Editors’ Note: It gives us great pleasure to re-present this 43-year old review of the novel YESTERDAYS (Anansi Press, 1974), by Harold Sonny Ladoo, published in KAIRI (1975). The author of the review, Christopher Laird, reluctantly gave PREE permission saying “if i were to re-write it today it would be much more nuanced and the focus may shift quite a bit.” Nevertheless we thought it important to rekindle interest in Ladoo’s writing and bring him to the attention of younger writers in the Caribbean and elsewhere as even today almost 50 years later, Yesterdays remains the novel of tomorrow, its bold and biting satire unparalleled in the Caribbean–“Yesterdays is set in a latrine and it seems at times that the characters had already suffered the worst fate possible: ‘to be born back a blasted worm in a latrine.’” Laird’s intriguing review, speculating about the presence of Naipaul as a central character in the novel, is a gem well worth revisting. Below is the review as it appeared in Kairi.
Yesterdays is the last published work of Harold Sonny Ladoo who was killed under mysterious circumstances in Trinidad in 1973. This novel was published posthumously and represents the second of a series intended to span life in Trinidad and Canada. We thus only have two novels by Ladoo to work with but in these two short works I believe we have the most significant contribution to Trinidadian literature since the fifties.
In his first novel No Pain Like This Body (reviewed in KAIRI 1-74 by Victor Questel) Ladoo blazed a furious path across the Caribbean literary scene in “what is probably the most violent work of Caribbean fiction.” A work that, despite its brevity, is of such energy and complexity that continued analysis reveals more and more of its intricate symbolic structure and condensed and organic vision of an existential nightmare. Though I do not intend to elaborate on Victor’s observations in KAIRI 1-74, I will in the course of this essay refer to No Pain as it is impossible to appraise Yesterdays without reference to the only other published work of the author.
Probably the first thing that can be said of Yesterdays (probably the most scatological work of Caribbean fiction) is that its mood and its narrative technique are startlingly different from that of No Pain. The complex system of simile found in No Pain, e.g. Pa is like a snake. Streaks of lightning are like long green snakes or Tadpoles are black like rainclouds (clouds like black rice) or black like tar or black like drunk people (pa) Sunaree’s hair is like grass or black like the sky or blacker than a dream of snakes and evil spirits (pa).
This series of similes represents only a small portion of the whole scheme but provides an example of the complexity of the structure. In Ladoo’s work everything in the environment is of equal importance with the people; the whole world is an organic capsule of seething, struggling life. One device Ladoo uses to encapsulate his locations is to set up a series of balanced points of reference, a series of reflections or mirror images. So in the similes quoted above, the sky is black and so is Sunaree’s hair which is like grass, so the sky is black, and is like the grass and also like the tadpoles which are like tar (the road). So already there is a great crotch of blackness with the horizon its apex and in the sky there is lightning, on the earth there is Pa, and later on Pa is likened to Satan (in Hell) and God (in Heaven). The whole novel is set in rain described as “God trying to tie the Earth and Sky with rain drops.”
This system of balance (the rotting body of Rama in the rice box coffin) (rice like worms) balanced with the rotting insides of the belching, farting, stink breathed Pundit; the Sun like a fat worm crawling over Tola; ties the whole of No Pain like a tight ball of string.
