Please see below for excerpt from the book 'The Heart of The Sun' - by Jag B Mahadeo.
Click pictures to see larger view.
No. 68 Primary School - Where minds were guided and the roots of lives were nourished.
Presenting a copy of 'The Heart of The Sun to the engaging and welcoming Headmaster Mr. Chunilall Brijlall - Thank you for making me feel at home once again.
On March 6, 2012 , I visited No. 68 Primary School. I introduced myself to Mr. Chunilall Brijlall, the Headmaster of the school, who happened to be a classmate of my younger brother when they attended the same school as kids. I found out that Mr. Brijlall was very passionate about the social changes presently taking place in Guyana and we spent about an hour talking about the way it used to be, the present day, society's present value system and it’s flaws .... from our perspective. I presented him with a copy of ‘The Heart of The Sun’ which he was very excited about, since the book was written about a time when we both grew up. We toured the school and together, laughed heartily at the places in which we used to hide and play as students, one of which was known as the ‘darkroom’.
It was a very pleasant visit and I was really impressed with the well-kept condition of the building. It brought back many, many, memories of that time which is long gone. Please click here for more pictures of my visit to the school. I consider this establishment to have laid the foundation for the lives of so many people and continue to do so now for the present students.
No. 68 Primary School Holi Celebrations 2012
(Click the picture to play)
No 68 Primary School
(The way it used to be - Late 1960’s to early 1970’s)
At first glance it seemed that No. 68 Primary School was flung into the only open space available in the area, about a quarter mile west of the main road at the middle of No. 68 Village. The three streets that intersected as a T shape immediately in front of the school yard were topped with red bricks which were strewn about leaving a rough, bumpy, street surface.
These commonly used bricks were created by burning clay in huge bonfires. The exposed edges of these bricks which were once jagged and sharp were eventually tamed and worn smooth by the hundreds of innocent, bare little feet that lovingly caressed them each and every school day. A few hundred feet to the north and to the south, the ten to fifteen feet wide streets deteriorated to mere dirt trails, pockmarked by large mud holes. These were first initiated by the farm tractors driving by in the wet season, and then perfected into round play mud-holes by the pigs, which Mr. Peter allowed to roam around the area.
The primary school was a two story high wooden structure with wide corridors to the north, framed by banister railings about four feet high. The floor was polished smooth by the same hundreds of bare little feet which had conquered the sharp red bricks out on the streets. These corridors which overflowed with energetic, screaming children at each break, curled around at both ends into wide staircases which connected both floors. The lower floor held what was called at the time, the Prep A, Prep B, 1st Standard and 2nd Standard classrooms. The second floor housed the 3rd, 4th Standard, 1st form and 2nd form. (Names of grades at the time) The school dress code was a standard uniform. The girls’ uniform comprised of a white top and maroon/burgundy skirt and the boys wore light blue shirts and khaki short pants. Since most families at the time could not afford shoes or even simple slippers, almost everyone went to school barefooted except for the teachers.
Teachers at this school still administered corporal punishment by hand, with a ruler or a cane, by striking the buttocks or the hands of the guilty student for misbehavior or simply for missing homework. Mr. M who taught 4th standard was known to be particularly tough on his students. There were quite a few instances when a few parents of students who objected to the punishment administered by this teacher, visited the school fighting mad, and actually got into physical confrontations with him. As expected, these incidents always created quite a stir among the students with the young ones naturally choosing sides based on the punished student, and their like or dislike of Mr. M. Mr. Dripaul who taught Jag’s and his sister Shanie’s classes was easier and more effective as a teacher since he was more patient, diplomatic, and lenient with his students.
Back in 1969-1970, the fenced in yard of the school bordered some interesting neighbors. On the left was Walter Peters who reared dozens of pigs, and slaughtered them for sale to the meat markets. Sometimes during classes, the loud mournful squealing could be heard from the pigs meeting their tortuous demise. Mr. Peters wielded his will of death, by forcing the helpless animals into a corral-like structure which was just wide enough for the body of the creature. Then tying it securely in place, he straddled the animal facing it’s head, held it’s pointy head up, and swung a heavy metal hammer with his muscular right arm, aiming at the wide spot right between the rolling eyes, which mirrored pure fear. As the animal screamed, and contorted itself against the restraining ropes in agony, he continued to swing mercilessly until the creature finally slumped over, twitching in defeat and eventual death. Then he tasked himself with hanging the heavy carcass up by its hind legs in the hot tropical sun, and surrounded by swarms of black flies, he skinned and hacked it into the desired pieces, which his customers had requested.
Directly across the street was a little shack, which was accessed by crossing over a rotting, four foot bridge of wooden planks built over the drainage ditch. This decrepit shack was owned and run by Mrs. Punia. Her cabinets and shelves displayed the temptations of sweet treats such as sugar-cake, something called long-sweetie, stretchers, gataa, and tamarind balls. She also made and sold home made drinks, and here the more fortunate children spent their ten to twenty five cents daily allowance. Competing for her easily influenced, young customers, was a larger establishment directly across the main entrance to the school, known as Bony’s. This was a ten times bigger version of its smaller competitor, with a longer, wider bridge, and sold a bigger variety of delicacies such as pastries and bottled colas. It featured benches on two of its four sides, which encouraged the young customers to sit around and spend their money. It also gave an excellent vantage point from where to view the sporting events, which took place on the play field across the way. Many other vendors sat by the school gates under umbrellas and also vied for the attention of the same customers. They sold treats such as cubes of milky, sugary ice called ‘ice-blocks’, crude popsicles, spicy, hard-fried chick peas, and curried green mangoes.
