“My Story” Chapter 10

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)

CHAPTER TEN

I remember as a little boy, I used to go to the Buxton beach to collect the little fishes that the fishermen would reject. At that time there was actually a shell beach at Buxton and the nearby villages.  I used to sit and wait for the boats to come in.  I enjoyed the pleasant sea breeze and watched the waves as they rolled  into the beach.  I would collect small shells; a few would give a whistling sound.  I used to wonder how the tides ebb and flow.  When the tide was at its full flow, the boats would begin to come in.  First, they would appear on the horizon as a speck and would gradually grow larger and larger as they approached.  As they get very near, they would furl their sails and cast anchor.  As a child all this was fascinating to me.

I also liked to look out of the train window when we traveled.  The train would seem quite stationery and the houses, lamp posts and everything outside would fly past.  I would also wonder being followed by the moon when I stroll in the open on a moonlight night and how it would stop when I stopped walking.  The reflection of the sky over a clear stream as I cross a bridge would also fill me with awe.

My childhood days were days of wonder.  I was very inquisitive and would ask questions about God and birth.   I was told in Sunday school that God made me.  I visualized God in human form and wanted to know who made Him.  It was later I began to understand that He was spirit and was all pervading though I did not fully grasp the concept.   I accepted that God made me, but I knew that I had come out of my mother’s tummy, so I asked her how I got out.  My mother was always patient with me in answering my questions. She always gave an answer.  She told me God opened her tummy and when I came out, he closed it.  It did not appear to me that I was born in the same manner as our calf did when my father acted as midwife.

As I said in an earlier chapter, I was fairly comfortable in handling all the subjects at school, except arithmetic which remained my bugbear.  We were required to convert sterling into local currency – a pound then was four dollars and eighty cents – to add, subtract and divide sterling and do the same with avoirdupois weight, long and square measures and the like.  That entailed knowing all the tables which we had to memorise.  It is not like today when children can carry calculators to school to help them with their work.  It must be understood that in those days, learning was memory work; slight regard was given to comprehension.  Those who could memorise best got the best results.  Dependence on memory, however, deprives you of the power of expression.  It leaves no room for imagination and originality. I remember a lecturer in Hygiene who would prefer that you give him, as answers to his questions, word for word as is in his notes.

We had to memorise everything.  Only drawing or art, we could not memorise.  However even that was not left to our imagination as we had to make the likeness of flat copies with straight lines and curves. I remember how difficult it was to make the ellipses of a tea cup and saucer. The sad thing about it was that the educators believed in memorizing.  At examinations, no questions were asked that would tax the individual’s capacity for thinking or to plumb the depth of his imagination or innovativeness.  Inevitably expression was poor.  At a Teacher’s Certificate Examination, a teacher was fortunate to get an essay which he crammed, in his English paper.

One good feature in those days was the teaching of grammar in the study of the English Language in the primary school.  This was necessary as the language spoken by the pupils at home and among themselves was Creolese.  Creolese is not broken English; it has elements of Dutch, African, even Arabic as in the word ‘baksiz’ a corruption of  baksheesh meaning ‘gift’. It is difficult for the Englishman to understand Creolese.  However some teachers went too far; only the basics needed to be taught.  In this subject, there was much memorizing of definitions and less application of rules.

I must say that school life was not constant drudgery.  There were periods of pleasant diversions when there were preparations for a concert, the school treat, showing of lantern slides – there were no videos in those days –  the impromptu concert, and games like cricket for the boys and rounders for the girls, athletics and the school fair.  Those were times when tensions were relieved and all were happy.  Our headmaster was a good cricketer; he bowled and batted well.

The school where we played cricket was small.  There was the school on the eastern side, a canal on the western side, a private lot on the northern side and the cemetery on the southern side.  During play, if the ball is hit in the canal, a boy was there ready to plunge to retrieve it; or it may be hit into the cemetery or the private lot.  There were also pit latrines on the ground.  On one occasion, the door of a pit latrine was left open and the ball escaped the fielder and landed into the pit.   Those who know what a pit latrine is, would know what the ball had got into.  The best thing that could have been done was to get a new ball or end the game.  But there was no new ball and enthusiasm was high, so the ball was retrieved with a hoe, borrowed from a neighbour, and placed on the ground covered with foul-smelling excreta.  Seeing this I laughed loudly.  Thereupon the headmaster ordered me to pick it up and wash it in the canal.  I dared not disobey, so I lifted the messy object with my thumb and first finger, took it to the canal from where we drank and washed it.  Except for stored rain water, there was no other source of water for drinking or cooking in those days but the canal.

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3 Comments »

  1. Bindu said,

    Dear Mahashri,

    I just read your story about your childhood, I enjoyed it, It was interesting to know how was school at this time and it was sad to see how they were teaching you, using fear.
    Thank you for sharing these memories, they help to know you better.
    Love
    Bindu

  2. Vi said,

    You made a profound statement – that based on the way we were taught our power of verbal expression could be poor.

  3. sanjay said,

    Dear Grandfather Butising, first of all I would like to introduce myself I am the son of Rambharos nickname Jitan from Annadale Guyana. My father guru was the late Chandra Sama Persaud. I am reading your beautiful novel and I can remember some of these stories told to me by my father and grandparents. These are very true facts of those days. You were a excellent Hindi teacher and a great man in the village. We thank god for given us such a gem. Seeta Ram.


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