Even though Yesterdays is almost totally void of such explicit similes, a close look at the work reveals the mirror image again, but this time not so much a cosmic one but one that is used to dramatize and elucidate the internal structure of the novel by being localized to the very specific landscape of Yesterdays. This landscape consists of a section of Tola consisting of three buildings, really four homes, separated by the main road which is a searing strip of modern death splitting the community, a relentless symbol of the world outside Tola passing by. On one side is Ragbir and Sook who runs a shop with his wife Rookmin. Ragbir is the village ram and pimp, Sook the village homosexual who has an arrangement with his wife Rookmin who stays with him because he is a good businessman. On the other side is the building housing the main characters of the novel, Choonilal, his wife Basdai, son Poonwa and his lodger, Tailor, who lives downstairs. Choonilal is the hardworking, hen-pecked, neurotic hero of the novel who is under attack from everyone else in his house to mortgage the house to get money for his son Poonwa to go to Canada to launch a Hindu mission to do to Canadians what the Canadian missionaries did to Trinidad’s Hindus. Basdai wants Poon to go because otherwise he will just stay and drink rum and “bull” in Tola. Tailor wants him to go because he sees himself taking Poon’s place in the household and getting maybe to move upstairs. Poon wants to go because he is essentially psychotic and has a thing about a buxom Aryan Canadian teacher who used to beat the hell out of him (literally) at school. (I use “Aryan” here in the sense of blonde/blue eyed—this ghost contrasts with the Aryan gods who haunt Choonilal.) Choon is afraid to mortgage the property because the pandit from whom the money will be borrowed is a “smart man” and may end up stealing the house entirely. The whole action of Yesterday’s is built around this conflict. But, as can be guessed, this central action is but one significant event upon which Ladoo hangs a number of issues and it is with some of the main ones I will attempt to deal.
To return to the main mirror image—on one side of the road is a scamp Ragbir and a genuine shopkeeper Sook with his wife; on the other is the scamp Tailor and the genuine cane farmer Choon and his family. There are two lavatories on each side of the road. On one side the latrines of Sook and Ragbir and on the other side the filthy latrine of Choon which is used by all the household except Poonwa who uses the other lavatory, a modern WC upstairs. It is at the risk of spiritual defilement that a traditional Hindu may use the WC while it is at the risk of physical defilement in the form of a homosexual “affair” (or “bull”) with Sook that use is made of Sook’s latrine.
Secondly, there is the sterile and increasingly impotent Choonilal who is always kneading his balls and scratching his “bald” head on one side, and the oversexed Ragbir who is constantly fingering his balls and wiping his face or wrapping his head in a blue towel on the other side. The sexual looseness of Tailor on one side—who has caused the diversionary neurosis of Choon by bringing whores home to mess up the latrine —is balanced by the sexually deviant Sook on the other side. There are many other details which increase the mirror image on that scale, but Ladoo also brings it down on a smaller scale too. The first four sentences of the book illustrate a small-scale balance:
Tailor sat under the chataigne tree; with a worried face he counted the cars as they passed by. With an old embroidery scissors, he picked his teeth.
Choonilal sat on an old potato crate a few feet away from Tailor, and brushed his teeth with a guava stick. Occasionally he glanced at Tailor with a worried face.
Here, on one side of the road are Choon and Tailor, each carrying out similar tasks in different ways. The chataigne/potato balance and the tooth cleaning balance; with the man-of- the-world technological Tailor using an embroidery scissors while cane farmer, rooted Choon uses a guava stick. Both have a worried face. It is as if they were facing each other in a mirror. Which one is real? Are they both the same?
The mirror image is only one aspect of Ladoo’s writing and the evidence for the existence of such symmetry is strong enough to suggest that what appears at first to be merely a short bawdy tale is deep down more than that. Everything that is said is significant on many levels. The work’s very brevity demands that every word work overtime. Ladoo has taken his comment beyond the simple(!) analogous structure of No Pain and extended his range by making use of more subtle devices while at the same time retaining the energy and organic vision of the world centred on Tola that appears in the earlier work. If No Pain called to mind the works of Caldwell or Kafka in their treatment of violence and the arraignment of forces against the individual, Yesterdays touches on a possibly much more worn path of satire and irony travelled by Fielding, Swift, and, closer home, Naipaul.
An essential element of much satire is the author’s ironic comment, seen only in puzzling flashes in No Pain: “The music of the flute was sweeter than sugar; than life even.”
