Hinduism is not a “religion” but a “way of life” – the Sanataan (ancient) Dharma. There being no equivalent word for Hindu Dharma, on enquiry, one master waited and then pointed to someone passing and said, “That is a Hindu”. The point being that Dharma can be known only in action, and those prescribed actions have to be performed by persons, each practising his/her “sva (own) dharma”.
I have been involved in grassroots Hindu work for decades. And if there is one person I could point to as being a “Hindu” in the sense described above, it would be “Uncle Rudy” of D’Edward Village, WCB, who just passed away. He is actually Kumbkarran Rampersad, but “Uncle Rudy” he was to young and old. This is my tribute to him.
He was born in D’Edward in 1952, then a backwater fishing village, a satellite to nearby Blairmont Sugar Estate. He attended primary school, passed his “Preliminary Certificate” examinations, then went on to the new secondary school founded in his village after the 1960s ethnic riots. But after matriculating with five GCE subjects, there were no jobs in the offing. UG had been launched at QC with night classes since 1963, but this was out of the question to a poor village lad from West Berbice.
He eventually landed a stint as a lab technician at Blairmont Sugar Factory, but when his initiative and drive were noticed, he was soon sent into the cane fields as a “field foreman”, before being promoted to a “field supervisor”. While these are grand-sounding titles, the pay was mediocre at best. Especially since Rudy, in 1975, at the ripe age of 23, was married to a Miss Nirwatee from No 2 Village across the Berbice River. She would become “Aunty Dato”, as well known today and as fine an exemplar of Hindu Dharma as Uncle Rudy. It was an arranged marriage that would make anyone believe in arrangements “by the book”. They were still together when he passed away 46 years later.
The couple planted a kitchen garden, reared chickens and ducks – even as Uncle Rudy did some fishing on the nearby Berbice River. All of this to save enough to build a house – without a loan – on the lot owned by Uncle Rudy’s parents. Seeing no future on the sugar estate, the couple bought a car for Rudy to run as a taxi, and then decided to open a “shop”. This started more as a shed at the side of their house with a large “drop” wooden window that was propped up when the shop was “open”. They began by repackaging and selling packets of “aji”, loose teabags and cigarettes – staples in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood.
They saved and “expanded” into groceries, with Rudy crossing over in his friends’ fishing boats to New Amsterdam, where he purchased small quantities of basics, like rice and “aloo” etc, from the market. Sometimes he would cross several times. They converted an oil drum into an oven, and Aunt Dato baked and sold salara – always a hit. They continued saving, and decided to expand into haberdasheries: going by bus to Georgetown and returning with items in polyethylene bags. It soon became necessary to hire a special bus to transport the goods. Special relationships were forged with merchants in Georgetown, who found them to be good credit risks. They then bought their own station wagon, and eventually a canter. Their “Back Shop” in D’Edward had become a fixture.
All the while, they were intensely involved with the D’Edward Mandir, around which their lives revolved outside of their home. It was through this association and their charitable works that I got to know the couple. Their home became a stopping (and sleeping) point not only for me, but any Hindu worker who visited from across the world. They were enthusiastic participants in the annual Divali Motorcade, and their Mandir was always in the running.
Life would be incomplete if there were no challenges, and this came in the form of an impaired kidney of Uncle Rudy’s, that forced a trip to India in 2003 and then again in 2004, to have Aunty Dato donate one of her kidneys to her beloved husband. There were other trips to deal with the ancillary complications from the kidney transplant, but, through it all, Uncle Rudy remained stoic, refusing to take pain killers. The kidney never failed.
May he remain forever in the arms of Sri Krishna.