By Mr. Zamin Khan
Over the years, the Albion Reunion has morphed into a signature event for the masses of Albion and beyond. The humble beginnings of the Albion Reunion initiative was fathered by my brother, Mr. Aslim Khan (Slim), and his henchman, Mr. Parmanand Sahadeo (Bill) in 2008. To further their pioneering vision, they agitated for support, and a retinue of supporters emerged---Suresh Jagroop, Thansingh, Sew Shivnaraine, Dev Chedda, D. Siewnaraine, Bobby Roopram, Mahesh Sankar, S.Harbajan, and Miss Ann Ramoutar ---- all of whom hitched the bandwagon, and together, their exemplary dedication, commitment and organizational acumen, bestowed upon it the zeal and exuberance to feed the nostalgic appetite of Berbicians—especially the Albionites. And rightly so: it’s heralded as a vibrant, brief and intense forum where Albionites and others would meet annually, exchanged surprises, greeted newcomers, rekindled old friendships, reminisced about distant pranks, and excited their idle curiosities to new heights, as their untutored gossips spilled into unsettled frontiers: “ aye bye aye you hear dat Jangal son pan Nigg back street get deport ,“ blurted an unsuspecting fan….” Whey you hear da pan ?,” ….. “ Man da rumor” griped a curious eavesdropping listener--- is a classic example of gossips spilled into unsettled frontiers. Indeed, it’s a getaway retreat for youngsters and elders, singles and families, introverts and extroverts , eligibles and ineligibles or as Clint Eastwood would say, “ THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. “ Most of them hailed from Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Florida, Canada, England, while others percolated from different areas of the globe.
At this juncture, a question that is begging to be addressed, especially for the younger generation, is,” why Guyanese emigrated in large numbers from Guyana to the US and other countries?” The answer is simple but disturbing : The mass exodus of Guyanese from Guyana started in the mid-seventies during the brutal and repressive reign of the People’s National Congress (PNC), under the leadership of Mr Forbes Burnham, who lost his objectivity, exercised racial bigotry, banned staple foods, and execute a choke-hold on the Guyanese populace—victimization of detractors ( mostly Indo-Guyanese ) was widespread, as it trickled to the grass root level. Unspeakable suffering ensued; most people had no choice but to vacate the country in pursuit of a better life. Richmond Hill , Queens, NY became the hotbed of Guyanese immigration, while others migrated the world over as circumstances dictated. So Guyanese reunion the world over has been rooted from this state of affairs, as they try to ventilate their cultural mindset.
The last Albion reunion was pitched August 11th 2013 at its regular venue Baisle Park, Queens, New York. Around elevenish in the morning, supporters, fans, and participants started to grace their way into the park only to be greeted by make- shift tents and similar contraptions erected by sponsors and emblazoned with their identifying logos. The tents were canopied in white to deflect the searing heat of the sun, and horizoned in an arc like manner under a silhouette of maple leaf trees. Most of them use these facilities to house their food, picnic concerns and other associated necessities, while others gravitated to compatible and visible areas within the park. Unsettled, anchorless, and edgy, the growing crowd eagerly awaited to spectator the events ahead, and to embrace the looming excitement and pomp: athletic events, tassa drumming and chutney music , honoring community activists, spotlighting longevity in the elderly etc. Simultaneously, designated organizers uniformed in synchronizing attire engaged their rigorous vigilance to contain the crowd, and lull unruly conduct into compliance, if and whenever necessary. Meanwhile, Aslim Khan, who would intermittently hug the mike, microphonically parroted his welcoming gesture to supporters and others, and gave guidance to all contenders who opted to participate in the impending athletic events .
Flat race, lime and spoon, sack race, hoola hoop, were among the main events. The lime and spoon and sack race in particular yielded lingering memories. They have been prevalent in Guyana school sports, so it’s practically difficult to detach ourselves from them. The lime and spoon, which is female oriented, required the contenders to balance the lime on a table spoon and bolted about fifty yards to the finishing line. If the lime bubbled out of the spoon, the contender is not automatically disqualified; she may validate herself by returning to the starting line, and restart. This option, however, is rarely exercised, since the other competitors will have already reached the finishing line. The sack race is inflated with fun. Competitors would inch their body into a Guyana style rice bag and jiggled about fifty yards to the finishing line. Their predictable and measured strides were no guarantee for victory; they could stumble at any time, even in front of the finishing line. Winners of each race were honored with a trophy.
