“My Story” Chapter 22

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1914)

CHAPTER TWENTY –TWO

At this time also my life, in the early 1940’s was influenced by a number of people with whom I associated.  There was Albert Ogle, a quiet, conscientious, intelligent and articulate young teacher who became my good friend.  He was from a respectable, middle class family and relative to the Ogles who were my friends at Buxton.  We spent much time discussing topics such as Religion, Philosophy and Education, and Communism.  Also discussed were the works of men like Bertrand Russell, Herbert Spencer, Radhakrishnan, George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and others.  We saw nearly eye to eye in everything.  He was my junior by six years, but, because of his background, was more mature, brighter, more articulate and more comprehending.  We studied for the Certificate Examinations together, which I failed twice because of my weakness and dislike for mathematics.

After failing the Examination twice, I decided I would quit teaching if I did not succeed the third time.  My reason was that during World War II, there was a demand for workers at the Air Base.  I had learnt Shorthand and Typewriting which I could have taught there, as there was a demand for it them, but I was also willing to do any kind of work because I was physically fit.  So that year, I approached the Exam without any jitters.  I however had put in some more studies in Mathematics and was confident in passing the other subjects.  Drawing was natural to me and I had offered Hindi instead of History in the Group B subjects.

On the morning of the examination, I started out with a mind to do my best, but if I do not succeed, I knew what I had to do.  On my way, in the bus, I fell in conversation with a young lady sitting near to me.    I told her what I was going to do and she assured me that I was going to succeed.  Then I saw a man whose one leg was amputated and he was using one crutch.  This I was told meant good luck.  I was not all that superstitious, but it boosted my confidence somewhat.

At the exam I was at ease in all the subjects.  I got the questions I wanted, but for the first time I did badly in English as I did not follow the essay question carefully.  In Algebra I did only one question, but I did all the questions in Geometry.  But in the midst of the Pythogoras theorem, I had a scare; my mind went blank and I was stalled for a while; then suddenly the answer came back and I finished the theorem.

I was not sure what the results of the exam would be, so I told my manager, Canon W.G. Burgan that I would resign at the end of the month.  But before the end of the month, results came out – I passed Group A in the Third Class and Group B in the Second Class.  I changed my mind about leaving school and remained in the profession for an unbroken period of thirty- two .years.

Immediately after my success, I asked for a transfer to the Lusignan Anglican School, an estate school under the same management.  The school was about three miles away from Buxton by road.  I rode to school every morning on my bicycle.  The pupils were the children of sugar workers of both Indian and African descent, with the Indians predominating.

The school was a ramshackle building at the back of the estate, built by the estate authorities but was under the management of the Anglican Church.  The building had no classrooms and only the three upper classes were provided with desks; the benches were without back rests, but the pupils were children of labourers where there was hardly any furniture in the home save for a few low stools and jute bags for sitting and sleeping on, so they may have found the physical conditions tolerable.  Those were the days of colonialism when there was a wide gap between masters and servants.  In urban areas, conditions were much better in the Primary schools, and there were Private Schools where those of means could send their children for High School education.

I did not remain long in the estate school, but during my brief stay I taught Hindi which was a requirement in those days for all schools with Indian children.  Only one period was allotted every week for this subject in most schools; sometimes under incapable teachers, so hardly anything was learnt in that short space of time.  But in the estate schools, the children had the advantage of regular tuition in the temple schools, whereas in the village there was lack of enthusiasm and indifference on the part of parents and children.  Hindi was considered a language inferior to English and was associated with an inferior people.

My former headmaster at Buxton, Mr. Russell, was willing to have me again on his staff.  I was again with my friends Albert Ogle and Sydney King (Eusi Kwayana).  The school made progress under the leadership of  Mr. Russell , and the staff was strengthened by a female First Assistant, Miss May Accra, fresh from the Teacher’s Training College.  She was an indefatigable worker; she not only helped to improve the academic standard of the older pupils, but she was a good organizer of fairs and concerts.  She had a keen ear for music, and although she did not play an instrument, she read music and taught the hymns and songs in all its parts, vocalizing the solfa tonic method.  Her May festivals were big events in the village.  It was held on the vicar’s lawn.   It was on these occasions too, when I did military drill and pyramid building with the boys.  Geoffrey Dolphin, now a Canon of the Anglican Church was the star in the pyramid building.  He was the smallest, but most courageous of the boys and he was always on the top.