The playground was actually a borderless cricket ground, where the school held its outdoors student assemblies on beautiful sunny days. It was also where the school sporting activities such as racing and softball games took place. The annual and popular school sports-day was also done here. This day was when the students participated in team sports and fun events against each other. It was during one of these event days, when Jag and his sister Shanie had found almost ten dollars in bills and change, while walking the one mile to school early in that morning. The money was laying flat in the dirt next to the new Lions Club sign, directly across his Chacha’s house at No. 66 Village. At the time, ten dollars was an awful lot of money, and even though they both tried very hard, they could not spend it all on that day of sports at the school.
To the west of the cricket ground was almost a semi-marshy wasteland. This was where the more adventurous children gathered to catch a glimpse of a family of alligators that made this patch of wet wilderness, their home. Small groups of brave students usually gathered here, attempting to mimic the ‘ugh, ugh, ugh’ of the baby alligator, to try and tease the big mother alligator out of hiding. Whenever she did show herself, it was much to the delight of the children, and there was much celebratory whooping from the boys and ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the girls.
Behind Mrs. Punia’s shop was Sharma’s rice mill, which was ringed by unkempt trees and bushes. The tallest of these was a forty to fifty feet tall tree, which flowered and bore a beautiful winged seed. On a windy day, these two inch winged seeds fluttered, spun and danced all around and blew into the school in little colorful clouds, much to the enjoyment of the children. This rice mill also billowed small white puffs of steam and its diesel engine hummed constantly. To those truly in the mode of teaching or learning however, these noises, including that of the squealing pigs nearby, slowly dissipated and eventually disappeared into daily non-existence. After 4th Standard class at this school, the students usually took the Common Entrance Examinations which, when passed, allowed them to enter into High School.
At the back of Bony’s shop, was the place that most of the boys considered to be the most fun place at school. Here in the damp red sand with short grass and scrubby undergrowth, a few huge mango trees rose out of the earth, with rough twisting trunks about three feet thick. In the abundant branches of these trees, many of the boys took turns playing the popular ‘shy-goolie’ game with their friends. In this game, as the school break bell sounded, the last boy on a mad dash to the tree will have to be the catcher. One of the first took a stick, and from under his legs flung the stick as far away as he possible could. While the catcher runs to retrieve the stick, the rest of the group clambered into the tree as far out of reach of the catcher as they could. These trees had numerous strong, big branches covered by large, dark green leaves. The size of these trees made this kind of game quite a daunting challenge for the catcher. After retrieving the thrown stick, he has to leave the stick at the base of the tree, climb up and try to catch one of the boys already safely in the tree, while making sure that no one sneaked down and took the stick. If this happens, then he has to start all over again. However, if he protects his stick, and catches someone then that person becomes the ‘catcher’.
Jag attended this school from 1965 to 1971 and during the first four years, he was accompanied by his older sister Shanie. They left home together each morning and took turns carrying the lunch pail they called the ‘saucepan’. At lunch the two walked another half mile from the school to their Nanee’s (grandmother) home a village away at No. 69 Village. Here they entered through the back gate and made their way through the big vegetable garden and tall swaying coconut trees, to the house by the main road. Their Nanee usually found some fruits to supplement the lunch from their lunch pail, and their Nana (grandfather) always seemed to find some rare fruit such as sapodillas for them to enjoy. He was a quiet old man who rarely spoke, but always tried to do kind things with his grandchildren.
His ways of showing kindness were unique. When he found a soursop which is ready to be picked, he sent a message with one of their cousins, Prabha, Shobha, or Rambha to tell Jag or Shanie to go there for lunch, so that he can take the two to the tree and have them pick the ripe fruit off the tree themselves.
After his sister passed the Entrance Examinations and started going to Line Path Secondary School, Jag walked to school alone. In a few weeks however, he became friends with Giresh who was his neighbor’s son and was the same age as himself. For reasons the boys could not understand to this day, Giresh’s parents did not want the two to be friends. Because of this, even though the two lived next door to each other, they left home separately and whoever reached the creek bridge first, waited for the other, before continuing the walk to school together. The school was to the south, almost exactly a mile away from home, and they walked through the back streets of Number 67 Village to get there. On the way, they passed by the Goobie tree (Calabash) which was in front of Bahie’s (pronounced as in Baw-ee) rice mill. This was where Jag would usually double over in pain at least a few times a week. He loved sugar roti but when he eats a lot of sweet, about twenty minutes later his stomach would hurt for a few minutes. This calabash tree marked where the twenty minutes would be reached almost every day. He never told his parents because he did not want to stop eating his sugar-roti. Then the two walked past the middle-walk canal where many boys from the school would skip classes after lunch, to go swimming and to play in the murky waters. From here, they walked past a street in the back of the village on which there were no houses. The western side of this dirt street was thickly wooded. In these woods just before the Eeto (pronounced as in eight-o) rice mill, there grew a unique plant known as the ‘leaf-of-life’. (picture) The succulent leaves of this plant had a jagged edge from where, under the right environment, roots and little plants sprung.
To the amazement and delight of many of the little children, one of these perfect environments just happened to be between the pages of a school text book. Many of them stopped in these woods on the way home from school, to pick these leaves and place them in each of their books, where after a week the leaves sprouted many roots along the edges. This plant also had numerous medicinal properties and is used in many tropical areas around the world.
This was the school life of children in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Almost all children walked to school bare-footed, studied by the light of kerosene hand lamps, and played with self-made toys, yet it was by all accounts, happy times and a happy life.
Click here for No. 68 School Picture Album