A Renewal in Remembrances

Girmitya 2in

By Ariti Jankie

HOUSTON: Indo-Caribbean-Americans celebrated Indian Arrival Day for the second year in Houston on May 24 at Players Street Hindu Mandir.

The flash of lightening as thunder rolled and the sky opened up from 6.00 a.m. failed to dampen spirits as participants got ready to begin their day of celebration with a 7.00 a.m. Jahajee Walk. Despite the inclement weather, vehicles filled the parking space and Pundit Sase began by planting a jhandi. Jal was offered to the rising sun (Surujnarayan Bhagwan) peeping from behind dark clouds and without missing a beat the ritual worship of Shri Hanuman continued. The short walk was wet and led inside the mandir where a human circle formed to continue a conversation that began beneath the trees last year.

Sharing a unique history, the Indo-Caribbean population are children of India’s Indentureship Scheme (Girmityas). They were joined in paying tribute to their ancestors of India by girmits of Fiji, Mauritius and Suriname. May 30 marks the 170th anniversary of the arrival of the first shipment of 224 Indians aboard the Fatal Rozack to Trinidad from Kolkatta.

President of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Branch 377 Dharam Vishal Chatoor in his opening address said that the children of indentured laborers enjoyed tremendous success resulting from the legacy passed on by their ancestors.
“They came empty handed and were treated as slaves. Somehow they overcame every difficulty and handed us their dream for a better life,” he said.

Girmitya 1in

Jasoda Sharma receives an award from Author/Journalist Ariti Jankie.

He went on to say that in remembrances lie renewal.

“To go back to our early beginnings provide us with the strength to measure how far we have come as a people and point us in the direction of continued growth and development.”

Two brothers, Thirbhawan and Harry Seegobin on their way home to Trinidad from India joined the early morning conversation.

They spoke of a search for roots and their discovery of their ancestral village in Basti in Uttar Pradesh.

A former president of the Trinidad-based Maha Sabha, Thirbhawan said, “We were well received by our relatives and have been working with them to improve the quality of life in the village.”

Many others expressed the desire of tracing their roots in India. The circle were drawn to tears by stories of hardship and rejoiced as the brothers painted a picture of a peaceful and contented life in their ancestral village.

The celebration moved to the breakfast shed at 9.30 where a meal of sada roti and chokha was served. Of great importance, the simple fare took participants back in time to days when the Indian indentured workers roasted whatever ground provisions or vegetables they found on the land, added salt and pepper to make chokha which they ate with rice or roti. Chokha has also come a long way. A fire was lit and bigan (melongene) roasted to nostalgically perfume the breakfast shed.

A formal ceremony followed. Awards were presented to those who worked for the preservation and promotion of dharma and included Rajoutie Chatarpal (service and dedication), Pundit Nankumar Ramprashad and his wife Shomie (community service), Bobby Teelucksingh (tassa), Chris Ramlochan (music), Tara and Muni Chatarpal (arts and culture), Pundit Ramesh Ramraj (spirituality), Amrita Chatarpal (dance) and Jasoda Sharma, a cultural icon in the community was also recognized for her organizational skills and cultural passion.

Shomie Ramprashad had composed a song in which she sang about her grandparents coming from India and her entire family living a culturally Indian life. Fiji-born Ram Sharma sang folk songs and told the story of Indentureship while feature speaker, Attorney-at-Law, Bashist Sharma spoke of the need for cultural watchdogs to guard a heritage that adds to the rainbow colors of culture in Texas.

“Our ancestors were great role models. We owe all that we are to them and must take pride in roots that make us strong and give us the power to move ahead with respect for differences in society,” he said,
A vegetarian feast was served buffet style with dishes such as rice, dhal, spinach (bhaji) channa-alue, bigan chokha, mango talkarie, buss-up shot roti with mango lassi and sweet rice (kheer).