The Silver Lining by Gokarran Sukhdeo. New York. Self-published, 1998, 184 pages. US$10.00.
Reviewed by By Gary Girdhari
In the words of the author, Billy Deen was created to show the value of diligence and perseverance and the ultimate silver lining at the end of every dark cloud.
This fiction is full of more truth than fiction in the circumstance and period of the Guyana setting. On reading The Silver Lining many Guyanese especially will undoubtedly feel an affinity with the different characters; they can relate, sympathize and empathize, lose themselves within the intricately woven fine threads of the story. Those who grew up in the countryside will soon discover certain dreamlike commonality of growing-up experiences. The story is set in post-WW II when the Cold War was at its peak, and when hysterical witch hunting of socialist ideas saw the disappearance of Miss Toleman who taught at Patentia Secondary School.
The story is about young Billy Deen and his family who were poor. Billy admired Diane whose parents were rich, powerful and sophisticated, and he felt that the social divide would cause the twain to never meet. Billy worked hard as a fisherman while still attending school because his father passed away mysteriously when he was very young. Billys mother taught him to be proud, to inculcate integrity, and to remember dignity in honest labor. As time passed in the idyllic "tropical haven" Billy resolved that he was definitely in love with Diane, the "princess of beauty" of the Rajput family. Relatively precocious and mature for his age, he asked questions of his mother, his uncle Panchi, and others about life generally, but also about his father. He found out that his father was murdered but there was no closure with regard to his death at least in his mind.
Billy Deen was stigmatized as a rebel and cornered into admitting the virtues of other ideas, being influenced by his Uncle Panchi, that caused his banishment. This is symbolic and reminiscent of the story of Cheddi Jagan who was similarly forced into political exile.
Billy became educated, withdrawn, but contemplative as he got older. The fortunes of his family eventually changed and they were respected in their community of Wales. Eventually, the mystery of his fathers death was solved. His tortuous and pained mind, developed as a result of artificial barriers to his undying love, finally became free when the truth was exposed. His maturity of course was propelled by his mothers simple but practical ways of life. "I was thinking," she said, "it is not right for me to continue with this bitterness (referring to the Rajputs). What parents think and do are more easily taught to children than any other method of teaching, and I dont want to teach you to hate anyone. We live for a short while and each of us has his own cross to carry and should never ask or expect anyone to help him carry it, nor should we carry it with bitterness. The blessings we receive come from how well we carry that cross." These and other words from his mother Emily, such as "the greatness of man is measured by his capacity to forgive" were constant reminders for Billy to lead an upright life.
So the author Gokarran Sukhdeo invites the reader to think about life even as Billy laments on his love. Many can relive similar moments described: "As he fought to brush her off his mind the moon disappeared again and the path was once more shrouded in a misty darkness. This was his world. Barefooted on the soft grass laden with myriad diamond dewdrops, he enjoyed the tingling sensation on his feet and the frosty cool atmosphere. Soon there would be a blazing exuberance of daybreak across the eastern bank; already the horizon was pregnant with it. The warmth of the river and the salt on his brow, he loved it. He loved the smell of black sage and wild daisies on the morning trail as they brushed against him. These were all an inspiration to him. This was his home. This was where he belonged. In this environment he was at peace and full of contentment. He wouldnt want to trade it. It must be nice to be a princess in a palace, he thought, but dewdrops on the grass were also lovely." The imagery here cuts deep into the soul of those yearning for harmony. Such simple style of language conjures up vivid scenes as are further experienced: "Twilight came with a gentle touch of darkness, first in the kokerite grove across the creek and then enveloping the camp like the shadow from a huge eagle . The jungle quickly became dark but alive with the symphony of crickets, frogs and the occasional high-pitched pealing or hoarse complaints of various birds and animals. Above in the sky only a few stars twinkled. Some heavy clouds drifted slowly across, threatening to deposit its heavy burden in the Kamuni. But the tropical weather was unpredictable. In the jungle it might rain, and it often did, with only a few seconds of notice, or none at all. And sometimes the very inverse is true. Ominous signs of black clouds, flashes of lightning and frightening thunder would scare the daylight out of someone, only to be immediately followed by clear skies and piercing sunlight."