(This while Rama is dying, and the characters are beset with violence and sorrow.) And again when Nanny “beated a tune for all that lives and moves upon the face of the earth” and immediately afterwards uses the drum to crush a cockroach (crachak!) it returns as an integral part of the style of Yesterdays showing itself clearly by the fourth paragraph:
And at times Choonilal wept as he offered water to the Aryan gods in his brass lota; he did this because he felt that the gods were going to recognise the weeping Choonilal after death…
It is thereafter ever present especially in the author’s description of present and past action. Probably the point at which Ladoo really casts all satiric restraint to the wind is in his handling of the scenes at the Choonilals’ after Basdai announces Poonwa’s “death”. It is worth quoting at length:
When Tailor ran upstairs he found Basdai screaming hysterically and pounding her head violently against her son’s door. For a while Tailor wondered what to do. Now that Poonwa was dead, it meant that he would be able to live comfortably with the Choonilals. Tailor thought a little, and decided not to weep. But as the prospect of homelessness came to him, he decided to weep, because by weeping he would be able to influence Basdai. Behaving as though Poonwa was his child Tailor burst into tears. He was weeping and weeping weeping more than Basdai even. Realising that it was all going unobserved, he quickly embraced Basdai in a motherly fashion and pounded his head against the door. This new development had the desired effect. Basdai grabbed Tailor and said, “O God Tailor! You cryin too Tail.”
Wishing to sustain Basdai’s vision of the weeping tailor, he pounded his head with a savage determination. Each time that he drummed his head against the door he screamed. Sometimes he bent his head in such a way as to see his landlady’s breasts as he wept. Now and then he abandoned the pounding of the door to strike his head against softer material. Once or twice he struck his forehead against Basdai’s breasts.
The scene builds up and up as the other characters come in and join the wailing, Sook and Rookmin come in and proceed to butt the wall then finding that too hard they butt the chairs and the wooden partition.
Ragbir was the last to reach. He stood for a moment and viewed the situation. He farted and slipped into the mood of the evening. Eager to kill two birds with one stone, he went down on the floor to weep. Gradually he crawled until he came by Rookmin. Then he slipped his head under her dress, and with his eyes to heaven wept and wept.
Fielding uses a similar technique in Joseph Andrews when Pastor Adams is told his favourite son is dead only to find out that it was a mistake. The Pastor’s actions during that time highlight his well-meaning hypocrisy as his human concern overcomes his pompous religious rhetoric. Basdai’s tactic is intended to cut through Choonilal’s professed stand in the same way, by appealing to his compassion he may relent and let Poonwa go to Canada.
But Ladoo’s satiric stance is as unique as his cosmic blues were in No Pain, it is essentially Trinidadian and tied closely to his personal attitude to Trinidad. What he uses satire for here is not to deflate or highlight hypocrisy—Ladoo’s work assumes this as given, as all Trinidadians do—but to rejoice in the opportunism of his characters when the demands of convention provide the opportunity for the fulfillment of desires; whether long range as on Tailor’s part or short range as in the case of Ragbir.
Again, though Ladoo’s “excremental vision” displayed in Yesterdays calls Swift immediately to mind, Ladoo is not using the reference to anal functions, products or deviations to shock sensibilities or to make a statement about what he thinks of “Man”, he is merely using an aspect of everyday life in Trinidad as he used Violence in No Pain. He uses it pointedly to comment on the world and the people he portrays. It isn’t so much that he exaggerates that aspect but he filters out other aspects much as a printer may do to obtain three colour separations of a full colour scene, each in one of the primary colours. Bawdy satire becomes a parameter in Yesterdays, it is the colour used to paint the scene and becomes close to being his medium.
It is impossible to analyse Yesterdays without looking for the significance of shit. If No Pain was set in a cosmic swamp beleaguered by the elements and everything hostile in the Universe, then Yesterdays is set in a latrine and it seems at times that the characters had already suffered the worst fate possible: “to be born back a blasted worm in a latrine.” The scene where Tailor and Ragbir eventually clean the offending latrine that forms the centre piece of the novel seems to place humans in their evolutionary perspective in an incredible but typical conversation between the cleaners:
Worms were running all over the place; they were trying to climb up on Tailor’s rubber boots. Ragbir moved away a little. “Man Rag, like dese worms want man in dey ass.” “Well bull dem, nuh,” Ragbir declared.
The stench from the pit was almost unbearable. “People shit is de worst kinda shit to smell,” Tailor said. “Cow shit does smell nice. Horse shit does smell good too. Goat shit and sheep shit is nice shit to smell. But dog shit does stink like people own, you know boy Rag.”
