Tribute to Ranji Chandisingh By Halim Majeed--Fri, 19 Jun 2009

A terrible tragedy has struck our nation. A national leader has fallen. A legendary icon is no more. A friend, a comrade and a colleague has departed to the Great Beyond in his usual quiet, unassuming way. The sad news of the sudden passing of Ranji Chandisingh has left Halim Majeed and his family – almost traumatized. They have been family and friends for over fifty years. This is one of the most difficult tasks to undertake: that is, to compose an appropriate tribute befitting the stature, character and dignity of a man whose simple, modest life has left an indelible impression on Guyana and the nation, which he served selflessly.

Not so long ago, Khalil Gibran pointed out that life and death are one even as the river and the sea are one. But I am more consoled by the words of Sir Rabindranath Tagore when he wrote: “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the light because the dawn has come.” In moments when we seem to stumble, when we conceive wrongly that might is right, when we look for illustrious references to reinforce our convictions, may the life of Ranji Chandisingh be an inspiration for us. Let us be fortified in the knowledge that the light of his example will never be extinguished.

Ranji Chandisingh was an extraordinary man by any standard. That extraordinariness was perhaps due in part to the pedigree from which he emerged. His father, Dr. Charles Chandisingh, was a medical practitioner of renown; his uncle, Mr. J.C. Chandisingh, was a formidable academic, who established a powerful secondary institution, the J. C. Chandisingh High School, on the Corentyne. Ranji himself, from an early age, demonstrated uncanny academic and intellectual abilities. It should be of little surprise, therefore, that at the tender age of sixteen he was admitted to the prestigious Harvard University.

Originally, he had intended to read for medicine but the circumstances of inequity and discrimination, at that time, made him reconsider his intellectual pursuit. At the same time, he came under the influence of the charismatic Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and intellectuals of the same ilk and so he moved to the Faculty of Social Sciences. Three years after, at the age of nineteen years, he graduated from Harvard with his Bachelor’s Degree.

It was at Harvard University that Ranji Chandisingh began to experience the first impulses of political organization and change. He and other colleagues championed the rights of their female colleagues in the institution and, indeed, earned the wrath of the authorities. That early creed was to form a part of his life long conviction.

Ranji Chandisingh migrated to the United Kingdom, subsequently, and developed a strong camaraderie with stalwarts of the Communist Party of Great Britain - among them Anna Greenwood and William (Billy) Strachan with whom he had become an life long friend. In London, he carefully studied the works of Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and other philosophers – but not in a pedantic or dogmatic fashion. For his methodology was to critically seek out what he called the “hidden truths, the essential values” of a philosophical approach.

After a number of years familiarizing himself with political theory and philosophy, Comrade Chandisingh left the United Kingdom for Guyana. The Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, expressed Ranji’s emotions at the time of his departure in the following lines:

"Here I say goodbye, I'm returning
I've wandered the world that I love…
But I love even the roots
of my country.
If I had to die a thousand times
I want to die there:
If I had to be born a thousand times
I want to be born there…

In Guyana, he embarked on his journey to the real world of political organization and change. This, of course, was a larger domain than Harvard University. It was a complex, plural society where the vagaries of colonial domination had ushered in a struggle for national liberation in which the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was playing an important role. Comrade Chandisingh integrated himself with the PPP which marked the first affiliation in his political career in Guyana.

Given his idealism, his belief in equity and social justice, and his yearning for what Lord Tennyson calls “a newer world,” Comrade Chandisingh plunged into the universe of politics with unprecedented energy and gusto. During the early years of the PPP Government, he served as the Minister of Labor, Health and Housing, while at the Party level, he performed, from time to time, in various capacities such as Chairman of the Party’s Education Committee, Editor of the Party’s Official Organ, Thunder, Principal of the Party’s School, Accabre College, and Deputy General Secretary of the Party.

It was during his years in the PPP Halim Majeed developed a close and enduring friendship with Mr. Chandisingh. He greatly admired his fine qualities, which had an added sophistication. He was a man of honor, dignity and probity. He possessed a brilliant, analytic mind. He had an ingrained intellectual honesty. He was incorruptible. He demonstrated respect for differing opinions and worked beyond the call of duty. He was, indeed, a man for all seasons.

There is a pervasive fallacy that Ranji Chandisingh lived an ascetic, reclusive life. The unvarnished truth is that while he lived modestly, nobly and privately he welcomed colleagues and friends at his home. And, therefore, we can take comfort in the words of the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who urged us to accept that “those who live nobly, if even in their lives they live obscurely, need not fear they will have lived in vain. Something radiates from their lives, some light that shows the way to their friends, their neighbors, (their country men), perhaps to long future ages.”

