Stories by Janet Jagan
(A story written for her grandchildren)
When Grandpa Cheddi was a little boy in Port Mourant, a sugar estate, he played and had lots of fun in ways much different from yours. You live in a city. Grandpa Cheddi lived in the country. There was no electricity, or refrigerator or running water or toys to play with. But little boys found a lot of things to do, and many were fun.
He used to fish in the trenches, sometimes with cast-net and sometimes with a string tied to a stick and a hook attached. He caught a lot of fish too, and took them home to his mother, Bachoni, your great grandmother. She had only one name, as did your great grandfather, Jagan. Your last name came from great grandfather Jagan, who was quite a man. He wore a big felt hat, with a wide brim, and he pulled his pants up way above the belt. And the belt was very wide. He was very tall and had a strong, booming voice. You would have liked him.
Great grandmother Bachoni was very small, very quiet, except when one of her children was bad; then she could talk to them hard. They learned early that size isn't what counts and they all behaved well and listened to her. Life wasn't easy for her. She had eleven children, six boys and five girls and brought them all up to be strong, healthy and hard-working. Your Grandpa Cheddi had to work when he was a little boy. You don't have to do that, but he did or else the family might not have had enough food to eat or clothes to wear. Grandpa Cheddi had to help in the kitchen garden, weeding and watering the plants. When there was enough for market, he used to go with great grandmother Bachoni and sell the greens and fruits at the Port Mourant market place.
He also helped with planting, cutting and threshing of paddy. But that could be fun too. He used to sit in the fork of a tree at the centre of the kharian or threshing ground and at the same time prod the oxen which walked round and round, threshing the paddy. That is how they removed the paddy from the stalk and after it went to the mill, it could be used to eat and sell. Sometimes too, Grandpa Cheddi had to go into the pastures or paddy fields to mind the cattle. That was fun too, because there was so much to see - birds hopping and looking for paddy seeds, sometimes little animals scampering across the field and sometimes even a snake to dodge.
To protect the threshed paddy from being stolen, Grandpa Cheddi used to spend the night sleeping on the stacked paddy or lie with his hands under his head, watching the mysteries and magnificence of the starry sky. There were plenty of mosquitoes, buzzing all night. He would have to light a fire to smoke away the mosquitoes.
There are many pleasures of the country life. He learned to climb a coconut tree, pick coconuts, cut them and then drink the pure, delicious water. Or find a mango tree, even if it was not his own, and eat mangoes, or cashew or golden apple or cherries, or cut a cane, slice off the husk and chew the luscious, sweet stalk.
This was a barefoot Grandpa Cheddi, whose feet were tough to walk in the backdam and jump trenches. He would shoot birds with a slingshot (a bad practice), run a kite through the fields and feel the pride when it rose high in the sky, higher than that of the other boys, or sometimes playing bad, cutting the lines of other kites by attaching slivers from a broken bottle onto his kite line.
The Port Mourant boys would collect wood on the foreshore for the annual burning of the Holi at Phagwah and after the burning, throw mud and abeer (red dye) at one another. Grandma Bachoni would get cross when Grandpa Cheddi ruined his clothing. She had no money to spare and had no-one to help with the washing. No such thing as a washing machine in those days!
When your Dad and Aunt Nadira were little, they used to go to Port Mourant for their holidays and experience a lot of the fun your Grandpa Cheddi had when he was a little boy.
What a pity they died before you were born and you never got to know your two paternal great grandparents, who would have loved you more than you could ever imagine.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
Dolly Yellow Breast stood on the ledge of the window of Room 4020 and peeped in. She saw a man in bed. It looked like Uncle Cheddi. She tapped on the window with her small beak and he heard. He turned his head to the window and their eyes met. She tapped again on the window and he smiled at her.
Dolly Yellow Breast had been flying for many days and nights -all the way from Guyana to the hospital in America. She had heard that Uncle Cheddi was sick and she had to see him. She flew and flew, through rainstorms and high winds. But as she flew north, it became colder and colder. Dolly was so cold that many times she would stop at window ledges of houses to catch some of the warmth inside.
After some time of flying around and around, she found the building where Uncle Cheddi was. She went to every window in the huge hospital, looking for Uncle Cheddi, room after room, until she came to Ward 40. Now she had found him and her excitement was so intense that she could not stop flapping her wings and tapping on the window pane.
Every day, Dolly sat on the ledge outside the window and watched her beloved Uncle Cheddi. She remembered when she first saw him, walking in the National Park. Every day she had followed him as he took his long walk. She saw him talking and playing with children, and many who waved to him. She loved to follow him and time after time, he would smile when he saw her on a tree stump or fluttering over a hibiscus bush. She heard him say to the lady who walked with him: "What a beautiful bird!"
One day as Dolly Yellow Breast looked through the window she saw Uncle Cheddi in a wheelchair. And then he was gone. The room was empty.
Dolly flew all around the hospital looking again for Uncle Cheddi. For the whole day, Dolly went from window to window. There were hundreds of windows, but she couldn't find Uncle Cheddi.
Finally, on the seventh floor, she saw a balcony surrounded by many windows. She perched on the railings and could see inside. There was Uncle Cheddi sitting at a table. Dolly tapped on a window; she tapped and tapped with her little beak until he heard and looked at her. He smiled. He had remembered the little yellow-breasted bird.
