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|Doosha: The Forgotten Hero|
|Monday, 07 May 2012 21:09|
ON the 174th anniversary of the arrival of the first East Indian immigrants to Guyana we are compelled to remember our heroes, many of whom have excelled on the cricket field.
Before Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan there were Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran. And before these outstanding descendants of East Indian indentured immigrants there was Chatterpal ‘Doosha’ Persaud.
Today, although he is a forgotten hero, it is most appropriate that we remember him.
Chatterpal Persaud was the toast of British Guiana in 1937. Doosha, as he was affectionately called, was the son of an East Indian indentured servant. He was selected amidst much controversy and he made 174 to help British Guiana eliminate Barbados and move on to the final against Trinidad. He then scored 96 and 32 and took six wickets as British Guiana defeated Trinidad and won the prestigious Inter-Colonial Cricket Tournament. Unquestionably, he was a bona fide all-rounder.
The following year he embellished his stature as a leading batsman in the region with a sparkling 118 for British Guiana against a combined Barbados-Trinidad team.
He seemed a sure pick for the West Indies team to tour England in 1939. Alas, he was not. The West Indian selectors were not inclined to select an East Indian at that time. It was a gross injustice to Doosha.
Cricket was accompanied by racial prejudice from its advent in the West Indies. English settlers in Demerara who played ‘a game with a small bat and sticks’ as early as 1778, utilised Blacks to retrieve the balls.
The English military in Barbados, who played cricket amidst their battles with the French during the early 19th century, utilised Blacks as net bowlers, inadvertently exposing them to the game. However, batting and organised matches remained the exclusive domain of the White man. Racial prejudice had sprouted its thorns as cricket took roots in the West Indies.
Following the abolition of slavery in the 1830s, immigrants from several British colonies were brought to the West Indies to replace the slave labour on the sugar plantations.
With respect to British Guiana, the primary groups were East Indians from India (238,909 from 1838 to 1917), Portuguese from Madeira and the Azores (32,216 from 1835 to 1881) and Chinese from Hong Kong (13,533 from 1852 to 1884). Trinidad and Jamaica received their first batches of East Indian immigrants in 1845. Throughout the 19th century East Indians immigrants were exposed to cricket in a limited manner just like the Blacks were.
Doosha was born in Kitty Village in December 6, 1906. Doosha was the first of two sons born to the indentured immigrant Orilall and his first generation wife Lutchmin. They were attached to Plantation Lusignan, East Coast Demerara.
Doocha also influenced by his devout Hindu family. His worshipped daily and celebrated the Hindu festivals such as Deepavali and Holi. As his father’s business prospered they held an annual yagna, which was a thanksgiving ceremony. They also had regular Jhandi services and several red and yellow flags affixed to strands of bamboo were displayed quite prominently in their yard. Not surprisingly, Doosha greeted his elders with, “Ram, Ram.” He had picked up a few things on Hinduism. Ram and Sita are the central figures in the Hindu epic the Ramayana.
Doosha’s selection to the British Guiana team was controversial. He was not named in the squad of 14 that was published in the Daily Argosy. It was an outrage and the Portuguese businessman Sylvester DeFreitas who threatened to ‘haul out my zinc sheets if Doosha don’t get a game’. He had personally fenced the GCC ground. The autocratic members of the GCC acquiesced and Doosha was selected to represent the colony.
The following year he scored a magnificent 116 for British Guiana against a combined Trinidad -Barbados team and seemed a sure pick to tour England with the West Indies team in 1939. However, the West Indies Captain Rolf Grant was a devout racialist and he ensured Doosha was omitted. Doosha migrated to Trinidad, made its colony side and scored 58, the second top score of the innings. QPCC promptly dropped him from the Trinidad team without an explanation. He suffered the deepest racial discrimination in West Indian cricket history. His biography – Doosha, The Forgotten Hero - is a forthcoming publication by this author.
There was a sprinkling of East Indians who preceded Doosha into the colony team. Joseph Alexander Veerasammy was the first East Indian to play first-class cricket for British Guiana. He represented the colony in 1910, 1921 and 1922. His selection was due to the prominent standing of his father Veerasammy Mudaliar who was the chief interpreter of the Immigration Department.
Charlie Pooran of Port Mourant represented the colony against Trinidad at Port of Spain in 1929. It was his only first-class match. Bulla Saddick of the then East Indian Cricket Club also toured in 1929 but he did not play in any first-class match. This was the extent of East Indian involvement by early 1930s. None of them had excelled for the colony. The East Indians still did not have a hero of their own in the colony team much less the West Indies, which incidentally had just secured its first-ever Test victory against England at the GCC ground, Bourda in 1930.
Doosha’s magnificent hundred in 1937 was a symbolic representation of the beauty of British Guiana. One hundred years earlier in 1837, while exploring British Guiana, the botanist Robert Schomburgk had stumbled across a spectacular water lily of gigantic proportions.
Stretching about six feet across the lily pad looked like an enormous pie plate and could easily support a coiled boa constrictor napping in the shade of its tremendous blossom, which boasts an expansive corolla that runs the gamut of pink between its pearly white petals and bright red centre.
The chivalrous Schomburgk christened the future pride of the botanical gardens ‘Victoria Regia’ in honour of the British sovereign. Exactly 100 years later, British Guiana had discovered another beauty on the cricket field. He was nicknamed Doosha.
It is quite fitting that Chanderpaul, another descendant of East Indian immigrants is currently ranked the number one batsman in the world by the ICC. Chanderpaul is only the tenth player to score 10 000 runs and boasts an average of 50.01.
As if by divine providence, it so happens that Shiv’s accomplishment is on the 75th anniversary of Doosha’s sterling performance. As Prabhuji Gangaram would say, Jai Hind Doosha Bhai, Jai Hind!
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