“You know wen I de small boy Rag, we de have a goat. Wen I de small man sometime I used to eat goat shit man Rag? “Wot make you stop?”
This is a passage that echoes Swift but the spirit is so different, we are dealing with recognizable people here not symbols of misanthropy.
The latrine incident whereby Tailor’s drunken whore friends broke down a wall one night and left the facility in a mess is used by Choonilal, who refuses to clean it on principle, as a release for his anxiety and preoccupation over the Poonwa problem. This is recognized by the other characters, even his friends, and later acts as an ego comforter for Choon when he has to back down on the main issue to know that Tailor backed down on the latrine issue. Until then the stinking pit stands as a bane of contention in the middle of the scene and Choonilal has to risk his life crossing the main road (where “twenty people had been killed on one spot within 15 years”) when a shit takes him to use Ragbir’s pit. Basdai’s threat that she go give him pressure “till he shit he pants”, and everybody’s advice to “give him pressure in he ass”, almost pay off, as Choon nearly asphyxiates in his own shit near the climax of the novel.
Poonwa depends on the latrine or lavatory for security. It is the place where he hid in school—“The toilet was a safe place”—he ate there and later when working as a Lawyer’s clerk he had lunch there. Poonwa becomes accustomed to the smell though it is the smell of the latrine that has Choon in trouble from the gods and his dreams throughout the book. So Poonwa eats in the lavatory, a very significant image as when Poonwa speaks he speaks shit. In fact, he is the only character in the novel who speaks English, this has a devastating effect on Choonilal—whom he calls “father”:
Man Rag, wot I go tell you, man. Me son so educated dat wen he talk I does only feel to shit man. De boy talk some Latin just now man Rag. Man wen I hear de Latin, a shit take me one time.
Ladoo spells out the symbolism as Choon shouts to Poonwa later:
Wen you de small you used to call me ‘fadder’, now you does call me ‘father’. It look like English does flow from you ass. But all de book you read Poonwa, and all dat education you have in you ass is notten. In dis same island man wid dat education have to eat dey shit!
It is also significant that Choonilal was more interested in sodomy than learning English when he was attempting to learn it. Choonilal’s rebellion (bulling on the alter instead of English lessons) instinctive though it may be, is more subversive than Poonwa’s.
Shitting is important to the characters. Bulling is the lowest activity on the moral scale, yet is indulged in by all the males (this is what Basdai is afraid for in Poonwa’s case—though going to Canada does not help, he is seduced before he goes and advised to continue by Basdai’s own ally, the Pandit). There are three ways to lose one’s shame: to abandon the gods; to urinate close to the house; and to practice sodomy. Tailor has done all these, Poonwa none of them—though using the indoor toilet may theoretically be considered near the house, yet Basdai can say, “Sook should be shame, why he don’t kill heself?” though throughout the book the only one who plays with suicide is Poonwa.
This irony is typical of Ladoo’s work as it appears in No Pain also in the ambiguous relationship between the all-seeing but unhelpful God (who “playing in he ass”) and the devil; between the God and the very effective Aryan tradition of Nanny and Nana. In Yesterdays the counterpointing of official religion and human values reoccurs. The Aryan gods are again just watching, recording your deeds on your heart, but Choon’s personal preoccupation with the gods, specifically Hanuman, is very different from the way Poonwa or the Pandit uses the gods. According to Poonwa his mission will “teach the white world compassion” when he has shown himself void of that attribute. It is Choonilal and to some extent Sook (from whom Poonwa is to be “saved”) who of all the characters exhibit compassion. It is this compassion that Basdai and the others work on to obtain their ends such as in the pretended death of Poonwa quoted above.
In fact, the contrast between the official spokesman for the gods (the Pandit) and ordinary human values is highlighted continuously and probably becomes most pointed as the climax approaches and the signing of the mortgage is to take place. For example, the Pandit’s advice to Poonwa:
…Take dis as you feelosofee in life: If a woman lie down for you, ride she! If a man bend over for you, bull him! Never spear de rod!
is most unbecoming in a man in his position and embarrasses the Choonilals. The passage from the Holy Book that Pandit reads shows life not unlike life in Tola but with one difference: friendship. Where Hanuman “couldn’t allow a friend’s wife to be seduced”, Choonilal, whose own wife was seduced by countless men including Pandit Puru (who is most likely Poonwa’s real father) never had such a friend to call on except maybe Sook, to a very slight extent. Compassion again is what is missing.
