Dear Death

Written by Sasenarine Persaud for on

‘We are here this evening as part of a Caribbean celebration - and especially to dispel the lie of a perception of the Caribbean that is, that the Caribbean is only ‘Black’. There are people of all races and mixture of races and colours in the West Indies. My presence here this evening underscores this fact and, in a way, marks 152 years of Indian presence in the region known as the Caribbean and interchangeably as the West Indies. And while I am at it, let me here disagree too with most of the historians, social commentators, scholars and critics in the literary establishment, in dealing with that dubious term ‘Indo-Caribbean’, which is a label or convenience. There is no such thing as an Indo-Caribbean presence in the Caribbean, or here in Canada, but there is an Indian Presence in the Caribbean, and here, in Canada. All of the things I am going to briefly speak about in this introduction are essential to understanding my novel Dear Death from which I will read this evening.

Firstly, Indian literature - and History - in the West Indies did not begin in the West Indies, but on the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago, and it is this literature which deals with the philosophy of Yoga that the novel, Dear Death, begins and ends. It is no secret that thousands, hundreds of thousands of Indians in the West Indian Islands and South America heard (continue to hear) stories, songs, poetry from the Jatakas, the Itihaas, the Upannishads, the Vedas, from Kalidas, Tusidas, Valmaki and Bana, the great 8th century novelist and poet, and many others, before they heard of, or from any other literature; before they left the world of their homes for the other world they encountered in schools, work places and the other larger society as a whole.

Often, the parents did not know whose work they recited or told and from exactly which period of Indian literature they were reciting, but the fact is that they did recite and pass on that literature; and that literature has been the first and perhaps only literary and philosophic influence for thousands of Indians in the West Indies and South America. And at every Jhandi (a prayers ceremony at which the story of Hanuman is sung and told), at every Katha, (which literally means story), and every other puja ... they heard from this great body of literature and chanted in Hindi and Sanskrit until the outer world caught up with them - and for many of them, the outer world never caught up with them - the outer world was an irritating minor necessity.

This happens here in Toronto too and is not something alien to Yogic philosophy, in which each individual mind is not only a world, but the entire universe. My novel deals with such individuals, and the critics who contend that that dubious term, ‘Indo-Caribbean’ began with the likes of Naipaul and Selvon, or that these writers began a literary tradition which is centuries older than they themselves, are very, very mistaken. My work is rooted in that ancient literary tradition.

...Each death, life and activity leading up to each death in the novel is a mirror of one of the more than ten types of Yogas, a combination of related Yogas, and the protagonist seeing the Yogas in the events he recalls, is faced with making a choice - of finding his own yogic path. One such yoga - Tantric Yoga - deals with the mastering and manipulation of physical laws sometimes called Jadoo - or magic. That there are spirits, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is gaining greater acceptance in that murky and very subjective world we call science. That some of these spirits have greater vibrations than others too, cannot be doubted - and many people who have mastered this aspect of Tantra, i.e. Jadoo or magic, have been able, throughout recorded time, to control - exorcise some of these ‘spirits’. Fortunately, many of us who are sceptics have had first hand or second hand experience in the existence and presence of ‘spirits’ outside of a human body.

In those dark nights
And dark days, the tattered pieces
of rope were deadly cobras,
And many died -
Mostly in fright and flight.

And the great lightening broke through,
And the great sun of time
Stood still as a statue,
And what had looked like cobras on poised
tao-tips became pieces of rope -
Plantain rope and banana rope
Strung from rafters
Drying and dying.

And everywhere there were deep latrine-pits
And worms were seen to crawl on themselves
And feed on their own shit.
Yet some saw snakes trapped in a hole,
Slithering over each other,
Praying someone might stumble down
But the tropical sun stands overhead,
Straighter than god, and brightens
what should be the snake-hole.
And being cautious hunters
We peep as though afraid to see ourselves -
And there, what is it we see -
The rope for the serpent
Or the serpent for the rope!