Halim Majeed and Ranji Chandisingh explored new theories of development and enhanced their world outlook, Ranji’s perspectives began to undergo a fundamental transformation. The works of Jack Woodis, Louis Althusser, and Antonio Gramsci, among others, became significant readings. For him, the pursuit of national unity and national development in real terms would be the unambiguous objectives to which he would devote himself.

It was in the framework of those goals that he constructed an affiliation with the People’s National Congress (PNC) in early 1976 and commenced the second phase of his political and national existence.

In the PNC Administration, Ranji Chandisingh was held in very high esteem. In the new dispensation, he worked at various levels – Director of Studies, Cuffy Ideological Institute; Senior Minister of Higher Education; Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister; Guyana’ Ambassador to Moscow. At the Party level, he rose from a Member of the Central Executive Committee to Deputy Leader and General Secretary assuming that role from the indomitable Dr. Ptolemy Reid.
For fifty years or more, Ranji Chandisingh participated in all the great political and ideological debates of our country. He was courageous of his convictions and never wavered in his beliefs. He was a great man whose values transcended ethnic origins, religious affiliations, political persuasions – and petty controversies. And great men are those whose actions are exemplary from a general standpoint, men who have embodied the classical principles of morality, virtue and wisdom. They stand forever admired and revered as paradigms of fairness, justice, honesty, duty, and service.
In ancient times, Socrates, sought to inquire what the good life is, what is virtue. He went on to explain that “the good life is a life that questions and thinks about things; it is a life of contemplation, self-examination, and open-minded wondering. The good life is thus an inner life - the life of an inquiring and ever expanding mind.” Strangely, Comrade Chandisingh not only understood those precepts; he embraced them with the totality of his heart and his mind. The virtuous life and his life were one and the same thing. His moral rectitude was what made him the sort of man he was. He was certainly a man of excellence and distinction. But more than that: when we look inward to the child of the man, you will find a moral sanctity, a moral excellence, a moral integrity perhaps unmatched in his own generation.
Comrade Chandisingh had a multifaceted personality. Little known is his unfailing sense of humor. He would laugh heartily – loudly, if you will - when he hears a good joke. A few years ago, he had read in the Harvard’s Alumni newspaper that he had died of some medical complications. In classic Mark Twain’s style and witticism, he wrote the Editor to say that the report of his death was greatly exaggerated.

Several times the writer Halim Majeed inquired of Ranji whether the story of his marriage to Mrs. Veronica Chandisingh was true. According to legend, he was one of the judges at a Beauty Pageant at which Veronica was one of the contestants. After the event, according to legend, he ended up at her home and asked immediately for her hand in marriage – or rather demanded her hand in marriage. The rest is history, as they say. He would only laugh and laugh and laugh.

Ranji Chandisingh was a lover of poetry. Indeed, one of his favorite poets is the ancient Sanskrit scholar, Kalidasa. And he read Anton Chekov, Aleksandr Pushkin, Nicolae Guillen and their contemporaries as he relaxed in the evenings with his ever present coffee and cigarette.

The famous poet, Jalal-udin Rumi, conceived of death as “our wedding with eternity.” In some way, it connotes fulfillment. I can say without fear of contradiction that Ranji has lived a life worth living, an exemplary life, a fulfilling life. The Soviet novelist, Nikolai Ostrovsky, who was one of Comrade Chandisingh’s favorite writers, may have well written Comrade Chandisingh’s epitaph when he declared:

'Man's dearest possession is life, and since it is given to him to live but once he must so live as not to be seared with the shame of a cowardly and trivial past: so live as to have no torturing regrets for years without purpose: so live that dying he can say - all my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world, the liberation of mankind'.

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. This is the way all great men in history have gone on living. This is the way we draw comfort and strength from historical icons. This is the way we shall always remember Comrade Chandisingh - not with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts but with abiding respect, admiration and love. This is the way his spirit of excellence and unmatched moral standards will live through us and guide us - a brilliant and forever shining star.

The writer of this eulogy, Halim Majeed, joins with his brothers and members of his family in extending sincere condolences to Mrs. Veronica Chandisingh, Yuri and his family.

Halim Majeed Former Deputy Chief Political Adviser to H.E. President LFS Burnham and Former Chief Political Adviser to H.E. President Hugh Desmond Hoyte.