When Poonwa (who can’t even read Hindi, despite his missionary zeal) says: “With the paper of ownership in a drawer and the Bible under his head… the whiteman sips whisky as he dreams of peace,” he is unwittingly talking probably more of the Pandit than anyone else now that the Pandit has the mortgage on Choon’s house.
On and on the ironies converge and illustrate Ladoo’s statement. (Check out Poonwa’s comparison of his ideas to those of Hitler and Mussolini.) Yesterdays seems, despite the laughter, even sadder than No Pain if only because there is no Nanny and Nana to provide a sense of order or compassion. Choon and maybe Sook (“it takes an able man to take man”) are alone in the world 50 years later with nothing to look forward to:
Choonilal said, “Just now you go see wot go happen in dis island, Rag. Everybody in dis island want to go to school. Nobody dont want to work in de cane or plant tomatoes and ting, you know boy. All of dem want big work in govament and ting. All of dem want to be police and postman and ting, boy Rag. Just now in dis island it go have so much educated people, dat dey go have to take dey G.C.E and ting and wipe dey ass Rag.
Perhaps the shortest paragraph in the book occurs when Pandit refuses money and then (with very little persuasion):
He took it.
Yesterdays is, like No Pain, a. short book, they are both quickly read and in fact facilitate quick reading through the legible print and convenient size, but more than that the style of Ladoo’s writing drives the reader. The shortness of the book I believe means less emphasis on the writer’s literary style and more on event and symbolic construction. This is certainly the case in Ladoo’s work; we don’t ever get a 19th century novelist’s detailed description of the scene, most description is done by simile or single incidentally placed adjective which may add to the inner structure of the work without impeding the pace or action. The few descriptions in Yesterdays are of people, they are short and aimed less at giving a detailed picture than at applying symbols to a person. These cameos are more like lampoons:
The lawyer, Poonwa’s employer, was a fat black Madrassi Indian. His hair was trimmed very short and there were a few grey hairs on his head. His gold-rimmed spectacles pinched his nose; perhaps it was causing him pain, for now and then he rubbed his nose with the back of his hairy hands. In his dark suit he looked like an undertaker.
There are also two descriptions of the Pandit which are beautiful comic sketches. We never really get a picture of the person as such, a bald head here or enormous genitals there, most description is of material properties in the drama. The person could be as faceless as any actor, its the way he acts and dresses that tells more. Ladoo leaves it to the reader to make judgements from his selective eye.
Other than this point, the book can be divided almost equally into direct speech and narration. There is no doubt at all that one of Ladoo’s main stylistic talents is his use of dialogue in Creole. Check out this passage, which I think is one of the masterpieces of the capture of Trinidad Creole rhythm and syntax on the page:
Boy Choon, dis life eh play, it have trobble nuh.
Yeh boy Rag, dis life have trobble too bad. Tailor man, de man shit in me latrine man. God have mercy Tailor shit fat fat leer in de pit man, boy Rag. Man Rag I does feel to kill meself wen I smell dat pit in de night. Dis world have too much trobble man Rag man. I tellin you boy Rag. Sometimes in de night wen I get up to pray to God man Rag, I does cant pray man. Look eh Rag, Tailor givin me too much trobble man.
The use of “man” and “boy” approaches exaggeration but remains perfectly natural and understandable to communicate the speaker’s anxiety and earnestness. I know of no Caribbean writer who would have risked a passage like that in print, not even Selvon. It is Ladoo’s dialogue that drives his work, because he is a master of his language, the energy of our people undiluted by puritanical and colonial editing comes searing through the Trinidadian landscape on to the page. You can hear and feel his characters as if you were right there, that is Ladoo’s major stylistic achievement, it is a natural consequence of using the natural language of our people and Ladoo does it better than anyone I am aware of.
