Visit to the Essequibo Island in Guyana is one of my most memorable cultural journeys on a ship so far. Although I have lots of experience in crossing the river ‘Brahmaputra’ in Assam (India) as my in-laws are rooted in the famous Majuli island but, this journey was fun and an uniqueness in traversing across the wide Demerara River on a huge ship.
I was invited as a special guest artiste to deliver a lecture demonstration upon ‘DANCE’, organized by the Radha Krishna Foundation in collaboration with the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC), High Commission of India, Guyana. The program was organised on January 7, 2017 at the Cotton Field Secondary School, Essequibo.
My daughter Bella named the Demerara river as the ‘Chocolaty River’, as its colour is somewhat brown. I alongwith my husband Jayanta Bhagawati and Bella along with the organizers started from Georgetown exactly at 8:30 am and reached Parika (the ship point) at 10 am. The ship leaves from here at 12 pm. All the ongoing cars reaches early to load themselves for the on toward journey, we had our priority pass arranged by the organisers.
During these 2 hours of wait, we clicked photos and tasted the sweet pineapples. The sun was hot and thankfully there seemed no signs of rain, as it often comes as surprise in Guyana! On time, we slowly moved our cars into the ship and had the lunch prepared by the ladies Ashmin and Chandra of the Radha Krishna Foundation. This huge ship sailed fast and the cool breeze was playing heavy with our hair. We came across few islands to reach to ours, they are all dense with trees and plants and it took us almost 90 minutes to reach Supernaam the coast line of the Essequibo Island.
Then from thereon we drove our car for another 45 minutes to reach to our program venue the Cotton Field Secondary School. Jayanta checked the technicalities like lights, sound and the projector. And the Foundation members started arranging the venue for the evening. We moved fast to our accommodation as it was almost 3 pm and we need to have some quick food and rest too before the show. The show was scheduled at 8 pm.
The Essequibo is one of the many islands in Guyana and I’m fully flattered with its natural bounty, big houses with expansive front and backyard, roadside fruit trees and above all the Indian feeling. It is so relaxing to see people living in such open spaces with no pollution and most importantly enjoying home grown fruits like mango, banana, etc. and above all, I loved the serenity.
We were accommodated in the beautiful house of Mr. Shankar Mohan who resides there with his wife Mrs. Sunita Mohan and sons Kuber and Tarun. They have a Mandir named Cotton Field/Bush Lot Shree Satyam Mandir wherein the space is offered to the Foundation for training of Indian Classical dance, Yoga, Tabla, Harmonium, Hindi, etc. The Radha Krishna Foundation collaborated for all these initiatives with the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC), High Commission of India, Guyana.
After some rest and as the evening was rolling down, we started our makeup and got ready for the evening. The program started on time and thus I underway the lecture demonstration upon ‘DANCE’. The spectators summing up to more than hundred in numbers, warmly welcomed by thoughts and interestingly provoked the performance presentation. This evening really had some personal touch in the way the gathering encouraged the performers and showing interest in knowing in-depth knowledge about dance history, its aspects and transformations. And why not? A massive percentage of the spectators were all Indian origin, migrated to Guyana many decades back. And somewhere I had a lost and found feeling while portraying my culture. And soon I realized that, it was not only my culture alone, the hall was filled with people who pursue a shared heritage and similar practicing culture.
The next day at 8 am about 200 hundred local students came to the Mandir for their classes arranged by the Foundation in collaboration with the ICC. I was astonished to see another India growing and preaching Indian culture far in the west. It was such an emotional sight to witness their thirst to know and learn as well as preach their ancestral culture and tradition till date. It is the fourth generation of these Indian immigrants living on this land and they are named as Indo-Guyanese. Many of their families contributed to development and reformations for Guyana too!
I started with my dance workshop with the students ranging from the age group of 6 to 75 years. Yes, you read it right, up to 75 years. Amazing! I can’t explain how satisfied I felt teaching them all. Their interest, love and enthusiasm for learning such outreach activities is worth to cherish forever. Soon after the workshop and other classes, I hurriedly had lunch and bid bye to all. It was a lovely experience and I was able to make connections with many. Then at around 12:30 pm we all rushed back to Supernaam and reached there by some minutes past 1 pm. The sun was shining too hot and we waited there until 4 pm to start with our journey back to Georgetown.
At this time, the Parika coastline looked lovely and I couldn’t stop myself from clicking its pictures. Travelling on my way back home, I was full of all the thoughts I experienced during my visit. Many elderly women came up to love and bless me, wanting me to stay with them for few more days, the host and some other locals made every possibility to make me comfortable. Yes, I was overwhelmed and gained few kilos more with all the assorted love.