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Tomorrow is Another Day

Written by Ameena Gafoor for Stabroek News on no date provided

Tomorrow Is Another Day was on the shortlist for last year’s Guyana Prize for Literature. Its publication is an event of no little significance to the Guyanese society in particular. Its author, Narmala Shewcharan, can be considered the first female novelist to have emerged from the Indian diaspora in this former British colony. It has taken more than one hundred and fifty years for the woman of the indentured and colonised canefarming and ricefarming immigrant stock to begin to flourish creatively through the novel and to take her place in the literary arts which probes and illuminates the core of human experience. Shewcharan is a welcome addition given the dearth of Guyanese women writers.

This fictional work recreates an abyss of human experience. It offers glimpses of individual lives caught in the social and political convulsion of the day. The novel refrains from naming a particular society or identifying a particular period of time. The work mentions the United Party, the Worker’s Party and its Headquarters (where the opposition struggle takes place), the Official Party and the Secretariat (according to one of the characters, ‘a political jungle’), the hospital, the market, the prison cell (a virtual torture chamber - the ultimate scene of the dehumanisation of the individual), and, of course, the society itself which is a cage or ‘open prison’. Some readers may see it as a thinly disguised work of an all too familiar, well remembered scenario. And yet this fictional work would be relevant in any society where the abuse of power leads to the victimisation and needless sacrifice of its people. If the reader can recognise himself or relate scenes and institutions around him in this work, then the work has succeeded, for one of the functions of serious art is to hold up a mirror to society wherein man can see himself. The interpretation of the work is its engagement with the reader.

The structure of Shewcharan’s novel is clever - a happy fusion of content and form. Like the complex web of human relationships it seeks to portray, its episodes are spun and spaced with purpose like the pattern of a spider’s web, with bases held together by tenuous links, each point in the web locating and probing dichotomies of human existence and social interaction. The denouement becomes, not an unravelling or happy clarifying of situations, but the sudden and late realisation of being caught in the web, of coming face to face with the seductive monster which none is able to touch and from which one must fall away with deep disillusionment and disappointment, often at the price of life and the fragmentation of the family. This work is almost a fulfilment of Martin Carter’s worst fears contained in these famous lines: ‘Like a jig / shakes the loom / Like a web / is spun the pattern / all are involved! / all are consumed!’ (Poems of Resistance, 1954).

The helplessness of the poor, the dilemma of the idealistic, the wilfulness of those who hold power, the urge to escape a corrupt and repressive dictatorship and, more shockingly, the underbelly of politics with its inevitable intrigues, are never more starkly presented than in Shewcharan’s novel. Two men choose different paths to seek the same ideal. Each believes that he can influence the order of things and make a meaningful contribution to the party of his choice in order to better the lot of the suffering masses and redeem them from the demoralising morass in which the society is bogged down.

These choices have traumatic impact on their own lives and on the lives of their loved ones. Alienation, estrangement, scapegoatism, tragedy and trauma have become the hallmark of the modern Guyanese novel. Anxieties, homelessness, painful separation and loss are narrated with sympathy. Yet it is not only the government with its corrupt morality that stands indicted in this novel. The chief engineer in the downfall of the protagonist and, consequently, of this small group of individuals, is an astute, vindictive and shadowy Iago-type character of the opposition ranks who, ironically, turns around and befriends the victims when they are down. There seems to be a worm in every rose and only the novel has the power and authority to explore aspects of human nature and human experience with this incisive perceptiveness.

Almost all the characters in this work show resolute determination in their struggle to survive their hardened state of existence. They all, in varying degrees, suffer disillusionment and victimisation, but the female characters stand out for the great strength of purpose which they exhibit, their vision and resolve to keep the family unit intact at all costs and for their communion and solidarity with each other in the disintegrating society. There is Aunt Adee who has lost a son to the political struggle ‘it was people like her who gave the lie to stories of racial unrest’ - the independent woman struggling to make a living, sleeping on a stall in the market, with her dozens of plastic bags pinned about her. Then there is Kunti, the good Samaritan and comfort to those in distress. And then there is Chandini who soldiers on despite the adversities and summons strength out of her fragility and whose only purpose in life is to meet the uncertain tomorrows her five children wake up to each day.

The feminine principle is celebrated in this novel but not romanticised. Positive images of woman are drawn with realism: for example, Chandini ‘remembered too well her own shattered dreams because, even though her father was a headteacher, she had lived in a village where they did not believe in women wasting time on books’. Her husband, fired with idealistic zeal, relinquishes job and family, to work as a voluntary ‘organiser’ with the opposition party but Chandini never reveals her anguish.

In the end, and after all his ordeal, the scapegoat Jagru seeks out Adee in the market: ‘She took his hand and he allowed himself to be led. He became aware that children were staring at them and giggling. Two freaks, he thought. Two more mad people to join the crowd. He began to laugh himself, almost without pause ... (H)e continued to laugh and Aunt Adee joined him, thinking that his laughter as a free man was a happy sound.’ The truth is that Jagru laughs in order to keep from crying.

Tomorrow is Another Day is an important contribution both to the West Indian and to the Guyanese literary archive. This novel is a testimony of the beliefs, the myths, the rituals, the reality and the dreams that make society either functional or dysfunctional. It has clear socio-historical relevance to the postcolonial societies in our region.

I’ll let Jagru have the last word. Thoroughly disgusted by his experience in the prison cell, Jagru thinks (of the inmates): ‘They were like animals in a cage, the men across from him. How they had come to be so perverted and sadistic, so merciless in their dealings with their fellow human beings he would not speculate. Whatever, they had no right to walk with the civilised and their place was rightfully behind bars ... But at least these men did not hide what they were, unlike the men in suits and ties who sat behind their desks and inflicted suffering on the masses in order to feed their egos – and their bank balances. They were animals, too, but in disguise, predators who ripped out the guts of their fellow creature’s dreams.’

This novel has been written with honesty, integrity and brutal frankness.

This is a review of Tomorrow is Another Day

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