The history of a first-generation indentured couple

…laying the foundation for success of Muneshwer

Continued from Sunday, January 3, 2021 edition

Ghurbatore and Amru, like other indentured labourers, were very industrious transforming hundreds of acres of thick forest into productive paddy fields and a huge savannah for cattle grazing. They purchased cattle for milk production. At one time, their stock had crossed 700, including several Holstein. Ghurbatore and his sons tended to the paddy fields and cattle while the ladies sold milk and attended to other domestic chores. Milk was sold to the public and or to produce homemade pure ghee. The cows were milked in the backdam and placed in dozens of milk cans and transported by the train at Trainline or on bicycles to the main road or by punt or canoe to Canje or Rose Hall backdam. The milk cans were collected and transported by hard female labour on the head and/or on bicycles. Amru and her two daughters and daughters-in-law sold in bulk or retail. The cow dung was used as manure on the rice fields. Ghurbatore and Amru was a generous couple, allowing others to graze their cattle on their leased land as well as on their rice land after the harvest. Cow dung was given away as manure.
The two daughters moved on after marriage while the three sons remained at home with their spouse and children for some time before moving out in their own homes built by Amru and Ghurbatore. As was the tradition, Ghurbatore and Amru gave their daughters’ husband dowry (land grant, cattle, cash, jewellery). The custom was brought from India and practiced for a few generations even to this day. Ghurbatore also set up the daughters and their husbands for success with housing and financial support to help raise their families. They got houses. The two girls were successful in family business. Naurangya’s son Muneshwer received a cash grant to start his business. Sancharee received assistance as a vendor in the market and inherited rice land and cattle. Ghurbatore built Naurangya a house in Ankerville on a large plot of land with many fruit frees behind Port Mourant Hospital. Sancharee and her husband were accommodated in a cottage a few houses away from where Ghurbatore and Amru lived. (Sancharee was wed to Ramjee Singh, who was given the revered title of Babu. He was an indentured labourer who came to Guiana in 1912. Sancharee and Ramjee had several children – Phulmatee, Lilmatee, Inderjeet or Hindu, Golin, Baljeet, Bethlyn, Boodoo, and Sugrim). Naurangya had only one child – Muneshwer. As the oldest grandson, Muneshwer, born in 1910, was the favourite and was showered with lots of gifts by his grandparents Ghurbatore and Amru. When he got married in the 1930s, he also received lots of cash gifts. His grandparents set him up in business, opening a clothing shop next to Roop Mahal in Haswell; also, in later years, his mamu or mother’s brother, Mahadeo, my aja, loaned him cash to assist with the business. Aja could not read or write and did not trust banks; Aja entrusted Muneshwer with his savings that was used to expand Muneshwer’s business. It was the expectation of Ghurbatore that Muneshwer would help his cousins, the grandchildren of Amru and Ghurbatore. Muneshwer did train my father, Baldat, to become a tailor. As he did for his daughters, Ghurbatore built homes for Rajaram and Mahase. My aja inherited the kutiya of his parents. There he raised his five children – Ramrattan, Baldat, Balraj, Eva, and Sambhu.
After his success at Haswell, Port Mourant, Muneshwer moved to Georgetown sometime in late 1940s or early 1950s. There, he established the largest hardware and that remained so for decades. Interaction between Muneshwer with his cousins was limited although from time to time he provided accommodation and/or hospitality for cousins who visited Georgetown. Muneshwer had his own large family to care. A few cousins were accepted at Queen’s College or UG during the 1960s and 1970s and Muneshwer provided housing for a short period as they searched for rentals; they moved out when they found rentals. When Muneshwer made the move to Georgetown and was settling in, Naurangya remained behind in Port Mourant. Naurangya returned to the little kutilla where she had lived with her parents and siblings in the same yard as brother Rajaram. Some years later, Muneshwer took her to Georgetown; she never liked the big city and constantly complained of loneliness, missing her siblings in Port Mourant. She wanted to return to Port Mourant. When she died in 1961, she was entombed in Georgetown rather than in Port Mourant where her parents and siblings were buried. My father and my cha cha Ramrattan and my aja and his brother Rajaram went to the funeral.
As was the custom at the time, when grandchildren were married, they received gifts of land or cash or cattle or jewellery from parents or grandparents. Besides Muneshwer, other grandkids also received gifts. When Golin got married, Ghurbatore and Amru gifted a cow and a calf to the dulahin and her husband, Pandit Bangat). As it was the custom among the older generations, my aja also gifted a cow to my eldest sister in marriage.
However, traditionally, females were gifted less wealth than sons who inherited the bulk of the property of hundreds of acres of productive rice land. But the land and cattle were still communally owned and planted for the extended clan. The indentured wanted to hold on to their property. Ghurbatore was the boss and was reluctant to part from his land and cows till death when Amru took charge of family affairs. My aji died young and my father and his four other siblings were raised without a mother. Amru helped to take care of the five including the spouses of Ramrattan and Baldat. Long before his death, Ghurbatore assisted two of his sons to go into small business – Mahase in tailoring and running a general clothing-related shop; Rajaram managed a ploughing enterprise using ox and a team of workers. Mahase mentored Muneshwer in business and tailoring. My aja did not pursue business, preferring instead to tend to rice land and cattle to continue the father’s ancestral tradition. My father’s mother died young before any of the five children (Ramrattan, Baldat, Baleraj, Eva, and Simbhudas had wed. After marriage, my father ran a shop in Ankerville and Simbhudas had a shop in Bloomfield). Aja lent his savings to his siblings and nephews and nieces, and they invested it into wealth for themselves. Aja lacked skills to transform his assets into greater wealth as like his parents, he could not read or write. Not surprisingly, he was not as wealthy as his siblings. It is also the tradition in Indian families for the oldest son to imitate the father and continue his occupation. Thus, Mahadeo, aka, Bharka Bhai spent his entire life in rice cultivation and cattle rearing. Mahase and his children (Beta Bhai, Arjune, Betty, and Buddy) had no interest in farming. Rajaram’s nine children assisted with farming duties.
Aja partnered with Rajaram to purchase a tractor in early 1950s. They were among the earliest farmers to acquire a tractor for ploughing of the large acreage of paddy fields. The tractor was also used to assist non-family members with ploughing. Rajaram and his sons were the drivers of the tractor; my aja showed no interest to drive the tractor, preferring to stay in the backdam taking care of the assets. The two brothers or their sons took turns, spending weeks at a time at the backdam.
Ghurbatore died during the early 1940s and Amru late 1940s. The property, rice land and cattle they acquired during their four decades in Guiana, would be split up among the children. Mahase lost interest in tending to cattle and rice cultivation and was compensated with cash for his share of inheritance. The other two brothers attended to the land as partners with demarcated sections. The cattle belonged equally to Mahadeo and Rajaram, who cooperated rearing their cattle and cultivating rice. Before his death, Mahadeo divided up his rice land and cattle among his children. Rajaram also divided up his land and cattle among his children. My father teamed up with Rajaram in herding his cattle. He also teamed up with his brother Ramrattan in rice cultivation. After the death of Mahadeo and Rajaram in the late 1960s and 1966, respectively, the flock had depleted. Many were stolen or eaten by jaguars or tigers at Canje back or the savannah, and some sold. My father kept a few cattle and some died from a severe drought while the rest were sold before we migrated to America in 1977.
The inheritance of Ghurbatore and Amru was not equally shared among the grandchildren. Thus, some were more economically more successful than others. Nevertheless, the indentured couple laid the foundation for the economic and educational achievements of their progeny.