KAYMAN SANKAR – BRINGING LIFE OUT OF GOD’S EARTH

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Dr. David Chanderballi wrote a book on him, in the flyleaf of which he quoted Jonathan Swift:  “Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow on a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.” His dedication read:  “I dedicate this book to all youths, especially those born in want, hoping that the example of my industry would inspire them to aspire to achieve great success in life.”
In the Preface then Chairman of the rice entities, Mr. Charles Kennard, wrote:  “A biography of Kayman Sankar is a reflection of the development of the rice industry.  He started like all of our early farmers with the oxen and plough.  From there, he moved on to over the years in developing his rice cultivation to what it is today – large-scale, fully-mechanized systems involving the use of tractors for land-preparation, bulk combines for harvesting, bulk trailers for the transportation of padi, aircraft for seeding, fertilizing, and pest disease and weed control.”
The immensity of achievement of most of Guyana’s elitist entrepreneurs, while having parallels in the international arena, cannot be surpassed by anyone anywhere, given the correlating circumstances of their origination, their endeavours and struggles, and their eventual successes, against the then-prevailing backdrop of political angst, no Governmental representative agency offering requisite support services – at least not initially, no enabling environment to encourage capital investment; but even more – no capital to bankroll entrepreneurial initiatives.
Yet these men aspired well beyond their enabling parameters, succeeding to superlative levels; and became pioneers in breeching entrepreneurial frontiers to which every person can aspire – instead of crying marginalization and discrimination, and opting to kill and plunder, instead of aspiring to achieve through their own efforts, especially given the prevailing enabling dynamics engineered to create avenues to upward mobility for those whom are currently intent on striving to personal development.
Chronicling the story of Kayman Sankar – an icon in Guyana’s rice industry, and in Guyana’s entrepreneurial world, would fill volumes, and this minute illustration of the essential – oftentimes poignant highlights of his life cannot begin to capture the magnitude of the greatness of the man.
Kayman Sankar can justifiably be credited as having, as Dr. David Chanderballi puts it: “…lifted the processes of rice cultivation from the primitive early twentieth century methods of tedious oxen-ploughing, manual planting and reaping, to the dignified heights of mechanical tillage, aerial spraying, and modern and sophisticated ways of water control, harvesting, milling and marketing.”
Born at Cornelia Ida, West Coast of Demerara on 3rd June 1926 to Dukhnee and Sewsankar Boodhoo, the latter a rarely literate first generation descendant of Indian parents, who were both employed on a sugar estate as a labourer and Sardar (supervisor) respectively, Kayman was eldest brother of five siblings, all of whom he mentored to achieve successful and productive lives.
From a childhood home of mud-daubed walls to a sprawling millionaire’s estate at Hampton Court was an epic journey, but it was the journey of a dynamic man who carved success out of a landscape of penury and want, and the ambition to provide better lives for his family out of the wherewithal generated by his own endeavours, driven by aspirations that defied parameters of circumstances and dislocations to surpass his greatest dreams.
When the average Guyanese was struggling to purchase a simple bicycle, Kayman Sankar and his family were commuting in their own aeroplanes.  He became the benefactor of Essequibians, even once entirely sponsoring the immensely-talented Indian bhajan singer, Anup Jalota, to perform at Hampton Court, and one of the largest employers in Guyana, because his interests – either directly or indirectly, ranged from border to border, in greater or lesser ways.
Remaining true to the traditions of his parents Kayman has been a steadfast and devout Hindu all of his life, serving his Lord with true humility and not forgetting to give thanks to God because, in his own words, “By serving humanity my parents were serving God….” and he described this service to humanity and dedication ceremonies (pooja) to the Lord as “….an offer of thanks to Almighty God for his blessings.”
Even though inability to afford milk to make the prashad (holy offering) meant using a substitute of sugared water, Kayman said “Whatever we used, that did not matter, but we would all join our hearts and thank the Lord….”
And therein lies his greatness, because the greatest of human beings are always the humblest – witness Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Cheddi Jagan, and myriads of others of their ilk, who dutifully serve humankind with simplicity and grace under duress.
Kayman laments the culture of dishonesty that currently threads throughout the national fabric because, as he puts it in Chanderballi’s book: “Here and there we would come across a devious fellow, but the majority of country people were honest and straightforward.”
And those are the principles that hallmarked Kayman Sankar’s life and his entrepreneurial forays.
At four and a half years old – still yet a baby, Kayman walked a distance approximating a mile to school at Anna Catherina, playing in the schoolyard after school until just before dark, when his parents returned home from the “backdam,” then he would make the return journey home, during which he had to pass by a “graveyard,” which terrified him, because by then it would be after “nightfall,” and in those days villages had no electricity, so one can just imagine the ordeal of a young child having to traverse bushy areas with scary shadows and maybe strange noises magnified by a young child’s imagination, compounded by the graveyard scenario.
