“A glimpse through the windows of my life!”
Hello I’m Chris Prashad and for those of you who do not know much about me I will try my best to paint a word portrait of my true self (no fiction) and hopefully through this medium, inspire you to take the reins firmly in your hands and change your outlook in life for the better henceforth.
You shall have just a glimpse through the windows of my life, what it was like growing up as I did, the hurdles I faced and overcame, my hopes and aspirations then, my music, and the real me. I will leave my siblings and my own family out of this as they too have their own unique stories to tell.
Birth Place and Early Life
I am Guyanese, born on a little farm owned by my maternal grandparents called Grant St. Joseph in the Pomeroon District of Guyana that at the time of my birth was under three feet of flood waters due to heavy rains. Although I do not know the actual hour, minute or seconds when I entered this physical world, I’m told by my mom and grandmother I came out screaming the hell out of my lungs.
According to my maternal grandparents, when I was old enough, my Mom and Dad took me home to their place of abode located on a farm called Grant Unity on the Northern limits of the growing township of Charity, Guyana very close to the Pomeroon River and not too far from my grandma’s. The winding Pomeroon River, over 90 feet deep, serves as a waterway for all kinds of activities.
Charity, aptly named because it was a gift to the Government, is a big bustling market place where farmers from the lower and upper Pomeroon River, along with residents on the coast, meet to transact business or shop on a daily basis – the busiest days being week-ends.
As a young boy growing up in Charity I faced huge challenges and obstacles; all related to being born into a hardworking but poor family. The word POVERTY was even more prevalent when the family grew from just three of us to fourteen.
Although poor my parents knew the importance of education and when I was old enough my dad entered me in school making sure I was safe and comfortable at all times. He did the same for the other siblings as well until I was old enough to take charge of this duty. During my entire school life I attended classes bare-footed with just one set of clothes for an entire school year or until I simply outgrew them.
School life was not as exciting as I expected it to be but I silently bore my pains internally, hoping, praying and doing the best I could. When I got home from school in the afternoons my mom would carefully examine my clothes to determine if they were clean enough for the next school day. If not she would wash them by hand, squeeze them out as dry as she could and hang them out on a line in the house to dry overnight.
Rising at day break the next morning to the songs of the Kiskadees on nearby mango and orange trees she would check to see if my clothes had dried. If still damp she would light up the fireside, stick some dry wood in it and fan it to generate enough fire to heat up a round flat iron baking pan which we called tawa. You may know it as a griddle. She would then place two steel flat irons (pictured on the left) on it to transfer the heat to them. When they were hot enough she would wipe them clean and press/iron my clothes until they were dry enough to wear.
Later on in middle school one of the two years I attended my favorite outfit was a Sailor Boy’s suit my Mom sewed together with her own hands using scrap pieces of cloth from a tailor’s shop not far from our home. Yes, it was a suit of patches but I loved it and it had my entire mother’s love sewn into it. I took extra care not to get it stained or too dirty. I proudly wore that set of clothes for two full years.
Growing up our home had no modern conveniences of today. It was constructed from the leaves of the trulie palm trees with lighting furnished by one kerosene hurricane lantern. Bedding was simply jute bags spread out on the hard wooden floor under a mosquito net.
To make life better Dad fortunately got a night job to open and close sluices, a sliding gate device for controlling the flow of water in our district. The work was dangerous, physical and demanding and the tide water always varied in time often interrupting my dad’s sleeping patterns.
Armed with an unreliable flashlight on moonless nights dad would trot from sluice to sluice controlling water levels and flow rates in Charity.
The pay was slavish in nature but his sacrifice helped to put food on our table. Because of this job he was nick-named Koka Harry and I was sometimes referred to as Koka Harry’s son, mockingly of course.
As the family grew in size food was in short supply especially when my Dad’s crops were destroyed from floods caused by heavy seasonal rains and forest waters from the savannah that overflowed the embankment behind the farm. Many days I had no lunch, so a few friends and I in the same predicament would go through the nearby forest searching for wild fruits to eat – guava, mangoes, a pod fruit we called whitie, papaws, ripe berries from the black-sage tree, jamoons and whatever else eatable was in season. Yes, life was tough, real tough.