Study with Albert Ogle was a great advantage to me.  We did Principles of Teaching and Poetry together.  We laboured on mathematical problems.  This did not preclude us from discussing our favourite topics, religion and philosophy at intervals.  We invariably saw eye to eye.

It was at this time, too, after I had passed the Certificate Examination that my manager, Canon Burgan asked me to be one of his lay readers.  I responded immediately and ordered my cassock and surplice and took my place in the choir.  The duty of the lay reader was to read the lessons when required, to conduct funeral services and to do matins and evensong in the absence of the priest.  I also carried the cross in processions.  I also did some cottage meetings, though this was not the practice of the church. I enjoyed this privilege, but I had no training in theology and the priest never even offered to give us even the basic training.  I was not conversant with all the books of the Bible, I disliked the Old Testament and so did the priest.  However, I knew the Ten Commandments, the catechism, the twenty third psalm and the Beatitudes. I was familiar with the Sermon on the Mount and passages from St Paul’s epistles.  However I needed explanations on certain matters, scriptural and doctrinal.

My belief in Jesus as a Divine Incarnation was firm, so also was my belief in his teachings of his Sermon on the Mount.  It did not matter to me whether he was born of a virgin, or resurrected from the dead. The pure in heart shall see God” – That was part of the gospel. “If ye love me, keep my commandments”, “Love your enemies”, “By their fruits you shall know them”. That was all that mattered to me, but these teachings were ignored when St Paul stressed the belief in the person of Jesus and salvation by grace.  At this time too, ecumenism was only an idea and the Catholic Church and the Anglo Catholics did not want their members to have fellowship with Protestants and other denominations.  In fact, when I told my bishop that I participated in a reading of the gospel in Hindi to East Indian Hindus and Christians, he told me that I should not have done it. He said,” we must not judge them, but we must be loyal to our own communion.’

I could not believe that exclusivity was Christianity and so I did not feel comfortable in the Church though I carried on with it s work.  The bishop also told me that the Church cannot be run without money.  This the members of the Church could not raise alone.  There was a minimum contribution of one dollar and forty four cents per year, fixed for each member who could be excluded from communion if he did not pay his dues..  Each member was admitted to the Eucharist by showing a card, his ticket to Holy Communion.  Many poor members could not even afford the twelve cents per month, and most who could afford paid the barest minimum.  So the Church, in order to survive had to resort to entertainments like teas and dances, raffles and bingos.  A priest who was able to raise money, by whatever means, was considered a good priest.  In fact, the bishop, Allan John Knight, a young man in his thirties was brought from Africa for the specific purpose of raising money for the Church in British Guiana which was in a parlous condition.

I felt it was wrong, if not amoral for the Church to depend on such events to carry on God’s work; but the temper of membership of the established orthodox Churches was not so much for ‘feeding the sheep’ as it was for the celebration of feast days, baptisms, weddings and funerals.  It was not unusual that for a price, one could buy the rights for a funeral.

There were few incidents which stuck to my mind as being unchristian and uncharitable. One was the humiliating incident of an American woman, visiting her homeland, was refused access to the Holy Communion because she hadn’t a card.  Another was when the vicar bypassed a member on the rail because he had tuberculosis though he was treated and was cured, and another not allowing a member to bury his new born baby on consecrated ground because the child died before being able to receive baptism..  There was another incident that did not seem justifiable to me – A little girl of about five or six  was told by her teacher, that she could not enter the church when there was a children’s service simply because she had no covering for her head.  I could understand an adolescent or a woman, as was the customary thing to do, but not an innocent child.  What made it worse, she was left outside.  After the service, she was found sitting alone, under the school building, disconsolate, and perhaps puzzled by the behaviour of the teacher.

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