When Kayman reached Standard Three, his parents transferred him to Den Amstel Primary School, approximately three miles from home, but by then he was old enough to stay at home by himself and he had chores, plus returning home with his classmates was a daily adventure shared with his peers.  He specially loved it when lessons were held outdoors.
During the interview with Chanderballi Kayman described his feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when he was able to answer almost all of the teacher’s questions because “…I was a bright chap.” He often supervised his class during the teacher’s absence because “I was not only the biggest chap in the class, but I was the smartest.”
During cricket matches, the most popular pastime of village boys then, Kayman said that he was always a captain and that he always batted first.
The genesis of Kayman Sankar’s phenomenal success in the rice industry is his great love for gardening, even as a child because, as he said, he derived great joy from tilling the soil, pulling out the earthworms, making beds and drains, removing the seeds, transplanting the seedlings, nurturing the young plants, and watching them grow, flower, and bear.  “It was like I was bringing life out of God’s earth.”
Kayman recalled to Chanderballi how tenderly he would caress the new leaves and the soft petals of the flowers.  “I often wondered where they came from, whether they were hidden in the earth and would suddenly emerge to drink the rain and warm themselves in the sunshine.”
This romanticism of Kayman Sankar with the most elemental aspects of human nature hides the soul of a poet, and his creating life out of God’s earth is like a poet creating lyrical beauty with words, and an artist creating visual splendour, because all are colourful interpretations and visualizations of the Lord’s creations.
His love of things natural was manifest in his liking for nature study and his love for the fragrance of the wild flowers that they collected during the school’s nature study tours.
As a young boy he remembered “….seeing the rice standing emerald green, with the immature grains filling with milky fluid, while other fields were already golden yellow with ripening grains full of starch, ready for harvest….”
“….Leaving a ricefield after a school tour I would turn back and look at the golden stalks swaying in the breeze.  I loved to watch people cutting the stalks with grass-knives
and fetching them in a line to the threshing ground.”
Kayman said that one of the simpler but most effective lessons he learnt that he subsequently applied to his agronomic practices was a lesson taught by his school gardening master, one Mr. Hall, which was that a solution of black tobacco soaked in water eliminated garden pests, making him conscious of a need to expand his knowledge even further on the use of chemicals for pest and disease control in the pursuit of agricultural activities.

Earlier indentured servants and their families lived in great squalor and poverty
Kayman’s inherent aptitude and excellence in agricultural production was evident when he won a trophy for a kitchen garden he cultivated at home, but one day, when he was absent from home to cut firewood from the seaside to be used for cooking, the agricultural officers from the Botanical Gardens went to his home to inspect his kitchen garden.  However, seeing the gentlemen’s interest in the garden, and fearing that the authorities were going to penalize Kayman for playing truant to tend his garden, his grandmother told them that it was her garden, earning him a licking at school for claiming that the garden was his undertaking, and in those days lying was anathema in the society, so he also suffered near-ostracism before he was vindicated by the truth eventually coming out.
An indication of the formulation of Kayman Sankar’s character which predisposed him to ambition without parameters, endeavour without surcease, and superlative achievement can be summed up in the following paragraph.
“As the eldest child, the role of surrogate parent often fell on Kayman.  When his brothers reached school age, he would bathe, dress, and feed them.  After school, if one of them complained of being tired, he would fetch him on his back and guide the others safely home.  Whatever food was there, he would allow the younger ones to eat first.  Very often very little or none was left for himself.”
His nephew Nandallal said that “Buddy was like a father to his brothers and me.”  On weekends and holidays, ever the responsible and dutiful son, he worked alongside his parents at their farm, which distressed him greatly sometimes when he was forced to relinquish his place on the cricket team, cricketing being the only recreational sport he pursued, but he never complained.
In a nutshell Kayman’s formidable drive to succeed was to promote the welfare and advancement of his beloved family, because he loved them all beyond himself.
Regardless his irregular attendances at school Kayman passed all his annual examinations with flying colours until he reached Standard Six, but he was a year too young to write the Primary School Certificate Examination.  However, pecuniary circumstances due to unaccountable but costly  illness of his mother forced his parents into making the hard choice of either letting Kayman continue his education, or allowing the younger boys to attend school, so at nine years of age Kayman’s academic education was truncated, which made him very sad, but which he stoically accepted.
His parents set prime examples for him to emulate in the absolute love, generosity of spirit, and commitment in which their family life was steeped, and in the principles of humanity they instilled in their children not to discriminate against anyone, but to value people for their character. He said: “I learnt that whether a person is respected or not as an individual depends on his character, rather than on his caste, or religion, or money.”
At age nine Kayman willingly started working to help augment the family income in order to keep the younger ones in school.  He began selling milk for his maternal uncle –  walking from Cornelia Ida to Hague to collect the milk, then lugging a ten-gallon container of milk to sell to customers, traversing an approximate twenty miles per day whatever the weather, until he contracted pneumonia, becoming so ill that he was forced to remain in bed alongside his ailing mother.  He recalled his days of milk-selling as a salutary lesson in the dishonesty and unkindness of humankind, which caused him much pain and disillusionment.
