It is with a heavy heart I read of the passing in England of celebrated Indo-Caribbean novelist Lakshmi Persaud (nee Seetaram) who taught for a period of time at Queens College when she lived in Guyana with her Berbician born husband, Dr Bishnodat Persaud who pre-deceased (2016 at age 82) her. She also taught in Trinidad and Jamaica and spent considerable time doing research in Barbados where her son is a prominent economics advisor. Dr Lakshmi was admired for her writing skills and her articulation of views and positions on socio-cultural issues. Lakshmi had a large following of Indo Caribbean and other literary enthusiasts in UK, Canada, USA, Guyana, and the Caribbean. Those she taught at in Guyana and Trinidad said she was an outstanding teacher. She and her husband loved interacting with Indo-Caribbean and other West Indians wherever they traveled. They several engagements in New York where she did book readings and talked about her writings.
In New York, the diaspora honors the memory of Dr. Lakshmi Persaud and (previously her husband) and her important contribution to the field of literature and specifically of Caribbean women’s writing. Whenever she (and or her late husband) visited USA, they were hosted by Indo-Caribbean writers for lectures. It was an honor for me to meet her and Bishnodat in London, New York, and Trinidad on multiple occasions and their sharing personal experiences. What a lovely couple! They were very good to Indo-Caribbeans and other groups in the diaspora sharing their books and experiences and hosting several of us at different locations at their hotels or exclusive clubs. Whenever we met or spoke on the phone, they would praise those of us who were dedicated to the struggle for free and fair elections in Guyana. They were familiar with our names (Ravi Dev, Baytoram Ramharack, myself, among others) in the press constantly writing on human rights violations in Guyana. Bishnodath often probed me about certain individuals whose names appeared in Guyana that he was not familiar with.
Lakshmi was born in Trinidad and studied in Trinidad and at Queens University, Belfast where she earned her doctorate. While a student, she met Canje born Bishnodat (called Vishnu) who was doing a doctorate in Economics, and they later got married. The union produced three children. Bishnodat was an eminent economist who headed the Economics Department of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. He led the group that prepared the Economic Recovery Plan of 1988 in Guyana and several other missions on economic reforms in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. He advised the Indian government to pursue market reforms that led to India’s phenomenal growth from 1990 onwards. He was a private shy person who did not like to share economic views publicly unlike wife Lakshmi. They held me in confidence and related several private incidents, anecdotes, and engagements they had with Guyanese politicians including Sir Shridath Ramphal, Desmond Hoyte, Clive Thomas, Cheddi Jagan, Bharrat Jagdeo, Hamilton Green, among others and about JE Green (when he was lecturing at MONA). Dr Bishnodat worked closely with Ramphal to reform several state-centric Commonwealth economies. He was at one time the leader of a research group that comprised Manmohan Singh, who went on to become Finance Minister and Prime Minister of India. He also worked with the eminent Guyanese economist Prof Clive Thomas. Bishnodat and Lakshmi hosted several visiting Guyanese at their home in Jamaica. He also hosted me at a private posh exclusive club in London where we reviewed economic policy of Guyanese rulers. Bishnodat had a special bonding with me and trusted me with revelations of life of prominent Caribbean individuals including Guyanese politicians. We also made many conversations on the phone, and he clarified several economic concepts that I thought I understood. He spoke of errors of Jagan, Burnham, Janet, and Hoyte in economic policies. He praised some of Jagdeo’s policies and was critical of others. Given his experience and prominence internationally, Bishnodat felt Jagdeo such have pursued a trans-global leadership position like head of an international organization (on Climate, or on economic reform) or even of CARICOM (that would have required an exemption since a host country national can’t head the organization).
Dr Lakshmi, who also did a postgraduate Diploma in Education at University of Reading, England, made immense contributions in the field of Indian Caribbean literature. Her novels were masterpieces depicting real life. She wrote with great feeling and warmth and her writings have helped to focus literature on Indo-Caribbean people. She elevated the reach of Indian Caribbean literature to a wider circle in the UK, North America, and the Caribbean where she had large number of admirers. Her novels focused on the Indo-Caribbean experience and she revealed to me her first-hand experience of the marginalization of Indians in Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, and UK.
Lakshmi was a forward thinker and her novels focused on different subjects including on most difficult period of living in Guyana during the 1970s and 1980s when basic foods were banned from importation and consumption and about exploitation of women. She showed women a new light in being a strong, independent individual in one novel. Her intellect and knowledge and experience about writing and literature and her teaching skills were a guiding spirit for many youngsters to write in English literature. Her usage of simple language as well as of usage of mellifluous words will continue to remind us of the power of expression. The vivid imagery of her writings about life in the societies she lived in will always remain a rich encapsulation of the Indo-Caribbean experience.
Lakshmi was deservingly recognized for her prize-winning novels and contribution to literature and education by universities in England and UWI with Honorary doctorate. She was also a recipient several other honors including by the Government of T&T.
In NY, those who met Lakshmi and Bishnodat have only words of praise, of their kindness and generosity and of her writing skills and his brilliance as an economist. They both have left behind a cherished memory and great works for us to read and enjoy. (On a separate note, Bishnodat was a cricket enthusiast and an outstanding player captaining his university’s West Indian team while he was a student).