Guyanese author, educator (Professor), journalist, community activist, pandit and friend Shri Churaumanie Bissundyal passed away a week ago from complications arising out of heart surgery. He was author of several collections of poetry, plays and acclaimed novels, some of which won literary prizes. His writing was a political battle for the downtrodden and exposing wrong doings. He never compromised on his beliefs and ideas. Many have extolled his contribution to the world of writing. And he was also a champion of other writers. He often praised my social commentaries and polling in the Caribbean, Fiji and India and for championing the causes of Guyanese and the Indian diaspora.
Guyana, the Caribbean and the diaspora have lost an icon of literature and creativity, a true trailblazer who broke down barriers for Indo-Caribbean writers. He also had a long history of speaking out against social and political oppression becoming a harsh critic of Burnhamism and the growing religious intolerance of PNC dictatorship during which basic items needed for Hindu and Islamic rituals were banned. He had the most amazing courage to speak out against wrongdoings. He also served initially as a schoolteacher in Guyana, but Chur wanted to be a writer and he was very prolific churning out many works.
I salute Churaumanie who was a friend and or teacher (mentor) and an inspiration to thousands in a writing career that spanned almost fifty years. Bissundyal-ji would be remembered as one of the most important writers in the Indo-Caribbean diaspora because of the subjects he chose and for remaining faithful to these. Community publications in North America and newspapers and magazines in Guyana have all carried excellent articles extolling his contribution to literature.
His writings in various books gave voice to varied every aspects of life including family, birth, marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, death, joy, pain (physical and emotional), violence, hope, democracy, political injustice and much more. It is also noted that Dr. Bissundyal-ji was a scholar in Hinduism, very fluent in Hindi and Sanskrit. He trained many Guyanese and Trinis to become pandits. He also he taught Sanskrit to several pandits to enable them to better understand the Hindu scriptures.
Dr. Churaumanie Bissundyal was unquestionably a treasured author who produced a magnificent body of work that enriched Guyanese and Caribbean literature and writing in general. Writing came natural to him. It was indeed a privilege and honor to know and work with him over the last couple decades on varied issues pertaining to Guyana, the Guyanese diaspora in New York and his own rise as a writer and educator.
He went through a lot in his 68 years on earth. Although he lived a fulfilling life, it was not without its ups and downs. He expressed his disappointments especially with politics in Guyana and particularly the reluctance of those (in the PPP, as he opened up to me) who he helped to install into government (in 1992) to assist him when requested. He wrote articles for the Mirror newspaper, the organ of the PPP. His general writings touched on Guyanese determination, migration and the terror of living under Burnhamism. He focused on the Indo-caribbean experience but he also wrote on Amerindians and other Guyanese. He was a serious person and serious writer and he developed his characters and plot well in his literary works. He used fictional places that stood for reality. He brought out the experience of ordinary life. The characters in his novels tell of our times. His characters, humble men and women living their daily lives, have become real people of flesh and blood to us. Scholars, novelists and academicians are regaled by his writing style.
Only those familiar with aspects of his life know what a long, arduous road Dr. Bissundyal trod to reach the pinnacle of his achievement as an outstanding literary figure (poet, novelist, play wright) and Professor. He confided only in a handful of us who he considered as genuine friends and who made a sincere effort to guide and help him on his way to become an accomplished writer and professor.
Churaumanie-ji had a multifaceted personality -- journalist, writer, editor, historian, publisher, political commentator, actor, coach, pandit, tutor, mentor, playwright, actor, and script-writer for movies. He was among the Caribbean’s finest writer, poet, novelist, playwright, and teacher. And not surprisingly heartfelt tributes were paid by friends and fellow writers to this outstanding personality at the wake and viewing held for him in Hollis and Jamaica. His works on fiction and non-fiction were praised in obituaries on him.
Prof. Bissundyal was also a champion of democracy in Guyana contributing significantly in the struggle for free and fair elections. He was a Jagan loyalist. And when one talks about the field of journalism during the Burnham era Churaumanie’s name figure prominently. He wrote fearlessly. And he became, like so many of us, a victim of Burnhamism. The Black dictatorship sent him on punishing assignments to far corners of the country because of his advocacy for democracy and for being a loyalist soldier to Jagan’s PPP. But this helped him to master Guyana’s physical terrain making friends and establishing contacts wherever he worked.