When I reached the age of 15 Dad managed to obtain a lousy contract with the district administration to clean all of the existing government drainage canals in the district. I say lousy because my Dad was forced to part with 20% of his earnings demanded by the corrupt supervisor of that era in order to get the contract. My Dad really struggled in the beginning because he spent most of the first weeks clearing the dams and parapets of weeds before the canals could even be cleaned. On week-ends both Saturday and Sunday my younger brother, Ishri, and I would work with him from 7:00 am until 5.00 pm. We also helped out on holidays and vacation days.
The canals were very deep, sometimes five feet at some parts and invested with mosquitoes feasting on our exposed skin and the little blood we had left. We often needed to duck under cover to get rid of the mosquitoes and sometimes cow flies attempting suck our blood. Many times our lives were threatened by huge anacondas and alligators, besides dangerous venomous snakes lurking by the parapet as we progressed. It was a never ending job avoiding these treacherous creatures.
The canal water was up to our necks most of the time as we welded our 22 inch long cutlasses (machetes) to cut the weeds down to the root zones. We would then roll the weeds into a big ball and Dad would hook the ball of weeds with a large fork fashioned from a strong tree branch and together we would roll that bundle of weeds up the parapet. My brother and I were in that water all day long. We even ate our lunch standing in the water. When we were finally done for the day our hands and feet were all wrinkled and we shivered in the evening breeze. When we got home we bathed in the river, put on our patchy house clothes and joined our mother in the kitchen by the fire side to warm ourselves before dinner time (if there was any). The next day we were back to work again as usual.
With the week-end over, we were back to school I would borrow text books from my rich friends willing to lend them in order for me to get my homework done. My parents could hardly afford the groceries much less purchase text books for us. I would get up at two in the morning; study in my bed until five using the light of the kerosene lantern and then steal a few hours of sleep until seven. School began Monday through Friday at nine and ended at three in the afternoon.
It was on one of many work week-ends with Dad when my late head-master, Mr. Cecil Ramoutar, trudged all the way on foot down the canal dam 1500 meters away from my home, news paper in hand, shouting to my Dad, “Mr. Prashad, your son made it, he made it.” After a long gaze he turned to me and said, “Son, today will be the last day you shall be doing this dirty job; you are the only one who passed the examination and I want you on my staff as a trainee teacher as of Monday next.”
I did not know what to say, whether to shout out for joy, or cry. I just stood there, in the cold water up to my neck, shocked, in a trance, unaware that hundreds of mosquitoes were sucking my blood away. “Thank you Lord for answering my prayer,” was the only thought that silently ran through my mind even though I hardly knew who my Lord really was.
Passing the teachers examination was no easy feat for a poor boy like me to achieve. My Dad was the happiest man and beamed with joy and delight; his dream came through. He now had something to boast about, much to my detriment. I was hated by many for the success I was able to achieve under the worse conditions imaginable and was the same where ever I went after that as I climbed the ladder of success.
My Head Master then turned to me and said, “From Monday, you are to turn out to school as a teacher under my tutelage.” I was shocked. I saw nightmares in front of me. I had no shoes, no long pants or suitable shirt, no tie to wear to meet the dress code required. I was silent all the way back home that evening. The income from the job we were doing was barely enough to feed the family and my Dad would not sink into credit for any cause. He said it was a curse, something to steer clear of and he was right. I have seen how living on credit destroyed many good people and their families.
I started music as a hobby. I also loved painting landscapes, seascapes, still life and even experimented with the abstract. My Dad taught me how to play the ukulele banjo when I was still going to school. Later on after I became a teacher I saved some money and bought my first guitar. I had trouble figuring out the use of the two extra strings but gradually overcame that when I bought a self teaching book – HOW TO PLAY THE GUITAR. After about six months I mastered a few chords and a few popular songs.
From a Jack to a King – (Ned Miller), I’m a Lonesome Fugitive – (Merle Haggard), I Need You – (Rick Nelson), Hang on Sloopy – (The Macoys) , I love You Because – (Jim Reeves), Happy Journey – (Hank Williams), Mom & Dad Waltz, and I Love You a Thousand ways – (Lefty Frizzel); I won’t Forget You – (Jim Reeves) and many, many more were some of my favorites. For that matter, I loved all of Jim’s songs. I also played the Harmonica and Bongos.
As I grew more confident I used to swing in my hammock and sing to my utmost satisfaction when I got home in the evenings after work (teaching). I used to listen to a program called TEENSVILLE on RADIO DEMERARA every Saturday morning and told myself that someday in the future I will be on that show but with a difference. I will be singing my own compositions.
