Today, we remember him and pay respects to this son of the soil who became the Father of the Nation!
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
Man of the People by Janet Jagan
March is the month when we pause and reflect on one of the most important men of the 20th century in Guyana. It is the month of Cheddi Jagan’s birth and the month of his death.
Much has been said, both good and bad, about him all through his adult life and after his death. That is to be expected as all truly great men, with new ideas, with a vision of the future, with integrity, complete honesty and with modesty are bound to offend those whose own ideas differ or whose own life styles and attitudes permit jealousy and vindictiveness. We’ve seen enough of it to know that most societies contain people who have failed to succeed in life and put the blame on others, or as Dr Dale Bisnauth put it in a column on this page: “It is as if mediocrity cannot live with greatness unless it reduces it to its own size: mediocrity.”
However, leaving aside the “naysayers”, the reality is that most Guyanese recognize the worth of Cheddi Jagan, and irrespective of ethnic, religious or political considerations, respect and love him as a Man of the People and the man who dedicated his life to their well being.
Before Cheddi Jagan became completely and totally involved in the political life of his homeland, he worked as a professional, a dentist. Those years, also, should be recorded, because they show the measure of the man. I worked as his dental assistant for ten years. He was a perfectionist, a genuine professional who refused to allow any second rate treatment. If a denture, a filling, a bridge, a root canal was not perfect, he did it over. This I witnessed many times. Also, like in politics later, he was an innovator. He refused to extract a tooth before he determined if it could be saved, and if so, he insisted on filling the tooth. Even today we have dentists who just yank out a tooth a patient points out as hurting. He also urged his patients to bring in their children and recommended the best dental care for them, which was not being done in those days. Also, he broke the back of the gold tooth trade, when good teeth were covered with gold crowns for “beauty” purposes. He refused to encourage that practice which destroyed good teeth. Also, he annoyed his dental colleagues by having the lowest fees. He said he was there to help the patients, not exploit them.
His surgery was used for the early political developments. The Political Affairs Committee (PAC) which began in 1946 used to meet at his office on Charlotte Street. His office continued to be our meeting place until an office was later found.
Cheddi’s parents were poor sugar workers. He had ten siblings, still living at Port Mourant when he returned after his studies. Another aspect of his character that is not well known, as he never boasted about it, is that he took over responsibility for the family from the parents. He brought his siblings to Georgetown, one by one, for education and most were sent overseas for training in the fields of medicine, dentistry, law, nursing, technician and optometry.
But his greatest contribution came as he grew closer and closer to the problems of the exploited - the sugar workers, the waterfront and bauxite workers, the small farmers, the unemployed, the plight of women and children. His intellect was challenged to find solutions to these problems. He read voraciously and visited many areas of the then British Guiana. He sought answers and ways and means of tackling the problems.
He consulted with others - soon to become the hallmark of his being. Up to his death, he never ceased consulting people and never stopped searching for the best solutions.
With others, he arrived at the necessity of tackling the larger issue of exploitation - colonialism and as early as 1945, enunciated the need to break from colonial rule. He helped found the Political Affairs Committee which set as its aim, the establishment of a political party and four years later, the People’s Progressive Party was formed with the major objective of achieving independence.
From then on, the struggle he and his Party led was not easy. It was one challenge after another - one hard blow after another. The machinations of the cold warriors led by the USA used every device to frustrate the PPP from holding on to office after legitimately winning it. That process seems to have never stopped - certainly we are witnessing it again and again and frequently fuelled by the old guards of the former cold warriors.
Why is it that today some 60 years after the advent of Cheddi Jagan into the nation’s political life that he is so revered by the people and no matter how virulent the attacks, he still retains the love and respect of most Guyanese as well as an unstained international reputation?
I attended the launching of the 6th edition of The West on Trial last year at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre. The feature address was given by Kellawan Lall, whom he appointed as his Political Adviser when he became President in 1992, finally restoring democracy to a nation beaten into poverty and hopelessness.
Lall said this and it says a lot: “And so when Dr Jagan came on the scene and later wrote his book, people began to see themselves differently and became more self-confident. Dr Jagan had put them at the centre of his world - a world where there was freedom and freedom from want. It was the first time they got that feeling of not being just a statistic and a poor cane cutter or rice farmer. Dr Jagan had now put them on a pedestal and allowed them to see themselves as human beings who can be masters of their destiny.
It was that sense of hope that as a young man I saw all around me. And that is what I consider to be the most lasting impact of The West on Trial. The masses did not have to read it. They knew that this man Jagan for the first time in history saw them as people, went into their shabby homes, ate their plain foods and forever wearing his trade mark smile, and put them as the main players in a book that was being read not only in Guyana but overseas.”
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
Valentine’s Day 1997 by Janet Jagan
(Feb. 17, 2007)
I used to think that Valentine’s Day was a joyful day, one to take note of and do something pleasant on that day. I can remember as a child at school we used to make Valentine cards, using lacy paper that is usually connected to cakes and sweet things. Receiving a Valentine’s card with a “guess who” as a signature, was always exciting and caused endless guessing about who had left it on my school desk.
In later years, there were gifts on Valentine’s Day and cards for my children, then my grandchildren.
But on Valentine’s Day 1997, the worst possible thing took place. The day was ending pleasantly and comfortably. I was on the third floor of State House, the living quarters of the official residence. My husband, Cheddi came home late in the afternoon after a hard day at the Office of the President and climbing the three flights of stairs.
He deposited his pile of papers on a table and sat down near me. Our dog, Terror and our cat Elvis came to play under his feet. They were fun to watch in their love-hate relationship, sometimes, cuddling together and sometimes snarling at one another. Then he left for his study and I brought him his dinner there.
At midnight, I was awakened by Cheddi. He said he wasn’t feeling so well and had tried to telephone our doctor, Dr Hughley Hanoman, but the phone wasn’t working. He telephoned his nephew who contacted two doctors who came over to State House to examine him. It was decided that he should go to hospital for checks. But our medical services were not what they are today. There was no ambulance. I remember that we put Cheddi in a Berbice chair and the guards carried him down the three flights of stairs and into a car. He was taken to the Public Hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit.
Thus began the almost three weeks of sorrowing, pain and uncertainty that led to his demise on March 6, 1997. All during his travail, he remained the Cheddi we all knew and loved. He never complained, he never asked for anything, he smiled and was always contained, trying at his best to comfort his sorrowing family, never adding to our distress by appearing to be in pain or discomfort. When he could not speak, due to a tube in his throat, he gave no evidence of hurting, but wrote notes to assure us all.
He died as he lived – composed, kind, understanding, not allowing his pain, his obvious discomfort, his knowledge that he knew he could not come out alive to add to the awful pain his family felt.
Very soon we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. He remains alive in the hearts and minds of so many Guyanese – for who he was, what he did and how he conducted himself throughout his life and when he reached the zenith of his political life. He was a simple, yet profound man, a kind and gentle person who could be strong and demanding when he was fighting for the rights of oppressed people; he was an impressive public speaker who could influence thousands, yet he consulted all and sundry, from the porter to the academic, on issues that he considered important and not for one man’s decision alone. His legacy is for all to see and know. But what is more important is the love that so many had for him and still treasure.
For me, Valentine’s Day is the day that always reminds me of the loss of a great man, a loving husband, brother and father, father not only of his two children, but of the nation.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009