Indo-Guyanese poet Peter Jailall, a long-time resident of Canada, has published his fifth book. His work chronicles the history of the Indian community in the Caribbean.
Kamala-Jean Gopie will never forget the sting of the abuse she suffered while growing up in Jamaica as someone who was markedly different.
“I grew up ashamed to be an Indian. I grew up being called ‘coolie,'” she said Saturday as she attended the launch of Sacrifice, the latest work by Mississauga poet Peter Jailall.
At the event, Jailall asked Gopie to read a special poem he wrote for her.
Letter To Kamala-Jean traces Gopie’s journey to Jamaica, where Indians made up just two per cent of the population and were scorned, to her final destination of Canada in 1963.
Gopie, a long-time activist in Toronto’s Caribbean community and now a member of the Order of Ontario, delightedly read the poem’s concluding stanza: “Now I know/ no more coolie gal/ but dignified woman — intelligent and strong.”
Sacrifice is as much a cultural and social history as it is a collection of poems.
Jailall, a retired Peel District School Board teacher, has documented the story of East Indians, who beginning in 1838, were taken from their homeland to the Caribbean. They were slaves there, replacing the Africans who had originally filled that role.
The Indians were assimilated into countries such as Guyana, where Jailall was born, to become a mainstay of the middle and professional classes.
When offered the chance to return to India, something that Jailall captures in his poem called Catching The Last Boat, the Indian-Guyanese faced a terrible dilemma and realization: Guyana was now their homeland. Many, like Jailall, then faced a second migration — this one voluntary — to Canada.
“This story, the story of my life and so many others, would have gone untold if not for Peter,” Gopie said before Jailall read from his book. “In another generation, people will not even know there were Indians in Jamaica.”
Jailall’s blunt-force writing style “gets right to the heart of the matter,” Gopie said.
Cheryl Antao-Xavier, the Erin Mills resident who published the book on her In Our Words imprint, says the book, which includes many historical photographs and maps, proves that Jailall is a “storyteller first.
“These stories really capture the angst of the immigrant experience,” she said.
Jailall, a fiery reader, told about 70 people who came to his home to celebrate the publication of his fifth book that he still believes in the transformative power of the word. He also believes poets have a duty to use their words to change the world.
Sacrifice costs $15.95 and is available at www.inourwords.ca.
For the original report go to http://www.mississauga.com/what’s%20on/article/936027–poet-s-new-book-soul-searing