After the restoration of democracy in 1992, when the PPP failed to utilize his vast talent, Churaumanie migrated to the US as a very dejected person as he confided with me and a handful of others about his ill-treatment at the hands of some elements in the PPP. He found these elements ungrateful given that he did so much for the party to return to office but these figures did not even lift a finger to help him achieve his objectives. He would often tell me, “they think with their belly and bank accounts, not their brain”. He would sarcastically add, “Have you noticed how their belly was growing and their brain shrinking”. He worked at various jobs to fulfill the needs of his family not only in Guyana but in the USA as well.
In New York, Bissundyal pursued higher education part time while working full time at odd jobs. He eventually completed a PhD in literary writing; his achievement was celebrated by the community. Several grass roots activists traveled out of state to attend the commencement ceremony where he has granted his doctorate.
Dr. Bissundyal wanted to return home and serve his country. He applied for a teaching position at UG and even offered his services to the Ministry of Education; all were turned down. He became very sour because the party he fought for when in opposition did not lift a finger to help him. He told me he sought the assistance of prominent individuals in the PPP to assist him but virtually no one bothered with him. Not surprisingly, he did not have nice things to say about some individuals in the PPP and some of the figures at UG that he helped to climb in their academic career. He sought my intervention with PPP government officials to help with a lecture position at UG. I tried but was not successful. I asked a PPP female member on the UG Council why Churaumanie was not hired. She said she tried to assist but the Council and party leadership were not encouraging. Bissundyal dismissed that account pointing out no effort was made to assist him. He claimed several PPP appointees on the Council were hostile towards him because he penned a few critical remarks about the behavior of some in government. Government officials were preoccupied with their self-interests, enriching themselves rather than aiding old comrades who fought for the restoration of democratic governance – the epitome of ingratitude (nimakharamism was how Bissundyal put it). (It is noted that PPP never recognized Dr. Bissundyal for his contribution to literature or the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana).
I tried with letters of recommendations at UWI, UTT, Fiji, Mauritius and other places for Dr. Bissundyal to work as a lecturer. Eventually, he landed a position as a Professor of English in Fiji where he taught for several years. He never stopped praising me for my using contacts to help him to get the position. In Fiji, he received accolades for his work; he was described as a workaholic. And he was warned that he was maintaining too rigorous a work schedule for his health but he did not let up. While in Fiji, we kept in touch on a regular basis. He often spoke on the phone and communicated on emails of how much he enjoyed teaching there and how he was disappointed with the politics of Guyana. He was a very productive academic churning out many pieces of academia. He also coached a cricket team in Fiji. He also formed an actors group in Fiji that staged plays for Chur loved theater.
Prof. Bissundyal did have a few regrets. I remember one article in which Bissundyal attacked Ravi Dev, Baytoram Ramharack, and myself to defend the PPP against our critical appraisals of it. But his comments were taken in good gesture and we remained friends. We knew Bissundyal meant well for his party, and we recognized he was not mean spirited against us or anyone. And he was also quite apologetic for his comments on us. When his own party abandoned him, he naturally turned to us for help. And despite his ill-treatment by the party, to the end of his life, he remained a supporter of the PPP. He also spoke of his disappointment with Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan for fraternizing with those who had persecuted Indians including the two and for not speaking out against the wrongs of the coalition government and the ill-treatment of sugar workers and farmers.
Bissundyal stood up to his beliefs and wrote for peace, change, rights, and revolution. He wrote extensively about the oppression faced by Indo-Guyanese and Amerindians.
Bissundyal was the epitome of strength and generosity. He championed so many causes with such kindness and generosity. He loved family, friends, country, and his community in America. Bissundyal served Guyana with patriotism. He worked at various jobs throughout the length and breadth of Guyana – on the coast and the islands and in the interior. He was victimized during the Burnham dictatorship, and he joined the struggle for free and fair elections. He was a Jagan loyalist and he wrote for the Mirror newspaper and helping the PPP. He also penned occasional letters in Stabroek News and Kaieteur News. He had many an exchange with those in the literary world. He was critical of their works and them of his. Despite the relentless barrage of attacks on him, he never allowed these to dampen his incredible spirit. He cherished a good fight and always put up a strong riposte.
Dr. Bissundyal’s generous nature and literary talents will be missed by all those who were familiar with his work and or were privileged to known him and or mentored by him. The world today seems a duller, lesser place with Churaumanie no longer around. But his literary works have left an indelible impression on readers. They should be included in CXC curricula. Some of these are: Prometheus in Dante's Hell, Modern Western Fiction and Sanskrit Aesthetics and Theory Glorianna, The Stream of Red Tears, The Cleavage, Whom the Kiskadees Call, The Trick and the Raajah, From Ganges to Demerary, The Migrant Error, The Jaguar and the Flute, I is a Jumbie, From Palos to Guanahani, The Labaria Puran.