As the day deepened, the surging heat is tempered with a bellyful of chutney music and tassa drums. While the ultrasonic tempo of the tassa drums flared, and checkered, it impacted and gave a voice to our cultural and collective mindset, a mindset that peppered nostalgia to reign supreme. Amid this frenzied fanfare, the pepped up home-based sentiments jolted a layer from the crowd to jump up and display supple hip movements, jockeying with a contortion of graceful hand and arm gestures, as they kept on gyrating and bouncing , and flanked by an engaging audience. It is worthy to note that tassa drumming is an inherited art form brought to the Carribbean by East Indian indentured laborers. It has a madrasi flavor to it, as it was originated from south India. Few tassa ensembles have existed in Guyana and Suriname, but was primarily in Trinidad that the genre took root and flourished. Today, tassa drumming is becoming common in Richmond Hill, Queens, enriched by a dynamic blend of tradition and innovation and by an audience appeal which is not limited to East Indian.
As the agenda continued to unfold, a time for reflection engulfed the crowd ; it’s a time to dignify the achievements of those whose contribution to society has been singled out for recognition. Since each year awards have been issued for that purpose, the number of awardees are too numerous to mention. However, I will briefly, and indiscriminately, profile a few recipients : Mr Mustapha Ally, whose contribution climaxed in the establishment of the Albion Complex, is a resourceful and pragmatic community activist. Because of this monumental accomplishment, the name Albion Complex became a household phrase in the international community, especially in the cricketing community; Dr. Basdeo Mangru, educator, writer, University lecturer, penned several books, and is considered the foremost authority on Indian Immigration and the Indentured Labor System as practiced in British Guiana, now Guyana, and other Carribbean islands. Moreover, he formerly was teacher in the Albion Community and went beyond his call of duty to inspire and emboldened the academic life of youngsters within the Albion community ( he was one of my teachers at Albion C. M. School ); Professor Mohamed Azeem Khan, known as MA, who is my brother, had been a teacher in the Albion community, clinched a Fulbright scholarship, and lectured at the University of Guyana and at Fordham University in NYC in the Department of Mathematics. His contribution as an educator will immortalize the Albion community and inspired others to either equal or excel his quintessential academic and community achievements. Prof. Khan succumbed to his mortality in June 2002. He was given a posthumous award; Mr.Sew Shivnaraine, who is a responsible and helpful official of the Albion reunion, etched his name in the annals of Albion cricketing history as being the first Albionite to play test cricket ( the highest form of cricket ); Prof. Paul Eriah (Hykil ), a former high school teacher, had been very active and vocal in the late sixties in addressing certain concerns of the Albion community. Currently, he is an adjunct professor at Saint John’s University. These are but a few deserving individuals, like many others, who would carry with them the enduring embers of the Albion reunion awards.
As fans dallied and frolicked, they would make sporadic culinary pit stops to whet their appetite with an array of exotic Guyanese dishes—dishes that were mostly prepared at home by housewives---cook up rice, curry chicken, mutton, goat, fried rice, chowmin, dhall puri, bunjal shrimp, fish cakes, potatoe balls, bara, boiled channa, pulourie, among others.
The icing of the cake at the Albion reunion has always been to honor the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Albion community—the elderly. Aslim Khan would proudly announce the names, coupled with an introductory remark, of all those who have accomplished a milestone in longevity. They would reluctantly muscled their way to be assembled on a designated set of chairs to uplift their award. My father,Mr. Sujawal Khan, who is hastily becoming a nonagenarian (ninety years) has been the usual winner, followed by other octogenarians, all of whom can be truly considered to be a primary source of the history of Plantation Albion. Their anecdotal accounts are rooted from their experiences, and is devoid of prejudice and manipulation. They would give us a mouthful of history, plain and simple, with profound probity.
Although the Albion reunion may be considered representative of other reunions, it distinguishes itself as being more homely and eventful, as it echoes a nostalgic extravaganza to be reckoned with: home spun athletic events, tassa drumming and chutney music, among others.
Notwithstanding the progress credited to the Albion reunion in recent years, a lot more still remains to be done. To assist the organizers to rise to the testy challenges that lay ahead, your sponsorship, contribution and comments will be extremely helpful and appreciated. Moreover, it will provide them with the financial clout to flex charitable gestures to the Albion community pursuant to remedying the distressing state of the schools---Belvedere, Cropper, Albion Primary---the needy, and other relevant areas. Your understanding, kindness, and financial contribution regardless how small it may be,will never be wasted, as long as it is designed to benefit society. Allow you conduct to be a part of the the solution, not the problem. So long! Good luck to all! May God bless Albion and beyond.