And I did. It was my first trip away from home. I saved some money from my teacher’s paycheck, bought a plane ticket to Georgetown (my first time in a plane too) That week I stayed with one of my uncles (my father’s brother, Kissoon) It was a Friday, a week after my Summer vacation began that year, 1967 I think. I made friends with one of the announcers on the show, Mr. Bertie Chancellor (now deceased) and as my visits grew more frequently he showed me some of the ropes of getting things done in the studio.
I grew quite popular and Bertie became my Best Friend for a long time, but my Dad became very worried over me. When I returned home after winning a competition for my song “Onward March with Independence” my dad pulled out a suit case full of fan mail and popped the obvious question. “Tell me, how are you going to keep up with all these letters?” A little pause and he blurted out “Good heavens my son, this is a full time job with no pay,” he emphasized. I tried to throw it back at him. “But Dad, it was you who wanted me to sing like a pro, so what’s the problem with you now?.” And yes, I lost the argument. I tried other means to get my songs out for others to enjoy but ended up losing a few of my best songs to song sharks in the USA. I finally gave up singing because I saw no future in that hobby then.
I pondered over this matter for a whole year and a half and finally gave in to my Dad’s wishes – that I stop this show business thing and concentrate on my college education. That same year, 1970 I went to college but continued to write songs and poems. I got into serious problems at college for standing up for my rights. I was racially discriminated against and was given low grades for work that was far superior to those of students of another ethnic group. The problem grew worse when I reported my concerns to the principal. But it was like lodging a complaint against the devil in his own court. When one of those tutors tried to convince me of that foolish Darwin’s theory of evolution, ‘that we all evolved from creatures like monkeys,’ I boldly popped the question “Well, if we all evolved from monkeys then why are there still monkeys with us to this day?” The tutor flew in a rage. “How dare you questioned me?” I boldly repeated the question to the astonishment of the other students. He still did not answer me. I refused to be brainwashed with bullshit and left him with a lot of food for thought. I quit college that year and two years later he died of a heart attack. The principal also died of a heart attack. I went back to College after that and graduated within two years with honors in English Language and Arts & Craft. My Career as a teacher spanned over 28 years. I considered myself a talented and successful teacher, and my many early promotions are testimony to this fact.
After many years away from my birth place I bought my own farm about a mile away from my Parent’s place. I moved back to my place of birth and continued to serve as a school principal in the district. My wife and daughter were also teaching there. One Saturday while the family was out shopping I took up my Guitar turned on my cassette recorder and recorded all my songs that I remembered. I did this all at one sitting. It was my hope that by doing this my songs will be preserved for the benefit of my children and grand-children. A year later my brother-in-law (Fazal) and sister visited me. The first thing they wanted to hear was me singing their favorite songs. Instead I played the cassette for their listening pleasure. Fazal insisted that I made him a copy.
A Good friend of mine, Mr. Frank Van Sluytman, gladly obliged and also requested a copy for himself. He loved my songs too. Unfortunately, he died suddenly of a heart attack. This made me very, very sad indeed. He was very good to me and I do not know whether he did make a copy of the cassette for himself or not. This took a heavy toll on my life then one day I felt a bit lonely and popped the cassette into the player and listened for a while then fell asleep in the hammock. the player kept on running and the tape got caught on the roller of the machine and was ruined. I gave up and did not sing my songs again for a few years.
When I was posted to head the Siriki Primary school my urge for singing came back but could not remember all the songs anymore. I gave up hope of ever recovering them melody wise. I even forgot I had given my brother-in-law a copy. It was then I wrote the songs, OH HOW HAPPY CAN GUYANA BE!, I LOVE MY GUYANA, and FLAG OF EXCELLENCE – a school song for the children of Siriki.
Years later after my family and I migrated to the USA (my Heavenly Father’s will) I got a call from my brother-in-law, Fazal, who migrated to Canada several years before. “Hey Brods,” he greeted me. “I just listened to your songs man. They sound just as good when I heard them at your place for the first time” he continued. I was shocked to learn that he still had that copy. And boy! was I happy he did! After about an hour’s gaff on the phone I actually begged him to send it to me by registered mail. He did. I had them converted to mp3’s and burnt a few CD’s to preserve them. Thanks to him, this project is made possible.
All I can say at this time is that My Creator does work in the strangest of ways. Please visit my Music page and Photo Gallery.