If all the dialogue was extracted from the novel and dramatized, very little sense of the novel would be lost. It can stand on its own. This is not to say that the “ordinary” English prose pieces of narrative detract from the work, far from it, they have to take the place of dramatic action by describing it and what it does in Yesterdays is add significance to certain scenes and snatches of dialogue by relating it to the “yesterdays” of the characters. All the memories of incidents in the past that make up the “yesterdays” referred to in the title are related in these prose passages, not in minute description, but simply in the style of narrator.
A short example will give an idea of both of these points:
“Let we talk little bit nuh man Rag”.
“Look Choonilal, haul you tail and go home. Go now befo I take a cutlass and chop up you ass yeh.” Choonilal knew that he couldn’t joke with Ragbir, because of what had happened once when Ragbir and Sook had had an affair. The queer had promised Ragbir twenty dollars. But after the affair was over, Sook had the boldness to say that he had no money. That drove Ragbir mad. With cutlass in his hand, he chased the queer through the village. When Sook realised that Ragbir had been serious, he was glad enough to pay him the twenty dollars. Shaking his head, Choonilal muttered, “Oright boy Rag. Lemme go and hear wot Poonwa have to say.”
Fingering his loose testicles, Ragbir leaned over the window and said, “Boy Choon, I was just makin a joke man.”
In the example, Ragbir’s “joke” is explained by reference to the “yesterday” episode between Sook and Ragbir, this would not come out on stage without much added dialogue.
Because of Ladoo’s restriction of himself in these passages to dealing with action, the passages in no way intrude by making editorial comment. Ladoo’s comment is gathered by analyzing the symbolic structure of the work as I have attempted to do above.
The question of Ladoo’s implied attitude to what he describes is very important as this is a question that arises when one considers most satire and irony, but I am unable to discern precisely his attitude from his work, he has, I think come nearer than any other satirist I can recall to neutrality. We are not sure whether he approves or disapproves, whether he is sneering or praising or laughing. We are only given a clue to his attitude, as I said, after the accumulated evidence of the novel is assessed. The complete lack of intrusion by the author is so effective that one can finally only assess his attitude to the people and events described to be the same as one’s own.
Compare one of Ladoo’s descriptions with the very typical Naipaul description of Mrs. Tulsi in A House for Mr. Biswas: “…without her teeth she looked decrepit, but there was about her decrepitude a quality of everlastingness.” Naipaul interprets the personality behind the figure described, Ladoo leaves the interpretation for the reader. The difference between word and deed is assumed by Ladoo, not judged: “Laughing Pandit Puru explained to the villagers that it was no laughing matter” and motive seems relatively unimportant most of the time, except, as in real life, where it is a guide to action in the future.
If we tear ourselves away from the spell of fascination and energy and just plain enjoyment that Ladoo spins and assess the novel in as objective a way as possible it would be just to say that Ladoo (in Yesterdays) has written comic literature which nevertheless describes the tragedy of our situation. Naipaul has done the same. What then accounts for the tremendously different impression that these two authors give? Ever since the appearance of Ladoo’s first work the temptation to compare him with previous writers who have portrayed East Indian life in Trinidad has been present. Ladoo’s vision, while not really appearing that much more hopeful or positive was in such contrast to that of writers like Selvon and Naipaul that it was almost like a bitter blast of wind clearing our view of a situation which had become so murky, vague and cluttered with stereotypes.
I have attempted above to point to some areas where Ladoo’s “satire” differs from the conventional approach and from Naipaul’s. It could be said that Ladoo’s very lack of overt authorial comment is a positive reaction to the world, but this is of course only so in relation to Naipaul’s unabashed scorn. Search as we might we can only glean little clues as to positive reaction from Ladoo’s writing, the theme of compassion in Yesterdays and the role of traditional values in No Pain. These clues are in fact what saves his work from being outright blasphemy and rebellious nihilism.
