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Pita Pyaree, today, at 93By Neil Marks “It may not be the best action in some situations, and I understand that. But if I hadn’t run away from home when I did, I certainly wouldn’t have achieved what I did.” Now 93 years old, Pita Pyaree peers through the window panes in her Georgetown home to observe daily life around her. These days she lives a quiet life; but more often than not, she has flashbacks of the years when she dominated stages across the country and the Caribbean as the showgirl everyone wanted to hear and see.Remarkably, she is as gorgeous today as then, save for the inevitable wrinkles and grey hair. But her voice remains a force to be reckoned with, and she can still smoothly belt out one of the hits that made her the dream girl among Indian indentured labourers and their descendants:“When I was a young girlI heard my mother sayNever have a woman friendShe’ll take your man awayHiday hyray balamawa,Mein Tak a guyareHiday hyray balamawa’“Well I knew this womanI thought she was my friendThen I come to realizeShe was my husband’s girlfriendHiday hyray balamawaMein Tak a guyareHyday hyray balamawa’Indian singer Kanchan, now deceased, transported the song from the time of Piya Pyaree’s heyday to the latter part of the 20th century, recording it on CD. It is perhaps this that will save Pita Pyaree from fading into obscurity, as has been the case with many local artistes. Pita Pyaree’s fluke encounter with fame and fortune belongs to the category of ‘rags to riches’ stories, and is a story that she recollects with vim and vigour. Our ‘Special Person’ in a sari, her favourite wearEARLY LIFEPita Pyaree, meaning Father’s Love, was actually a name given to her by a Stabroek Market vendor when her career in singing and dancing started to blossom. Her real name was Munia, born to parents Kurubjeet and Bhipia in mid-1917, the same year the practice of shipping Indians to this country ended. She was born at Aurora Village on the Essequibo Coast.Her father, Kurubjeet, came to these shores by accident, or perhaps pure manipulation. When the Atlantic slave trade was abolished, plantation owners on the colony of what was then British Guiana started recruiting Indian workers under a system called indentureship.Kurubjeet and four of his friends were fascinated by the ships and the tales of workers going to Demerara for the opportunity to work for lots of money and return to India.And so when one of the “White” men asked Kurubjeet and his friends if they’d like to take a look inside the ship, they hurriedly agreed. The ship pulled out of the dock – before Kurubjeet and his friends could get off.Unprepared for work on the plantation, Kurubjeet found work at the Aurora decks, catching rope when the ships came in. It was a job he received, thanks to the man who would later become his father-in-law.Kurubjeet married Bhipia, and the union produced 15 sons, but not without tragedy. Some of the boys died mysteriously. All but two, Taljit and Ajit, survived. Bhipia would make regular visits to the seashore, beseeching Ganga Mata, the Hindu goddess of water, for a daughter.And so, Pita Pyaree was born the last child of her parents. Prompted by the older folks, her parents sold her to a local pandit, Boodhoo Maraj, over fears that if they did not, tragedy would strike again.Pita spent the first four years of her life living at the house of the pandit and his family. She then returned to the home of her parents, but would pay regular visits to those who had bought her.She lived a well-to-do life, as her father had left the work at the Aurora docks and was now trading sawn lumber. Her brother manned the horse-cart to transport the lumber, which was sold to villagers on the Essequibo Coast.Within a year, Pita’s mother died, and a few years later, a severe bout of pneumonia killed her father. She was left in the care of her eldest brother, who had then married. His wife was the daughter of an indentured Indian woman and a British estate manager.The woman proved to be a tyrant in Pita’s life. She received several beatings from her brother as a result of complaints made by her sister-in-law.A 23-year-old Pita in her heydayAfter her father died, Pita Pyaree’s brother found work as a driver on the estate. One day, responding to a complaint from his wife, Pita’s brother promised to deal with her when he returned home.Fearing another beating, Pita, then about 10 years old, decided to run away from home. Parbattie, the daughter of the woman who had bought her, hid her when her brother came looking. The same Parbattie gave her enough money to make her way to the capital.She boarded the ferry vessel at Aurora, with all but the dress on her back and slippers on her feet. Once she arrived at Parika, she took the train to Vreed-en-hoop, and then another ferry to the city. Where was she going? She had always heard of her father talking of an Aunt who lived in the city.However, as she emerged from the vessel in the city, she would meet the woman who would later propel her to stardom. The woman was her father’s “outside” child. Pita knew her from the times she would visit her father. The two greeted each other in both shock and enthusiasm. The woman was at the stelling to solicit guests for the guest house she operated in the city.Upon finding out Pita’s destination, she offered to take her to the Aunt in what is now Middle Road, La Penitence. When Pita got there, she soon found out that the Aunt had five children of her own. She told her step-sister that she would prefer to go back with her instead of being a burden to her aunt. The step-sister agreed to take Pita back to her guest house and take care of her.STARDOMComing from a family where music was encouraged, Pita Pyaree could memorise songs she heard. It was only a matter of time that her step-sister heard her singing in the