by Vidyaratha Kissoon
Diwali Night, or rather , my Diwali night.
Sea breeze blowing the barbecue chicken smoke all over the people who are waiting on the motorcade. Even though I eat carcass, I feel bad.. the idea of the chicken smoke blowing through all the floats with the holy images and bhajans is not right.
Women and girls selling lights, women and girls selling water, juice, Guinness, beer.
I do my puja at home, light my diyas and then come out because of crass commercialism – I will get paid to write this column.
I would not have come out otherwise.
There are a lot of people. I recognise a family – three women. We start talking. They will celebrate on the 11 November. “Is why all of a sudden the change..” “All the time we been a guh good good why dem gah fuh change?”
I tell them I am out on the seawall to find something to write about and they laugh.
One of the women tells me “you are always so bitter. Why is everything you write so bitter, so much criticism and negativity.?…You don’t want to even pick up the newspapers and read, everything is so negative.”
It has been on my mind, this negative thing in the news.
Earlier in the day, I was reading Anjan Sundaram’s Stringer in which he wrote that, “Death, as a rule, had the best chance of making the news. And in a country torn by war one might imagine such news would be abundant. But in Congo, so many people died that, farcically, mere death was not enough. I needed many deaths at once, or an extraordinary death.”
“What good can I write about then.. tell me something good “
“Well, look at how many people she bring out, all races and so…”
She being Dr Vindhya Persaud, PPP MP and President of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha which organised the Diwali Motorcades.
It is true, the piece of the seawall where I walked.. all races, well mostly black people and some coolie people and some mixed people and others whose ethnicity I could not determine.
It could be nice to write about how the Diwali Motorcade , managed by an organisation led by a PPP MP reaches across the ethnic divide.
But just after Diwali, the PPP went to GECOM wanting to know the ethnic count there. The PPP might have some metrics to describe the ethnicity, questioning the integrity of people who might be working at GECOM, and watching the motorcade and who might be out of the PPP count of who at GECOM could best enable them to be in power.
The woman on the seawall tells me “No politics, no politics” .
But politics, like God is omnipresent in Guyana. And we talk politics. Yes, she agrees, it is bad about slap and strip bheri being in Parliament.
Slap and strip bheri’s party condemned the choice of 10th November as the date for the Diwali holiday.
Slap and strip bheri’s comrade Irfaan Ali helped to light up the National Diya.
At the 2009 Diwali Motorcade, the late Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud, the founder of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha endorsed a third term for President Jagdeo. At that time, Donald Ramotar indicated that the party had not made such a decision.
Move forward to 2015.
Donald Ramotar is no longer in Parliament and is being described as a flawed political leader and on a “cold November night” in Richmond Hill, New York, the “people’s president” Bharat Jagdeo addressed a Diwali Motorcade talking about ‘the first Diwali many of our people are living in fear of the future because of changes” and “the return to time when our culture was disrespected” and asking people to be supportive (not with money) for ‘when the assault begins’.
The two dates for Diwali generated much discussion and speculation including the possibility of a PNC and PPP Diwali. In India, there are two days celebrated as shown in the 2016 calendar. It seems some States , including southern ones, celebrate the first day, while others in the North celebrate the second.
An intelligent man I know asked “Now that Ramjattan and Nagamooto are madrasi, is there a move to the South Indian celebration?”. This was no longer about darkest night or new moon.
The morning after the motorcade, the newspapers except the Chronicle have front pages with the beautiful floats.
Kaieteur News says “Another fascinating spectacle for Diwali” and this was about the motorcade rather than pujas and the diyas and the faith of those who would have lit diyas while the motorcade passed.
It is disheartening how the religion seems to have become a spectacle.
A woman on Facebook laments the advertisement of a ‘Diwali Fish Fry’ . The barbecue chicken smoke is in my nose and I wish that the people watching the motorcade would not sell liquor and would sell seven curry instead of barbecue chicken.
I see another advertisement for a Diwali event with 4 beer for $1000 – and even though it was surprising that Banks DIH was part of the sponsorship of the Berbice Motorcade , I don’t think Diwali or any other Hindu festival should be associated with liquor.
The video “Behind the Scenes : The making of a motorcade float” explains the thought and amazing work that went into making the float for the Golden Om Dharmic Youth Organisation. These efforts of course are only reduced to photographs in the media amidst hundreds of other ‘spectacular’ photographs.
The women on the seawall said “You aint talking about the sexism. Is she alone standing up to a whole set of men.”
I said..”but there are men who called for the 11. Pandits in the organisation.”
“No, them men aint talking much..”
A young man told me that he agreed with the 10th but his mother was lighting up the 11th so he had to go with it, even though he tried to explain the reasoning.
Were there women who felt that lighting up on the 11th was defying a set of men?
The tension was real. One Member of Parliament , Charandass Persaud, had no problem writing that he wanted to ‘haul” Dr Vindhya Persaud and Pandit Jagmohan Persaud off a stage because he did not like what they were saying.
Even though not from slap and strip bheri’s political party, it seems he has been influenced by the same desires.
There is something about some of the men who put MP after their names in this current Parliament and their contempt for women.
I had known since last year I was celebrating the 10th regardless of the holiday as I followed the Guyana Pandits’ Council calendar. There were different dates for other festivals, but these were not so public since there were not holidays or there was a feeling not to disrupt slap and strip bheri’s party when it was in power.
The irony is that I disagree with the positions on other issues taken by some of the advocates of the 10th , while some of the people I like and respect were celebrating the 11th.
A few persons celebrated both nights.
In my neighbourhood, the bombs were louder on the Wednesday 11th November.
Monday morning around 7 at Bourda Market I see two stalls full of fire crackers etc. I ask the woman selling, don’t you know Diwali should be peaceful?
She replied, “no no, I not selling bombs’ .
The same evening, there are crowds around her stall.. one man saying.. ‘is only one time a year” as he buys for his children.
I am thinking of the glee on the face of a child who has lit a squib, thrown it in a gutter and is waiting for it to explode and the pain of the child who has lost an eye this year.
Most of the squibs, etc are Made in China
Thinking of Sundaram’s “extraordinary death’ headline – “Chinese bombs kill the peaceful Diwali in Guyana”
The day after the two Diwalis I meet a woman at the chicken freezer in the supermarket. She is a staunch supporter of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha and like me, she seems to eat chicken outside of Diwali.
I am not sure what to say.. whether look how nice this chicken is.. she said.. ‘I assume you had a good Diwali’.. I said yes, hope yours was okay. Conversation gets a bit tense when I say.. that I wished that the motorcade would have been another night so that everybody could have enjoyed it and the Tuesday night media workers would have had more time to find Diyas .
No no, she said, it has been tradition.. the night before Diwali…it takes two hands to clap.
It is awkward. As she moves off, we sigh and say.. next year, it is the same thing, different days.
So there will be different days for the different festivals and so next year. But it seems, back in India, there have always been different days.
The Hindu faith talks about this illusion of difference and about not being consumed by the rituals but considering their intention.
So regardless of whether or not we want Jagdeo for a third term with slap and strip bheri, or which Pandit we choose to be guided by, it will hopefully be the same Laxmi we worship, the same diya we light.