When he recuperated he began working in the sugar cane fields, waking at four in the morning to help prepare meals before proceeding to the backdam – a distance approximating six miles, to start the day’s work, which began with collecting a full bag of manure, slung around his neck, with which he fertilized the fields, which was a backbreaking task that taught him the valuable lesson that the application of chemical fertilizers, compounded by adequate drainage and irrigation, efficient agronomic practices, and the right kind of soil can significantly increase yields.
He said: “My job in the backdam taught me that technical farming is a must, and that soil acts as a warehouse for plant food.  If the soil is to be productive, then the nutrients must be replaced.”
Almost all Kayman’s fellow workers were illiterate, so during lunch break he would relate Aesop’s Fables and other stories to them, and even assisted the villagers with documentation whenever necessary, so he was automatically elevated to a leadership role, even before he became a teenager.
His abilities caught the attention of the overseer, Adrian Thompson, who later planted a flag on Mount Roraima on the occasion of Guyana’s independence.  Thompson promoted Kayman to the rank of bateau boy, which should have been “lackey boy,” a position which Kayman described as “terrible,” for, while manuring the fields was laborious work, a bateau boy had to feed, water, and lug the heavy saddle onto the back of the overseer’s mule, hold the stirrups of a sometimes intractable mule for the overseer to mount, then run alongside the mule for miles, whatever the weather, to wherever the overseer chose to inspect.
In the evenings Kayman would assist the overseer to dismount, and then remove the man’s muddy boots before tending the mule.  Although he felt degraded by this work he did it honestly and competently, because his work and living ethics prescribed that any endeavour undertaken should be done thoroughly, cheerfully, and satisfactorily.  However, he learnt from his experiences how it felt to work for others and that he should treat his employees kindly.  “That is why if I can do something to make my own workers happy, if I can bring joy to their lives, I never hesitate.”
Realizing that he was learning nothing of a technical nature from the job, and intent on using his work experiences as an extension of his educational processes, Kayman asked his father to arrange a transfer to the weeding gang, and it was during that period that he discovered the various enemies of the plant, among them weeds, which competed with them for nutrients, sunlight, water, and space.
In 1942 the manager, recognizing Kayman’s potential to leadership, decided to appoint him as a driver, but Kayman told his father: “I don’t want this promotion because, when I get married, I will get children and I don’t want them to live and work like me.  I want to be a wealthy, progressive man of tomorrow.”
At age eighteen Kayman transferred to the “cut and load” gang, where he could control his earnings, depending on the volume of output per day.  He worked harder, earned more, and did not spend his money on “sporting” like others, instead saving every cent that he could.  The work was hard and dangerous and Kayman cut his foot to the bone once, but he said: “I had to do that kind of work because we were poor, my mother was sick, my brothers and sister were small, and I wanted them to go to school.  I had to do it to help my parents and to save a little.”
Those savings garnered by dint of overwhelming effort and indefatigable labour enabled Kayman to accrue enough to purchase two acres of rice land at Windsor Forest.
This was the genesis of the Kayman Sankar empire.  Because of lack of required capital, this rice magnate, to whom banks subsequently begged to lend millions of dollars, initially could not raise enough capital to purchase more land to expand his rice cultivation holdings, so he engaged in several income-generation activities, such as driving a taxi, making jewelry, running a shop, etcetera to earn additional funds, sometimes even being forced to pawn his wife’s and mother’s jewels, because by then he was a family man, having married the former Mavis Ramnauth through an arranged marriage, in which he had no say, but which provided him with a lifetime of love, support, and companionship.
Lalta Ramgopaul, then General-Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association, in describing Kayman’s struggle to acquire viable rice-producing land, said that Kayman, accompanied by some other farmers, went as far as the North West District, including the Pomeroon, looking for land suitable for rice-cultivation., sleeping on boats or on the ground, eating whatever food was offered by the Amerindians, and followed many meandering and dangerous trails.
Kayman  Sankar said, “I couldn’t be the Kayman Sankar I wanted to be for my children.

As I didn’t have education, I had to get land to plant rice.”
Kayman brought to family life the same commitment, dedication, and absolute love he had, and continued to display for his siblings throughout their lives.  He taught his daughters, Seeta and Sattie, and only son Beni, all the moral and spiritual values that had been inculcated into him by his parents, and he ensured that all his siblings and his children received the very best education.
He taught his children that the foundation and the beginning of all things and all good counsel was God, and charged them to direct all their concerns and affairs to God, because He is the fountain of all good things.
His children were not spared hard work during their childhood and had to take their turn with the bull on the threshing floor, a very laborious task for a child.
Constrained space demands that this be a severely-contracted narrative, so it merely serves to illustrate, in brief, the characterization and not the achievements of a unique individual who contributed immeasurably to his personal development, and that of his family, his community, and his country.  However, Dr. David Chanderballi’s book – KAYMAN SANKAR – THE ULTIMATE RICE MAGNATE is a detailed study on the life of this pioneering entrepreneur.