is the memory of a nation"
—Dr. Basdeo Mangru
particularly the East Indian Indentured experience in Guyana,
is close to his heart.
It is the unique history of a committed people and their struggling
nation. He can talk about it for hours without getting tired.
His vast knowledge in that aspect of the South American country’s
past unfolds as he warms up to his “pet” subject.
It is a country’s rich history not told by many; a commanding
history not known to many, especially the younger generation.
“History is the memory of a nation,” he strongly believes,
“and that history should never be lost.” To lose it
would be tantamount to losing the soul of Guyana’s nationhood
- a tender yet strong nationhood that includes all the trappings
that come with independence, free republic, democracy and other
social conditions the Guyanese people have struggled for over
the years. It is imperative that that history be told! And somebody
has to study and chronicle the country’s rich historical
past on the pages of the history book. Dr. Basdeo Mangru chose
to walk the path of a historian. Most importantly, he passes on
this rare knowledge onto the younger generation.
He teaches Guyanese and Caribbean history to students at York
College, one of the City Universities of New York (CUNY), situated
in Jamaica, Queens. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of History
at the college. He also teaches history at John Adams High School
in Richmond Hill, Queens. A large percentage of Guyanese and West
Indian children attend that high school.
His resource material for teaching Caribbean History is taken
from `Indians in Guyana - A concise history from their arrival
to the present’ and his other published works. It is a 108-page
book he has written in honour and memory of his ancestors who
have crossed the “kala pani” (black water) to the
“New World” of El Dorado in the then British Guiana.
In his book, he cited four main reasons for writing it, the main
one being in “response to the lack of readily available
literature on these enterprising people.” Also, it was supposed
to urge the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) “to add
another theme to its syllabus, giving Caribbean students a wider
choice in areas of concentration.”
A tall, distinguished individual, Dr. Mangru nurtures a deep passion
for teaching; a passion, which enraptured his young heart and
blossomed over the years into a state of dignified maturity.
As it turns out, teaching is an integral part of his life, and
over the years he has developed immense love and respect for the
job. Deep down, he still holds the belief that teaching is quite
a noble profession. Traveling back in memory lane, he said that
he attended Corentyne High School in Rose Hall Town, Berbice.
He spent his boyhood days with his parents and eight other siblings,
a big family he smilingly said.
After he graduated from high school, his options were limited:
“it was either teaching or civil service," he pointed
out, and since civil service meant he had to leave home and his
family, he chose the other best thing - teaching.
And "I love to teach," he quietly stated. Indeed, that
is the only profession that he knows. Displaying a sharp wit that
belied his age, Dr. Mangru talked easily of his many intriguing
experiences with life in Guyana, London and New York City. Like
other Guyanese who went away to study abroad, some of these experiences
had a great impact on his life.
Interestingly, despite the many years he spent away from home
and apart from his family, he never gave up his identity as a
Guyanese East Indian. His conviction in the principle of “who
you are” as a person is indelibly printed in his mind. Identity,
he believes, as an individual one should never lose because once
"you lose your identity, you lose your way" and practically
every other principle you hold dear.
Dr. Mangru hails from Albion Front, on the Corentyne, Berbice.
And he is proud of the fact he grew up in “a big family”
which was closely knitted together. This cohesiveness is an integral
part of the Guyanese family landscape. It was important particularly
in those turbulent days of struggles and hardship to keep the
family together, he noted.
In 1966, he entered the University of Guyana (UG) and later enrolled
in the master's programme at the university. Incidentally, he
was the first M.A. graduate of UG.
Dr. Robert Moore was one of Dr. Mangru's lecturers at the university.
During one of his lessons, Dr. Moore lamented the fact that very
little is known about the East Indians who sailed from the Sub-Continent
of India over 164 years ago.
"He talked about how little we know about our ancestors from
India; how they were recruited; the condition of their passage
across the ocean and their lives in India," recalled Dr.
Mangru. Little did the lecturer know then, that his words would
have such a profound effect on one of his students. Dr. Moore's
lamentation became the very inspiration and motivation for the
young Basdeo Mangru.
