SOCIAL and political activism plays a very vital role in bringing about social and political (and by extension economic) changes for the betterment of a society. In every village in Guyana, there are a few individuals who take a lead role in social and political activism to improve community, and by extension, national life.
They are unsung heroes never recognised or written about for the important role they played in village life. In Ankerville where I grew up, one such person was Harry Bhai, a” next-door neighbor” of the Jagans. A “four-foot” trench separates the homes of Harry Bhai and Cheddi. Harry Bhai was a very dedicated son of the soil who committed his life to improving living conditions in the village and in the nation. Just as how President’s Irfaan’s grandmother worked tirelessly for Guyana’s independence and against electoral frauds of 1968 onwards, so did Harry Bhai.
He was a dedicated Jaganite and probably just a few years younger than the great Cheddi, whom we all admired in the village and nationally.
As a child growing up, I used to call him Uncle Harry Boy, not realising that he was really referred to as “Bhai” (meaning brother) in Indian kinship. Those around the same age group were called bhai or bahin (sister) or dada (older brother) or didi (older sister). It would be disrespectful to call an older person bhai or bahin. So Uncle Harry Bhai was used by those much younger than him.
Uncle Harry Bhai was very learned. Many would go to him for advice. He was among a few well-read individuals in Ankerville. He read voluminously, literature from everywhere. He would devour all the newspapers. He was held in high standing in the community. He was among a few of his age group who could read and write English. He was also well versed in Hindi. He used to ride a bicycle selling The Mirror newspaper. He also organised night school for the younger folk to learn Hindi. I recall youngsters, including myself, walking the streets in the night with hand lamp or gas lamp during the 1960s to take Hindi lessons and to learn to sing the Indian national anthem as well as Vande Mataram.
I used to visit Harry Bhai’s family regularly; they grew a lot of vegetables and had plenty fruit trees in the yard that was in front of the paddy fields. Harry Bhai had one brother name Narine (married to Auntie Dayo) and sisters Ghulwa, Golin and Tose, who migrated to England. Their father’s name was Ballie and mother was Seelochanee. Harry Bhai dedicated his life to make life in Ankerville and Guyana better. He helped to improve community life.
He played a lead role in political, social, and religious activism from the area. He was from the Arya Samaj reformist movement of Hinduism and had many argumentative sessions with Sanatanists. He took a leadership role in raising funds to build the Port Mourant Vedic Arya Samaj Mandir and primary school that also became a ‘typing school.’ He would organise meetings for Dr. Jagan and the PPP. When Dr. Jagan would come to Port Mourant to hold meetings, Harry Bhai would be among the first to know and he would spread ‘neota’ (the announcement or word around). Cheddi would come regularly to Port Mourant and as little children we looked forward to Jagan’s visit as his night meeting allowed us to stay out quite late, rather be tied indoor burning the midnight lamp to prepare for Common Entrance or GCE exams.
And Harry Bhai would also be in the midst of organising social events. But he himself did not mix socially; he neither imbibed alcohol nor smoked cigarettes and discouraged both and one would never see him in a rum shop or ‘messing around’. But he would be at every funeral, wake, marriage ceremony, jhandi, bhagwat, Ramayana and even Koran Shariefs or Christian home service if invited. He would attend these events and not be bashful in giving speeches. I can’t think of a function where he did not give a speech, some a repetition. He, himself, organised several of these programs at the Arya Samaj Mandir.
Harry Bhai’s humble origins and his commitment to uplifting the lives of others and his honesty, decency and dedication are a source of inspiration for us all. Harry Bhai was also instrumental in organising “Night School to learn Hindi, India’s national anthem, and Vande Mataram” which by extension allowed us to be grounded in our culture instead of becoming creolised.
Those of us who grew up in Ankerville and Port Mourant prior to the 1990s would know Harry Bhai well and would never forget the role he played in the independence movement, in struggle against electoral fraud, and community development. The whole community is proud of the life and service of Harry Bhai. He is a shining example for every young boy or girl to emulate in public life today in service to community and nation. Ankerville, PPP and Guyana are forever indebted to this great son. He deserves accolades and recognition for his work.