“My Story” Chapter 07

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)

CHAPTER SEVEN

I stated earlier that most of the time in early childhood I disliked school and was happy to find an excuse for not going.  However, I also lost many school days due to real illness.  I had all the illnesses that were common to children in those days, except typhoid fever and whooping cough.  I suffered very much from malaria which made me delirious and hallucinate.  These bouts of illnesses hindered my progress in school.

I was about eight or nine, around 1921, when my parents planted a half acre of rice.  A small portion of the land was enclosed and drained for the setting of the seeds.  The young seedlings had to be kept in very moist soil but free from water until they were big enough to be transplanted.  I used to go every morning before school with a small bucket to empty out whatever water may have seeped into the seed bed.  One morning I was working vigorously at my task, but instead of getting less and less, the water kept rising more and more until it covered the seedlings.  I panicked and ran almost naked all the way home, about a mile away to tell the news, crying all the time. My father went and discovered that an eel had made a hole through the stop-off.  He quickly mended it and baled the water out.  The seedlings showed no signs of damage.  We got twelve bags of rice from that crop and that was a great help to us in the months ahead when my father, encouraged by some diamond miners, went to try his fortune in the interior.  He was away for seven months and my sister and I missed him very much.

While he was away, there was not enough money to buy other things to provide a reasonably sustainable diet. My mother would go sometimes to work in the rice fields for a shilling a day, but this was not often.  So I, who was nine or ten then, used to go in the shallow trench bordering the rice fields with a small hand seine to scrounge for shrimps and small fish.  I would also collect the edible leaves of a plant which grew on the meres (banks) of the rice beds.  Whenever we could afford, we would have dhal, a soup made from split peas, to supplement the simple meal.

That Christmas, in 1922, was the first our father was away from home.  On Christmas Eve, as usual, my sister, my brother and I brought out our stockings to hang them up.  My mother told us not to hang them up but to lay them on the table side by side and go to bed.  We did so and went to sleep. Early morning, we woke up with the expectation that each of us will be given a toy by Father Christmas, but we were disappointed; the stockings were empty.  Then my mother showed us a sixpence placed on the middle stocking.  She told us Father Christmas put it there for us to share.  We believed her and we believed in Father Christmas.  We had the guileless simplicity mentioned in the gospel of the New Testament. Sometimes I wondered why Father Christmas gave the children of the rich expensive toys.

When my father came back from the diamond fields hard times descended on us.  He came back with nothing.  We were indebted.  He could not find work and we had to sell our comfortable house.  We tried to build another, but could not complete it, so we had to revert to a Bush House with thatched roof and mud floor.  It was there, for the first time I experienced hunger and privation.  I used to pick and choose my diet, but now everything tasted good.  My schooling also suffered as my parents were unable to buy the basic Reader for me.  It cost only 36 cents, but my parents were indebted and whatever money came to them, other urgent demands were given priority.  But my mother though illiterate wanted her children to learn, so she bought me the book, a Royal Reader Book III.

When I look back into the past, I see clearly that it was the determination and strictness of my mother that kept me in school.  She did not spare the rod.  She was fearless and intelligent; no one could believe she was illiterate.  She could not read or write, but learnt to sign her name and was quite knowledgeable in different kinds of legal transactions.

My mother was one of the most resourceful persons in the world.  She was adept in recycling and would find use for the most unlikely objects.  She was skilful with the needle, a self-taught seamstress.  She would mend and patch to the extreme. In those days people who were well off would employ needle workers to mend and patch and darn although cloth was inexpensive at the time. She made all her children’s clothes.  We each had two suits for school, one for home and one for church.  When a school suit gets shabby or the patches too conspicuous, it was used at home. When it further disintegrated, it was used as a towel or a mop or a mat or it may be used for stuffing pillows. She recycled milk tins which she used as cups, butter saucepans as cooking utensils, the hard shells of the coconut as kitchen utensils.

She would cut our hair and make hats for us from scraps of cloth left over from her sewing.  She would collect the dung from the cows, make them into flat cakes and dry them to be used as fuel for cooking.  No piece of string, wire or rusty nail were thrown away, they would be collected and stored in a proper place for future use.  With all the junk she collected, her yard was never untidy, everything was neatly put away.  Because of her resourcefulness and thrift, she was able, with what I was able to contribute with my meager salary as a pupil teacher, to save enough to make a little house and to acquire few of the amenities to go with it.  For this reason my carefree father became redundant, and much to my disapproval, they separated after nearly twenty years.

My mother was a workaholic.  Even when she was sick, she would tie her forehead with a cloth and work.  She did all the things that a male would do, like splitting wood, climbing on the roof to thatch it, and till the soil.  She did all these things when my father was not around.  She said in her creolese; “if me know me go dead tomorra, me go wuk mo haad today”  But thatwas not to be,  she died at the age of 83 after a long illness.

I believe the economic problem of the Western World is chiefly due to waste.  They do not see the need for recycling and have not envisaged the serious consequences.  They are now seeing when it is already late, and it would take the effort of the whole world to reverse the consequences which I cannot prognosticate as a possibility.

My mother, always concerned with our health would unwittingingly do things to us that were not discreet.  Apart from giving us harsh purgatives every month, she would give us bitters; this was supposed to be good for the blood.  Most Indians in those days used it and also the twig as a tooth brush.  But my mother not wanting to prepare every day would pour some high wine into it so as to preserve it.  This would have had dire consequences if my sister and I were alcoholics.  It happened one day that the the man who used to cut grass to feed our cows found the bottle, and smelling  it, drank the whole bottle and got drunk,   My mother did not learn the lesson.

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4 Comments »

  1. Naraine Datt said,

    I would l ike to get in touch with mr Butisingh, he may know my gread grand father-BINDRBAN.
    THANKS

  2. Jayant said,

    Mother is always a pillar of strength and a role model to her kids

    • randallbutisingh said,

      Thanks for your comment Jayant.. May God bless us all with good mothers.

  3. Vi said,

    Mr. Butisingh I am overwhelmed with emotions. The mention of your mother’s industriousness made me recall many of the older women of Buxton. Women who work tirelessly in their own households, help to educate their children, nurse their neighbours when they were sick, mourn and comfort their neighbours. Many of these women “suk salt through spoon” as the saying goes, but kept their sense of humor. When there is an occasion to rejoice, they can rejoice with you. I fondly remember in 1971 when I got married how many of the older women came to help my parents “pick rice” and prepare food. I still have fond memories of them telling stories and laughing deep down from their guts. I often tell my children that these women deserve medals for their selfless spirit.


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