February 25, 2018

Janus-Old Misconceptions, New Information

No, I did not grow up ‘stupidy’ under the Union Jack. But I did acquire and have lived with many misconceptions in my formative years. Those misconceptions I called ‘beliefs’ (due to a limited vocabulary) because I believed particular bits of information, sold to me, to be facts. And to sort of giving validation to those beliefs was the awareness that they were shared by my contemporaries of that era. Those beliefs stayed with me until a little bit more information and growing pains (days of the wile cane, kneeling on paddy, standing on bench with dunce cap on…) brought elucidation.
For instance, I was under the impression that the only literature was English Literature. That changed early in my life when libraries and bookstores became a significant part of my education. There was a library at the primary school and also at the secondary school I attended, so I was into books very early in life.
Then from touring billboards of cinemas after weekly visits to the National Library, I came into contact with Michael Ford Bookstore and my first set of non-English literature. And what an amazing encounter it was – powerful writing, excellent storytelling.
At the moment I am rereading selected stories from “Great Soviet Short Stories”; here is the opening paragraph of its introduction: “Consciousness of our own vitality is the one yardstick we press against our literature… insisting that reality be the final measure both of it and of us. The more we are aware of the energy moving in us, the more we require our literature to present an understanding of it; the more nearly our literature is, the more nearly we understand ourselves”.
For another instance, I was under the impression that the greatest boxer, Mohamed Ali, was a Guyanese. Everybody was talking about him like he was a son of the soil. Grownups and children were engaged in “fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and “rope a dope” etc.
Another belief was that all toothpaste was ‘Colgate’; that was the only brand we had and used for a long, long time. So, all toothpaste was Colgate until new brands came into our consciousness and fancy.
All alcohol was rum – gin was rum to me, and so was vodka, and brandy etc… Whiskey was a cowboy rum (in Western movies); this was so for a long, long time until I tasted the difference, some of which I liked straight or on the rocks.
Another quick example was green tea – Red Rose green tea was all we used (when it was not bush tea) for a long, long time. So all tea was green tea…
Even some songs I believed to be Guyanese like “Suhaniraat” and “January girls”.
Fast forward to January 2018, when I am singing along to “January girls” and “Calendar girl”, stopping in midstride to go online to ‘check them out’.
Calendar Girl by Neil Sedaka 1961
I love, I love, I love my calendar girl
Yeah, sweet calendar girl
I love, I love, I love my calendar girl
Each and every day of the year

(January) You start the year off fine
(February) You’re my little valentine
(March) I’m gonna march you down the aisle
(April) You’re the Easter Bunny when you smile…
(May) Maybe if I ask your dad and mom
(June) They’ll let me take you to the Junior Prom
(July) Like a firecracker all aglow
(August) When you’re on the beach you steal the show…
(September) Light the candles at your Sweet Sixteen
(October) Romeo and Juliet on Halloween
(November) I’ll give thanks that you belong to me
(December) You’re the present ‘neath my Christmas tree…
January Girls by Lord Kitchener 1956
January girls I think are the best
January girls are better than the rest…
February girls are very hard to please
And like to have their men bowing to their knees
And as the March winds blow the girls are just the same
They drink you like a fish and give eight false names…
August September and October, it will be Virgo, Scorpio and Libra,
Well the girls that were born under these three signs,
They like the English weather change their minds,
Especially those born under Scorpio,
They just tell you yes and then they change to no,…
Well November and December don’t trust their sight,
They like angels in the day and devils at night…
Another January song is “Auld lang sine” – the song nobody knows. That song remained a Guyanese song until I discovered Robert Burns visited Guyana in the novel, “Illustrious Exile” written by Andrew O. Lindsay, enhancing the mystique of the song.
Those three songs have seeped into the Guyanese psyche and into our literature so much so that they may pass as Guyanese creations.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: oraltradition2002@yahoo.com