Rebellion in fact is a key concept in discussing Ladoo and it may be this that makes his work so exciting to our lives and ties in so well with his obvious gifts of imparting incredible energy to his style. No Pain is about rebellion, rebellion against God, the Devil and the world. Yesterdays is about the tyranny of the educated. But the works themselves are rebellions against East Indian life and also (and most significantly for Caribbean literature) against previous literary portrayal of this life. Ladoo’s work is as much a literary revolution aimed at the overthrow of colonial literature like that of Naipaul as the current political efforts have been since 1970 in Trinidad aimed at political and economic overthrow of neo-colonialism. This is another reason I can give for fascination with Ladoo’s work at this time. (His violent death in 1973 of course heightens this aura of rebellion.)
It is not hard to substantiate this interpretation when one compares Yesterdays with Naipaul’s work, say A House for Mr. Biswas. Firstly, Choonilal is fighting to keep the house he built through hard work in the fields, and though he may objectively be a ridiculous figure, as we have seen, he is one of the only human and compassionate persons in the novel. Quite in contrast to Poonwa, who could be Naipaul himself, who though he had never been to Oxford, (like the boy Naipaul) speaks with an Oxford accent; who though he wishes to carry his Hinduism into the outside world nevertheless cannot read the “intimate and tender” Hindi; he wants to escape from Trinidad which he sees doomed to the fate outlined by Choonilal to Ragbir above.
Secondly, the only excremental reference in Biswas is the incident whereby Biswas, while training to be a pundit was (like Choonilal) worried about doing his puja unrelieved and due to the unfortunate accident of his throwing the shit occasioned by the theft of some bananas onto the Pundit’s oleander bush, he (like Choonilal) suffers great pain from a swollen stomach whenever under stress. Incidentally, I don’t think it is a coincidence that the white painted figure of Hanuman occurs in Yesterdays to haunt Choonilal. (Mr Biswas’s in laws lived in Hanuman House which sported a white painted figure of the god.)
If this incidental reference is accepted and Poonwa is seen as Naipaul, then Ladoo’s treatment of Poonwa throughout Yesterdays could be interpreted as Ladoo’s comment on Naipaul and his ilk. Even if the parallel is not accepted, the concept is certainly worth exploring. Ladoo is essentially an ordinary Hindu in rural Trinidad while Naipaul is the urban Brahmin. The clash of these two outlooks is obvious and adds more fuel to the rebel image. Poonwa is the only person in the book who through his diary has a well-documented “secret self”. Consider this in the light of Naipaul’s contention that revelation is vulgar and one must keep one’s secret self.
One suspects that one cannot or really should not compare the literature of a Brahmin with that of the “ordinary Hindu”. One should not apply the critical criteria of the traditional novel to Ladoo as one would to Naipaul. Ladoo’s work is essentially different in form and style though the content may bear comparison. Ladoo builds a novel on energy and action, Naipaul on a materialist structure of language, character, and authorial comment. There is, as I have said before, no objectivity in Ladoo’s characters; the objective world is not important in so far as it directly affects them (the war, or the road). Naipaul’s very language is so English and unreal to the situation that this at all times reinforces by its incongruity the ridiculous nature of the things portrayed and the “pathetic underdevelopment” of that world. Naipaul’s hopelessness is not tempered with animal joys or possible help from the ancient gods; the Brahmin is too familiar with these gods and has used them so much to live by that they can never mystify him.
Ladoo’s achievement has been to seize the time so beautifully. His work is the work of the rebel, maybe even the revolutionary, he is not relating to the colonial but to his own and reacting against the neo-colonial. He is one of the first local writers to do this, to use our literature as a reference, without the achievement of previous writers (like Naipaul) this would have been impossible. His characters act organically in a dynamic of violence and cunning, whether victor or vanquished however, each individual retains his character and does not appear weak or pitiful. His works are capable of ferocious energy which should blast the way for a third generation of Caribbean writers.
Christopher Laird has been Managing Director of the pioneering television production company, Banyan Limited, since 1981 and has produced over 300 documentaries, dramas and other video productions over the past 40 years garnering a score of national, regional and international awards.
He has overseen the establishment of the Banyan Archives, arguably the world’s largest digitised video collection of Caribbean culture and society since the invention of video tape. In 2003 he founded, with Errol Fabien, the region’s first all Caribbean free to air television station, Gayelle. In 2009 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the West Indies.