I want to begin my presentation by thanking the NCIC Heritage Center for the sponsorship of this First International Phagwa Conference titled Phagwa in the Global Village: Traditions, Innovations and Future Developments.
Providing a forum of this nature to discuss Phagwa calls for a high degree of commitment which I personally find rare if not absent from the Hindu community. It is good that individuals like Dr. Primnath Gooptar, Deoroop Teemal, Professor Brinsley Samaroo and the Executive of the NCIC can identify with and bring into fruition a conference of this nature.
I want to state categorically that the middle class Hindu community is worthy of analysis if we are to better understand the status of our community. Definitely, the majority of our middle class do not live by Hindu values as such. In their haste to acquire an education to escape poverty, the temple, poojas, Phagwa, chowtal, etc are being marginalized. It is like attempting to climb the higher rungs of a ladder- any social and cultural attachments are interpreted as excess baggage to be shed for upward social mobility and acceptance, similar to what Indian Christians did decades earlier.
The results is, after graduating from a tertiary educational institution, the majority of Hindus, become indifferent to his Hindu dharma. Shockingly, this is more among graduates whose parents are also graduates and professionals. This is adequate evidence that the education system is working against the wellbeing of the Hindu community. Our imbibing of education can be likened to a kind of slow poisoning of our psyche. May be a research paper could be done to look at the social life of Hindu retirees who had served as professionals.
If today Hindus are graduates and professionals and still active in the dharma, it is only because their parents were not graduates and professionals. Their limited education confined them to their villages and their socialization within the community. And we their descendants, inadvertently, became imbued with the culture, hence our passion to preserve and propagate it.
And may I ask the question: Are the younger generations eager to preserve and propagate the dharma? If not, what has brought about this lackadaisical attitude towards the culture? Are our young HIndu professionals engaging in poojas? Do they read the scriptures? Are they active in the mandirs and the re-enactment of Ramleela?
When Adesh woke up, he recognized his wife, Sindu, not dressed in tattered clothes fetching water from a barrel to do the daily chores but seated on the sofa carrying on a conversation on a smart phone. In this Kumbhakaran stupor, he enquired about his daughter and son. Where is Princess? Where is Sham? And the wife replied: Princess left for down the island with some friends? Sham gone J’ouvert,” and went on with her conversation.
In 1999 I took up employment at Williamsville Secondary School and came into contact with Radha Lochandass, a businessman and then Councilor for the Electoral District of Ben Lomond/Reform in the Princes Town Regional Corporation. In the mid-1980s, working with the Hindu Seva Sangh, we coordinated a satsangh with the Garth Road Mandir. Radhay Lochandass was always present in the Satsangh and would be called upon to bring greetings or deliver a discourse.
After exchanging greetings and recollecting the past and making enquiries about Haripersad Harikissoon, the founder and then President of the HSS, we embarked on a discussion on the cultural health of the community. I learned that Radhay was active with the Williamsville Mandir and very conscious of the Hindu community not just in Williamsville but nationally, regionally and globally.
I also met with Pandit Vigyan Dharamdass and his family that was the main force in the satsangh in the mid-1980s. Learning that there was not any celebration of Phagwa in the district, I broached the subject with them. They welcomed the suggestion and Sanjay Dharamdass expressed a keen interest in the revival of Phagwa.
Another person that came on board was Vijay Ramoutar, a teacher at Williamsville Secondary School. From that first day at the school we became close and I recognized his intelligence and commitment to Hindu dharma.
A meeting of these few Hindus was held and the result was the birth of the Williamsville Historical Days and Festivals Committee. Others such as Sitraj Ramkissoon , Seeta Persad, Jairaj Singh and the late Ashram Maharaj came on board.
With donations from the Regional Corporation and funding from the Ministry of Culture, Phagwa was planned. Banners were placed at strategic points in Williamsville district and miking was done throughout the district for two days. Seeta Persad always provided a write-up in the Newsday which provided a lot of publicity to the event. We also had Jairaj Singh for entertainment and young singers and dancers were at hand to display their talents. A DJ was always at hand to provide music.
Our Committee provided free gulal, abir and snacks to the children and corn soup to the adults. Our people are not used to taking advantage of freeness. The children would line up for their snacks and gulal and with no pushing and shoving.
A pot of corn soup was prepared by a chef from Felicity at the Garth Road Mandir. Again, there was not the mad rush by people when they came for a cup of corn soup. This civility in the midst of freeness and giveaways is a quality that the people of Williamsville still possess and I was personally impressed.
