A Capital In Sorrow

by: Nivedta Kowlessar and Robert Bazil

Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 8, 1997.

A MOURNFUL chant filled the air as outriders escorting the body of the late President swung into Main Street in Georgetown for the last lap towards his home just after 7:00 last night.

Murmurs form the crowd that built up outside the official residence during the afternoon grew louder as the flashing red and green lights slowly grew nearer.

Bodies pressed closer to the white corded barriers separating them from the road, eagerly trying to catch a closer glimpse of the military vehicle on which the casket, draped with the Guyana flag, lay.

Earlier in the afternoon, the people had waited patiently and quietly for the procession to make its way form the Timehri International Airport to where the President's body had been flown form the United States. Guyanese lined the route to the city, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the progress into the city as night descended.

The atmosphere was noticeably still.

As the police led the way to a fleet of ... [fax transmission unclear] ... Guyanese waved respectfully. It was evident that the onlookers were emotionally moved and there were sounds of wailing, but these quickly transformed into a comforting rendition of the hymn 'What a friend we have in Jesus'.

After the official procession had passed, Police had to divert a large group of citizens following on motorcycles and other means through New Market Street on the southern side of the residence.

The crowd that waited dutifully to see their hero make his final arrival home in the heart of the city looked for as long as they could through the open gates as the vehicles parked in the compound.

Today they would be allowed in to pay their final respects as the body lies in State from 6 a.m. Last night was private and only relatives, officials of the Government and PPP were permitted to view the body.

Police moved around to maintain order as the crowd slowly dispersed.

But a big gathering remained under a huge tree along the avenue just opposite the entrance, paying homage with their voices unitedly rendering hymns such as 'When the roll is called up yonder' and 'Blessed Assurance'.

Thousand of citizens transcending all ethnic groups, religions, and political affiliations, lined the streets of the city yesterday evening for the arrival.

Visibly emotional gatherings of men, women and children were at every conceivable place along the route in the city.

From early afternoon Police cordoned off the eastern carriage of Main Street between Lamaha and Middle Streets and by about 4:00 p.m. groups of people had already assembled in front of State House.

The convoy moved along the East Bank Demerara road, Mandela Avenue, Sheriff Street, along the Rupert Craig Highway, into Public Road Kitty, into Vlissengen Road, west into Lamaha Street and into Main Street.

A female school teacher, who was among mourners on Sheriff Street, told the Chronicle that news of Dr. Jagan's passing was a shock because he had not been ailing for a significant period of time.

"All of a sudden everything was over ... and that was a lot of grief.

"...Dr. Jagan was a humble man and was not proud; he could have been approached by anyone no matter what status in the society they held," she said.

With a sigh the woman added: " People still do not know what they have lost ... losing a President is like a wonder - some people take it lightly but others take it deeply."

She remembered occasions, years ago, when Dr. Jagan while coming out of his Bel Air home, would stop and give her and other ordinary people, standing on the road waiting for transportation, a lift in his car.

The resident described the late President as the "people's father", adding that he knew how to relate with people, especially where the ordinary people were concerned.

Another woman, Azlmoon Bacchus, said she had accepted the fact that when that time comes, people cannot ask for a second chance [fax transmission unclear].

But Bacchus said that when the news about the President's death actually broke, it was like a dream.

"It was like a dream and I said to myself that somebody telling lies...because we believe that people like him will live very long...I did not cry but definitely felt it when I heard the President was dead," she said.

Another resident of Campbellville, Leslie Mohan, said that because the President was very sick, citizens were prepared for this but the nation certainly felt it when he died.

Mohan felt Dr. Jagan was the only person who could have led Guyana but with his passing, "the people have to stand fast."