Guyanese Writer at FNU

By PROFESSOR SUBRAMANI

Churaumanie Bissundyal is a Guyanese writer who is a Visiting Professor at the Fiji National University, Lautoka Campus. He was born in Mahaicony and raised on the island of Leguan in Guyana. He studied at the University of Guyana and won an International Writers Award that took him to the United States where he studied for his postgraduate degrees and continued to write. His works include Whom the Kiskadees Call(? 1994 ), Labarian Puraan( 1995 ), The Game of Kassau(2002? ), A River Dreams Red( 2009? ) and most recently The Dumb and the Brave(2013).

The following interview with Professor Subramani took place at the FNU, Lautoka Campus.

I gather part of The Dumb and the Bravewas written in Fiji, the early part in the US. Did living in Fiji influence your novel in any important way?

– –Yes, a lot of revision/ rewrites were done in Fiji. Fiji is an ideal place for writers with its landscape splendour. It has inspired me greatly. Since I came here, I have been writing copiously.

I read the novel with great pleasure. There are two major strands in the novel, going to school in Guyana and playing cricket. How did the two become connected in your mind?

— Cricket is more than a religion in Guyana, more than a belief. If a boy does not know to play cricket, he is not a boy. Primary and secondary (high) schools in Guyana integrate cricket into their curriculum because it?s a game of discipline, resilience, fortitude, grace, intellect, and self-motivation. And these things are vital in education. When we have a game of cricket in Guyana, it is bigger than a festival, as I have depicted in The Dumb and Brave.

You remarked many times that you have great faith in the ability of Fijians to play cricket. What makes you feel that Fiji can become an emerging cricketing nation?

— Fijians are a talented, bright, sharp, imaginative, and adept people. (And when I say ?Fijians,? I mean all ethnic groups?i-taukei, Indian, Rotuman etc.). I have been teaching students cricket at Fiji National University, and I have seen their prowess and potentials to develop into cricketing stars. A lot of people in Fiji don?t know that during the British administration here, in the early days, Fiji had a powerful national cricket team, which beat Australia in an international game. Fiji, then, can re-emerge as a great cricketing nation.

A distinct impression one gets from the way you have named the characters is that their ethnic identity is not as important as it is in Fijian writing. Was this deliberate or the level of assimilation, some call it miscegenation, is high in Guyana? Is Guyana more multicultural than Fiji?

: —Yes, my not mentioning ethnic identity was deliberate. I wanted to show Guyana as a nation of one people, to show their endowments, weaknesses and general character without drawing them into the areas of ethnicity, race and religion. Like other Caribbean and South American territories, Guyana is heavily multiracial and multicultural.

Many writers from the Caribbean have sought exile in the United States, Canada or Great Britain. Is Guyana a hospitable environment for writers?

— During the colonial days, many Caribbean writers?VS Naipaul, Wilson Harris, Edgar Mittelhozer, Derek Walcott etc.–sought exile in England because there were no publishing houses in the Caribbean at that time; and in the distance, it was hard to get published. Now we have two major publishing houses?Peepal Tree Press and Caribbean Press– publishing Guyanese/Caribbean works. Many Guyanese writers today choose to write at home. It is easier now. Guyana, like Fiji, is ideal for creative writers

What would you say has been the most striking aspect of Fiji for a Guyanese writer visiting Fiji?

— ?Everything here is striking and enthralling: landscape beauty, people, languages and accents, talent, imagination, culture, rituals, history.

You have been in Fiji for a couple of years now, what have you discovered about Fijian writing?

— Though several writers in Fiji do not have many published works, there is high quality writing here, challenging international standards, including works by you ( Subramani), Satendra Nandan, Sudesh Mishra, Vilsoni Hereniko, LarryThomas. I have read some anthologies and collections edited by you and Nandan. In these publications, we have some writers who are not known outside Fiji, but their pieces are breath taking and delightful.

You told me you were writing a book of non-fiction about Fijian literature. How is that progressing?

—? I have started a nonfiction book, funded as a research by FNU. It?s about the unique writing craft of Fijian writers. I had some setbacks for four months and was on leave. I will resume research and writing soon

Do you think you will feel confident enough one day to write fiction about Fiji?

— I will certainly write a novel (fiction) about Fiji. If I don?t do that, I have wasted my years here.

Interview with Professor Subramani

Question 1: Yes, a lot of revision/ rewrites were done in Fiji. Fiji is an ideal place for writers with its landscape splendour. It has inspired me greatly. Since I came here, I have been writing copiously.

Question 2: ?Cricket is more than a religion in Guyana, more than a belief. If a boy does not know to play cricket, he is not a boy. Primary and secondary (high) schools in Guyana integrate cricket into their curriculum because it?s a game of discipline, resilience, fortitude, grace, intellect, and self-motivation. And these things are vital in education. When we have a game of cricket in Guyana, it is bigger than a festival, as I have depicted in The Dumb and Brave.

Question 3: Fijians are a talented, bright, sharp, imaginative, and adept people. (And when I say ?Fijians,? I mean all ethnic groups?i-taukei, Indian, Rotuman etc.). I have been teaching students cricket at Fiji National University, and I have seen their prowess and potentials to develop into cricketing stars. A lot of people in Fiji don?t know that during the British administration here, in the early days, Fiji had a powerful national cricket team, which beat Australia in an international game. Fiji, then, can re-emerge as a great cricketing nation.

Question 4: Yes, my not mentioning ethnic identity was deliberate. I wanted to show Guyana as a nation of one people, to show their endowments, weaknesses and general character without drawing them into the areas of ethnicity, race and religion. Like other Caribbean and South American territories, Guyana is heavily multiracial and multicultural.

Question 5: During the colonial days, many Caribbean writers?VS Naipaul, Wilson Harris, Edgar Mittelhozer, Derek Walcott etc.–sought exile in England because there were no publishing houses in the Caribbean at that time; and in the distance, it was hard to get published. Now we have two major publishing houses?Peepal Tree Press and Caribbean Press– publishing Guyanese/Caribbean works. Many Guyanese writers today choose to write at home. It is easier now. Guyana, like Fiji, is ideal for creative writers.

Question 6: Everything here is striking and enthralling: landscape beauty, people, languages and accents, talent, imagination, culture, rituals, history.

Question 7: Though several writers in Fiji do not have many published works, there is high quality writing here, challenging international standards, including works by you, Satendra Nandan, Mishra, Hereniko, Thomas. I have read some anthologies and collections edited by you and Nandan. In these publications, we have some writers who are not known outside Fiji, but their pieces are breathtaking and delightful.

Question 8: I have started a nonfiction book, funded as a research by FNU. It?s about the unique writing craft of Fijian writers. I had some setbacks for four months and was on leave. I will resume research and writing soon

Question 9: I will certainly write a novel (fiction) about Fiji. If I don?t do that, I have wasted my years here.