Young readers and those less exposed to Guyana will it interesting that there was a place named Atkinson Field and that Boressselen (one of the three island in the Demerara River) was once the capital of the colony of Demerara. Similarly, nostalgia envelopes ones senses when reference is made of the "kumaka" tree, monkey apple, whitey, jamoon, etc.
Life on the sugar plantation meant subjugation to the powers of King Sugar: "Managers controlled every facet of human life on the plantation, not very different from the days of slavery. Labor was now no longer owned but still controlled in a more vicious and subtle form. The body and soul of the sugar worker were intrinsically tied to the cane roots." Mr. Christian, the Personnel Manager "loved to wander around the plantation back lands he accosted Emily (Billys mother) as she was returning home from work and offered her a ride home ." And "it took many years before the villagers began to respect her."
Then there are lessons in philosophy, politics and religion. "Religion is good, son. Its the few hypocrites in the church that give it a bad name." And we are reminded that "righteousness is doing good from the heart. It is an inward motivation and is genuine." Can we forget certain basics of life? "Because first of all, man is zoon politikon, a political animal, one who cannot exist outside of a socially and politically organized society. Like the bees and ants, two other social animals, everyone has a function to perform. It is therefore our historical duty, once we exist, to contribute to the welfare of society.
"Secondly, it is our spiritual duty and obligation to serve our fellow man. The Bible advises us to go to the ant and learn its ways and be wise. It further informs us that we are indeed our brothers keepers. All other religions exhort us to help the less fortunate.
"Thirdly, we should not only contribute, but make our contributions outstanding, because the human ego is such that the individual wants to stand out not only in society, but through time. He wants to leave footprints, to plant trees, bear sons (and daughters), build castles and statues of himself, and write books. He wants to throw himself, his image and his thoughts into the future and become immortalized. He wants to be part of history."
The Silver Lining is more than a love story. It sends different waves to different people. "The ants and bees have a clearly defined hierarchical structure and division of labor in their social organization. Does this justify a form of caste system in human society?"
We are reminded of social Darwinism. It is a social commentary. It recalls the emergence of nationalists, and laments the political dogma in the National Service which was a "plan" to "indoctrinate", "a blatant one of coercion and brainwashing of students with historical distortions and half-truths".
Gokarran Sukhdeo has an Economics degree and a Masters in Psychology. His varied experiences as a school teacher, economist, construction laborer, and social worker eminently qualifies him to offer some answers.
One answer: "The caste system is perpetuated mainly by fanatical religious activists. According to Karl Marx, religion is the opiate of the people. The caste system or the class system is a yoke on the peoples back. It predestines some to servility and others to rulership by virtue of birth alone and as such stifles the creativity, industry and mobility of the so-called lower classes. Their ingenuity, aspirations, accomplishments are totally discounted. I think people should not be born into positions of authority for indeed a lot of imbeciles would be ruling; rather rulers should be elected by virtue of their academic and or social accomplishments. The caste system, like the slavery system or Feudal system was undoubtedly good at some time and place in history, but according to my Uncle Panchi, a new system of egalitarianism is now sweeping the world and we either adapt to it or dwell in the past, condemning ourselves to the fate of the dinosaur."
Thus the author encourages a dialectical approach to deal with questions of religion, Marxism, casteism, slavery, economics, competition, contemporary history and a whole gamut of relevant matters. And while a simple story is unfolded about teenage schooldays and growing-up, we are admonished, " dont be too hasty to form opinions. Let your opinions be a synthesis of the various theses and anti-theses proposed by various fertile minds."
So obvious, germane and relevant. Essentially, the book, while guised as a beautiful romance story, challenges the individual to engage in serious self-examination regarding his/her role in society. It further challenges social, religious and political organizations to do likewise, or die like the dinosaur.
The Silver Lining would find a captive reader, is a must for all Guyanese, and a recommended reading for schools.
Dr. Gary Girdhari is the Editor of Guyana Journal. The Silver Lining won the 1998 First Book Guyana Prize for Literature in the category of fiction. For more information, contact the author, 88-20 103rd Avenue, Ozone Park, NY 11417. Telephone (718) 845-3826 or (718) 835-1530.
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