Dolly saw Uncle Cheddi speak to a lady in white. She opened the window and Dolly hopped inside and went to the table. He smiled at her, then she flew to his shoulder and sat there for some time. She chirped her greetings in his ear, and he smiled and smiled.
Every day after that, Dolly visited her friend and was very quiet while he read his papers and wrote in his note book. Sometimes she sang for him and she knew he liked that.
Did Dolly fly back to Guyana when Uncle Cheddi left the hospital? Someone said that when she returned to Guyana she moved from the National Park to State House where he lived. Yes, it was true! Dolly lived in a tree on the grounds of State House where she could see her Uncle Cheddi every day.
(Written at the Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in Washington DC for my grandchildren when it appeared that President Cheddi Jagan would recover and move from the 4th floor to the 7th floor, the "Eisenhower Suite ",for recovery.)
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
Barney the otter, better known in Guyana as the water dog, was stretched out on a big rock in the middle of the Potaro River. He was enjoying the sharp rays of the sun and was almost asleep when he felt his tail being pulled vigorously. He gave a loud bark and shouted: “What's going on? Who is troubling me?”
A gruff voice replied: “What are you doing on my rock? Get off and do it quickly if you know what's good for you!”
There was no mistaking the voice. It was Boris the alligator. Barney always kept his distance from Boris, for very good reasons, but on this occasion he was annoyed, particularly when he had been enjoying the delicious sun warming his skin. “So, you own the rock?” said Barney.
The reply was a growl from Boris. Barney decided on a new approach. “See here, Boris, it's a big rock and there's plenty of space for two of us.”
Boris pulled himself on the rock and saw that what Barney said was true. “OK,” said Boris, “I don't mind sharing the rock once you don't bother me.”
So Barney and Boris shared the rock and Boris was soon fast asleep in the burning sun. Barney was a little afraid of falling asleep near Boris. What if Boris became hungry? Barney stretched out again in the sun, but was careful not to fall asleep.
Later in the morning, Boris woke up and saw that Barney was awake.
“Why didn't you sleep?” asked Boris.
“Well, I wasn't so sleepy,” said Barney. “I bet you were afraid I'd eat you,” said the alligator. “But I'm not hungry. I had a big meal this morning.”
Barney the water dog decided that he would solve the problem and continue to use the rock. Barney was a great fisherman, the best of all the otters. Every morning he caught two big fish and carried them to the rock. When Boris came, he gobbled up the fish and slept under the sun.
Now and again the alligator and the water dog would chat together, exchange information and tell each other jokes as they sunned themselves. In no time they were friends, but Barney never forgot to bring the two fish to the rock each day.
One day Barney was swimming in the Potaro River when he felt something grab him. It was a huge anaconda snake and for once, Barney was frightened. The snake tried to wrap itself around the otter, who fought it off.
The struggle of the snake and the otter, churned up the water. The otter's bark and sharp cries could be heard far off. Barney was tiring, but not the snake. It looked like the end for the little water dog.
Just then Boris appeared and he grabbed the snake with his powerful jaws. A ferocious battle took place. The snake tried to coil itself around the alligator and the alligator tried to bite off the head of the snake. For a long time the two fought.
There was a terrible turmoil in the river. At last Boris won and the snake was dead. Boris pulled himself onto the rock and there was Barney, still shivering with fright. “It's OK,” said Boris. Barney thanked him for saving his life. “You're my friend,” said Boris. “I had to help.”
And so Barney the otter and Boris the alligator continued to share their rock in the Potaro River of Guyana.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009
Saki the monkey, wanted to get to the other side of the river. He climbed up one of the trees which was closest to the river, hoping that its branches would meet trees on the other side of the river, but they were too far apart.
Saki went to the edge of the river and looked longingly at the other side. While he was sitting there, he saw Boris the alligator floating by.
Boris said; “Hop on my back and I'll give you a ride across the river, if that is where you want to go.”
Saki, staying carefully some distance from Boris, said, “Look Boris, let's be frank. I want to get to the other side of the river. You are willing to take me.
But how can I be sure that I'll reach the other side? Maybe you'll eat me before we get there.”
“I see your point, Saki I don't mind making a satisfactory arrangement with you. Why don't you give me something nice to eat in return for the trip and then you don't have to worry about my eating you.”
Saki went out and caught two big rats and brought them to Boris, who ate them up and called out; “You can hop on my back now,” which Saki did. And soon he was being ferried across the river.
In the jungle, everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Soon many of the small animals had heard about Boris taking Saki safely across the river and went to Boris, asking how much he would charge for the trip. Lily Labba asked the price of a return trip. The most popular price was two fish, three for a round trip.
Very soon, Boris had a brisk business going. He was earning as much as twelve fish a day, which made life easy. He didn't have to dive and search for fish anymore, just swim across the river when a passenger came along.
Very soon, other alligators saw what was going on and offered their
services. Boris was not very happy about the competition, but he soon learned to be smarter than the other alligators. He was there earlier than the others and offered reduced prices for the trip.
That is how the animal ferry service began across the river. It not only offered a much-needed service, but it kept the alligators so busy, they no longer troubled the little animals of the jungle.
Copyright © Nadira Jagan-Brancier 2009