However, life was never clear-cut; but in between teaching and
studying, he persevered with his dream of researching his "roots".
Roots could “lead you to all things” and answer many
burning questions, which surfaced over the years, he asserted.
As a young Guyanese East Indian, he was committed to studying
the history of his forebears.
Dr. Mangru taught at UG for about four years. However, he continued
on his quest to learn more about his people.
His hard labour of love and many nights of arduous study did not
go unnoticed. Dr. Mangru won several awards and distinctions,
including the Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship in United
Kingdom and the prestigious Rockefeller Residency Fellowship in
the Humanities, Asian-American Center, Queens College.
In 1978, he went to study in England, at the University of London.
He went back to Guyana and taught for another year at UG. He taught
History of Modern India, Caribbean History and the History of
Guyana. He received his pH. in History in 1981 from the School
of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. According
to Dr. Mangru, "majority of records on East Indian immigration
to Guyana and the other Caribbean countries are kept at the Public
Record Office and India Office Library" in London, England.
He did extensive research for his thesis at the two public places
For his doctorate degree, he chose `Migration of East Indian from
India - 1854/1884’ as the title of his thesis.
Dr. Mangru wrote two of his three published books while he was
living and studying in London. `Indenture and Abolition: Sacrifice
and Survival on the Guyanese Sugar Plantation’ and `Benevolent
Neutrality: Indian Government Policy and Labor Migration to British
Guiana, 1854-1884’ are the books.
The doctor wrote A History of East Indian Resistance on the
Guyana Sugar Estate, 1869-1948 while he was in New York.
He lives in Richmond Hill, Queens, with his wife. His two grown
children are married. Currently, he is working on the manuscript
of his fourth book, which he describes as "a collection of
essays on East Indians in Guyana”. He wants to recapture
life in the colonial days in the then British Guiana and document
the many changes and the progress, which have occurred after so
The title of the book is In Search of Paradise and it
is expected to be on the shelves by this summer, which is a month
A prolific writer in his own right and one of the only Guyanese
authors to write about the migration of East Indians from India
to Guyana's shore, the doctor said that he loves to write. Although
he admits that it is not the easiest of tasks - on the contrary,
"it is hard to write" - he just loves to write Guyana’s
history. He will continue to write for as long as he could. He
writes mostly in the summer time. It takes him about three years
to finish a book because of the in-depth research involved in
writing his books. He wants to write about “the Guyanese
East Indians in New York; how the Indians are adjusting to life
in New York City," adding "I want to look at some of
the social issues that are affecting them."
Dr. Mangru also wants to write a document on the "riots in
Guyana during 1962".
Everybody should be interested in their history, he said. Commenting
on all the records of the many nations across the world that Great
Britain has in its archives during its rein and power, he asserted,
"History is the memory of a nation and that should never
"We should always know our roots because whenever we lose
our roots, we lose our identities."
“We can live here by being a part of the American society,
yet hold on to our identity and practice our customs and know
our history,” he asserted.
"We have a rich heritage and culture, we should never let
go of it,” he pointed out. “We should be proud of
Dr. Mangru teaches full-time at John Adams and part-time at York
College. He would love to go back and teach at UG, Berbice Campus.
His book Indians in Guyana is recommended by the Curriculum
Specialist attached at the Ministry of Education to be taught
in high schools across Guyana. The Permanent Secretary within
the Ministry of Education also acknowledges the importance of
the book to be included in the high school curriculum.
“The Ministry of Education accepted the book but basically,
it has to get funds to purchase the books,” he noted.
Asked if he has any database of the numerous records of the East
Indians who migrated from India since he has been writing about
their migration, he replied in the negative.
“I don’t keep them, but the Guyana Journal, another
publication in New York, has some.”
What are his feelings for his country of birth?
still love Guyana. I still love the freedom and camaraderie in
Guyana.” He also misses “the easy pace of life”
“I find joy in teaching and writing about my people; that
history needs to be told,” he said with a smile
Note: This article was written published some years ago and
has been posted here, courtesy of Ms. Bina Mahabir.]