bathroom. She was awestruck by Pita’s voice and was sure she could make something of herself in music, and so sprung into action.She knew someone from the neighbourhood who was associated with a music programme on the local radio station, and insisted that he take Pita to the radio station to sing. But there was a slight problem: Pita only knew one song, and she didn’t even know the meaning of it. In fact, many of the songs she later sung, she didn’t have a clue what they meant.The programme’s producer, one Akbar, liked her voice, and since she knew only one song, he gave Pita another song to practice.For two straight weeks she sang on the radio. On the third week, the radio station was hosting a competition for local talent. Pita Pyaree was invited to compete and she did, albeit hesitantly.The judge turned out to be a “White man,” Pita recalled, likely one of the British administrators of the colony. She was the last of the contestants to sing, and the judge immediately called the radio station to declare her the winner.From then on, it was a life on glamour-street for the unassuming Essequibo runaway lass. She would quickly move from national dreamgirl to a Caribbean hot shot.Soon after the competition, her voice was on demand for commercial advertisements. She performed regularly for the Jaikarran Drug Store and was more than happy to receive the two shillings she was paid after every performance.About six months after, a visiting Trinidadian doctor heard her on the radio and sent down a promoter to recruit her for a tour in that country.And so, in 1938, she travelled from theatre to theatre singing across Trinidad, and it was on that island that Pita would add to her singing. Typical of showgirls, she mesmerised audiences with her beauty, and her glamourous costumes,Cheap NFL Jerseys, mostly the sari, made her a sensation on the island. She would go on to stay in Trinidad for two years.It was in Trinidad that she was tutored in Indian dance, mostly folk dance at the time.Upon her return to British Guiana, she took up invitations to sing at all sorts of functions, with weddings being very common.MARRIED LIFE ANDA NEW OUTLOOKWhen she was invited to Bartica to sing and dance at the theatre there, a pesky young man named Tulsiram started flirting with her. He started by teasing her about the ghungroos she had tied to her foot. Because the ghungroos would bruise her feet, she put a white cloth first and then placed the ghungroos over it. She was told she looked like a race horse, with the white cloth strapped to the bottom of her feet.The next day, Tulsiram changed his strategy from one who taunts to a lover boy. What Pita didn’t know was that Tulsiram was also a singer. So he came to the house of the promoter in Bartica where she was staying. Armed with his harmonium, Tulsiram wooed her with a few choice selections. The two “exchanged words” and Pita headed back to town.Pita Pyaree and husband Tulsiram shortly after their marriage in 1945She received an invitation to tour Suriname. She spent a year there and then returned to Guyana in 1945.Tulsiram, who worked as a carpenter, had moved to the city and sought out Pita. He wanted to marry her. She was not excited.“I was in it long, but it was like I was still getting the sweetness of the stage.”She eventually agreed – but on the condition that she would be allowed to tour freely. Tulsiram agreed, and the two got married. She made a decision not to have children, as that would interrupt her career.As a result, Pita continued to travel across the country and overseas as the years went by, training others to dance as her career continued.She was perhaps one, if not, the only descendant of Indian immigrants at the time who enjoyed such fame and opportunities.But she slowed down around 1960 when she and her husband bought a “cake shop” on Camp Street in the city. While there, she agreed to take care of the son of one of her nieces. That would put an end to her career in dancing.“And I also started to put on some weight,” she laughs. But while she was not dancing, Pita found work on the radio, with her regular programme being for Marmite.With her fame intact across, what became Guyana, and among Indo-Caribbean people, she renewed her relationship with her brother whom she ran away from. He had separated from the woman who caused Pita to run away from home, and had remarried. He died at the age of 82, with Pita being there to bury him. She also buried her other brother, Ajit, who died at age 62.In 1998, her husband of 67 years passed away. Shortly before, Tulsiram had become a pandit and the two would sing Hindu religious songs at the mandir they attended. She only recently sold Tulsiram’s harmonium, as it reminded too much of her beloved husband.A year later, her niece’s son whom she took care of when she gave up her career, also died.Today, Pita Pyaree lives alone, but the children of the boy she raised now take care of her, including having a daily help at the home.She doesn’t regret running away from home 83 years ago.“It may not be the best action in some situations, and I understand that. But if I hadn’t run away from home when I did, I certainly wouldn’t have achieved what I did.”Pita Pyaree has been credited with promulgating, through her songs and dance, the culture the Indians brought with them from the motherland (India) at a time when the Indian film industry did not have as much influence as it does now.She has received awards from the National Ramnamvi Committee, the Indian Commemoration Trust, the Indian Arrival Committee and the Guyana Folk Festival Committee.Pita Pyaree is proud of the life she has led. Though she is no longer able to bang her feet strapped with ghungroos, she still has the magical voice that mesmerised Guyana and the Caribbean in a time gone by – a time that belonged only to her.
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