Place of birth

Mahadai Das

Short biography
Mahadai Das was born in Eccles, East Bank Demerara, Guyana in 1954. She wrote poetry from her early school days at Bishops High School, Georgetown. She did her first degree at the University of Guyana and received her MA at Columbia University, New York, and then began a doctoral program in Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Das became ill and never completed the programme. She was a dancer, actress, teacher, and beauty-queen, served as a volunteer member of the Guyana National Service in c1976 and was part of the Messenger Group promoting ‘Coolie’ art forms at a time when Indo-Guyanese culture was virtually excluded from national life.

As a young poet, Das published some of her first pieces in several editions of KAIE, the official literary publication of Guyana's History and Arts Council, as well as many other local publications. Her first major collection of poetry, I Want to be a Poetess of My People (1977), traced the roots of the Guyanese people from indentureship to independence. The collection calls for a new sense of nationalism independent of colonial powers, though it also bears the marks of being beholden to the sloganizing politics of the PNC. In her second collection of poetry, My Finer Steel Will Grow (1982), Das expresses a growing disillusionment with Guyana under the PNC and its corruption, authoritarianism and anti-Indianism. In her third collection, Bones (Peepal Tree, 1988), Das addresses her experiences as an Indo-Caribbean woman living in urban USA. Within a materialistic culture, she seeks to recover the beauty of her cultural heritage.

Mahadai Das was, with Rajkumari Singh, one of the first Indo-Guyanese women writers to speak to both the ethnic and gender issues facing Indo-Caribbean women, though this is a gradual, and still not wholly reconciled movement in her work. Her first collection of poetry, I Want to be a Poetess of my People speaks of her Indian heritage within a Caribbean environment, yet speaks little of her experience as a woman in this environment. Her second work, My Finer Steel Will Grow, attempts to reconcile the individual with the political with regard to gender. She speaks out about the discrepancy in fighting with men for racial equality, only to be suppressed by those same men in regards to gender. Bones explores her changing individual female identity but only in two or three poems incorporates her Indian heritage within this identity. 

Over recent years, Mahadai Das has, tragically, suffered from debilitating health problems that curtailed the writing career of one of the Caribbean’s most talented women poets. In April 2003 her life came to a tragically early end.

Peepal Tree will be publishing a selection of poems from all Mahadai Das's collections and some more recent unpublished poems in 2004.