The vast majority of the celebrants were young teens; many students that attend the Williamsville Secondary School were actively enjoying the fun. There were many young couples with their young children on tow, too small to wander off on their own.
But what impressed me mostly was the self-reliance of our celebrants. A large group of young people would arrive on foot bringing along with them their abir in bottles and their pichkaries. The ability to provide their abir and not depend on the organizers, was a major reason why the Phagwa at Williamsville endured. When for several years we have stopped receiving financial support from the Ministry of Culture and the Regional Corporation the Phagwa continued because of the self-reliance of the people.
In our enthusiasm to ensure a successful program we wrote letters to businesses soliciting funds but there was no response. One evening Radhay Lochan Dass and I attempted to reach out to the business community, and the negative response we had from the first person was enough for us to abandon the trail. Our Committee agreed to make personal contributions and so we appealed to the members to meet the deficit.
The Sports Club of the district had objected to the Phagwa because it clashed with their cricket schedules. The Regional Corporation had intervened to accommodate us, giving the Sports Club no choice but to give way.
A major complaint the litter on the ground after the Phagwa. We have rectified this by appealing to the celebrants to pick up the garbage and place them into bags provided. Interestingly, when others use the facilities it is left littered for days until a CEPEP task force is directed to clean the site.
Had a few of us not stood up for Phagwa at Williamsville, the program would have been derailed. By a handful of Hindus standing together and opening their doors to all that are willing to contribute, the Williamsville Phagwa has flourished.
Our people need leadership and that is the challenge I wish to underlined in this paper. If a few people can commit to work on a project that is beneficial to the community, the people will step forward and do their path. This is exactly what our participants have been doing when our Phagwa is organized and celebrated.
When Kevin Ramnarine was Minister of Energy he came to our Phagwa. On the way to the stage he was drenched with abir by young children. In his address he mentioned that he had ensured that NGC provided funding for culture including Phagwa. That year and following, our Committee received money from the NGC for Phagwa.
It is important that individuals who understand the value of our culture hold together. In the Williamsville Festivals Committee, it is exactly that which is done and our program has been a success. Leadership is critical and it has to come from a committed to dharma class and the masses will follow suit.
We must ignore the so called middle class who wakes up not knowing the whereabouts of his daughter and son. Asleep in their surprised-pocket air-conditioned luxury mansions with their kids holding degrees from institutions of higher learning, these middle class Hindus have surrendered themselves to the prevailing culture in the society-fetes in Chaguaramas and Moka, not Phagwa.
I requested from a friend some funding for Phagwa and his retort was: You still celebrate that! I went silent which is unlike me. The friend went on to advise me that ‘we need to promote Country Western music which most Indians prefer to Phagwa and chutney.’ Being open to ideas, I advised him to promote it. Unfortunately, to do this date no such project was carried out.
The Indian middle class is not a matured middle class. It carries the outer trappings of a middle class but remains raw at the core. Much more cooking has to be done for them to understand their role. Even our professionals do not appreciate the value of culture and identity.
Our pandits and musicians have done an excellent task at replicating themselves over generations. The Gildharies of Claxton Bay, the Ramnarines of Gasparillo and the Bissembars of Sangre Grande and so many cultural families continue to perpetuate themselves in the field of music taking it to higher heights.
Our pandits of the 1940s continue to live through their children and grandchildren. Pandit Hari Parsad’s legacy continues through SWAHA; Pt Rabindranath Maharaj of Endeavour has his nephews to carry on his legacy and Sat Maharaj continue the struggle for dharma through his sons and grandsons.
Where is the institutional continuity among our intellectuals? I searched and I am not seeing it. After our shraddh is finished, that will be the end, no legacy, no continuity. And why?
A feature of slavery was that a child born to a slave was never his/her child but the child of massa, hence the lack of interest in the welfare of the child by the biological father and mother. Have we, when we put our children through schools mortgage their culture and identity?
Radhay Lochandass’s youngest son is engaged in business. His identity has not been mortgaged to any institution of higher learning. The youngest business man understands well how to treat his workers, customers, suppliers and other stake holders in his chain of business activities.
The foundation of the support for the RSS does not come from an educated elite but from small-business leaders, that is, families, that have worked and saved and reinvested. They are unlike the Shashi Tharoors and the plethora of sons and daughters of Karl Marx and Josef Stalin whose protests is the last howl before the final demise. Mouthing theories and using fanciful language is not saving us at the end of the day. It is the people who are grounded in their dharma who continue to churn out the heroes and heroine because when they open their eyes their children are in the house and not in a j’ouvert band or in a house down the island.