It was a Carnival season in Trinidad, considered to be the biggest national festival.This year it was on 7th & 8th March, coinciding and overshadowing International Women’s day. Almost for two weeks people are just submerged in various kind of activities. It starts much early in The University of the West Indies, which has very large student population on its St. Augustine campus in Trinidad. It has two other campuses-one in Mona in Jamaica and another in Barbados, though it caters nearly 16 countries of the Caribbean region called West Indies in general.Students activities relating to carnival started almost around 15th February.In carnival days, hotels, clubs, bars etc.. hold competitions like Soca, Chutney, Calypso singing.Pan and Mas activity is held,Fêtes are organised.All parts of the country hold their own competitions and prizes are given to the extent of two million Trinidad dollars per event to the winner or called king-Soca king, Calypso king, and queens as well, meaning nearly nearly one crore thirty lakh rupees.While Soca is purely local form of singing in English, which can’t be understood easily as it is highly creolised English.Chutney is like mixing of Hindi songs with local English expressions of the same kind.Calypso is good form of social criticism in the form of singing.Calypso songs are somewhat understood also better in terms of pronunciation.In one song this time the play cards with slogans like-‘defend the jobs’ etc.. were shown.One can say these are mostly progressive songs against social oppression.
Carnival originated from Roman Catholic religious traditions like not having meat etc.. for forty days, something common to Rozas of Muslims, but by now it has taken its popular form of peoples’ massive celebrations on roads and on stages.Carnival is celebrated almost in all parts of the world,but the best one is considered that of Rio De Janeiro of Brazil.Trinidad Carnival is also one of the best among the world.In India Carnival is celebrated in Goa and some parts of Odisa and Gujarat.In Trinidad, one form of Carnival is quite like Holi-J’ouvert-when people colour,paint and mud from early morning till 11.a.m and drink lots of beer and hard drinks. Major activities of Carnival are Soca, Chutney, Calypso singing competitions, mas- or costumes band, pan band.Steel Pan bands are Trinidad specialty. There is a competition of pan bands called national panorama, competition of costumes bands is held as Dimache Grass on Sunday night, along with calypso singing competition. On Monday early morning J’ouvert starts and people come out on the roads in all parts of the country–men, women, children, old alike.Best thing of carnival celebration is that at crosses age bar.It is not like India, where people would say–‘Oh no it is not for me, I have crossed the age of such festivities. here in Trinidad, you would find small toddlers on parents shoulders and men-women,even if they are ninety or so, walking and dancing on the roads.In my pictures, you can see even fully pregnant women walking/dancing in the procession.
I did not check the details of Carnival festivities in time this year, though I was to be here only for a year.I was busy writing some important articles for 23rd March-Bhagat Singh martyrdom day. Only after completing these, I checked for carnival details, it was late, but not so much.But I did not realise the importance of the events. Only when i walked through some festivities, I realised the true significance of these events.First activity I saw was launching of festivities in the University itself by Student Guild.it was mini costume bands display for few hours on stage and in walk.Initially it was little perplexing for me to see winning-pronounced win-eing, in which woman rub her buttocks with groins of other women in dancing postures.This was considered indecent by British colonial regime and they had banned it, but that led to making this item as the form of rebellion against colonial repression. Over the period, winning has got little perverted also, as now men and women both do winning with each other or men with men also and side winning also in clumsy manner, sometimes falling on the ground in process.. Further they took it to doing it in frontal manner, making it look like sexual gesture of union.Also they do it buttock to buttock now. But this is done in presence of thousands of people and does not cause any ripple here.And this is done in public just in the days of Carnival, as certain liberties are taken by men and women during Holi in India.
The 29% Hindu population’s religious leaders as some other religious leaders condemn Carnival, terming it as indecent, like Bajrang Dal in India attacking Valentine day festivities by young boys and girls in India, but they dare not come on roads to oppose the festivities, as they would be thrashed as they thrash young couples/friends in India on Valentine day. In fact Prime Minister of the country of Indian descent Kamla Prasad Bissessar spent almost non stop time in various Carnival festivities in many parts of the country, staying up to early morning till the end of programme for many days continuously. And one of the Calypso song this year took pun at her drinking habits and suggested necessary counselling for that.But many Hindu girls/boys, men/women do take part in Carnival festivities without any inhibition. I saw many Muslim girls with Hizab watching these festivities keenly in UWI.Otherwise Muslim participation, particularly of more religious kind may be less in these festivities.One good thing about Trinidad is its mixed race in substantial numbers.There are lots of Indo-African and other inter-ethnic marriages, like with Spanish, Europeans,Amer Indians-the original inhabitants of the island, now little in numbers, have taken place in the country and many homes practise multi religions in one single family-Hindu, Muslim and Christianity faiths could be found in single household here, this is unlike and better than Mauritius, where mixed race has not come in substantial numbers.Hindu-Muslim marriages are most common in Trinidad. My first landlord Usman Ali here had Hindu wife, he is widower, yet on Diwali, he lighted the whole house.Carnival in this context of multi-culturalism presents the beautiful integrated national festival of Trinidad &Tobago, where one can see, blacks, whites, mixed, Indians etc. all enjoying together.Another important aspect of Carnival is, that even with skimpy dresses and almost 4/5 parts of bodies naked walking on roads for hour in such rubbing each other crowd, one does not find a single instance of any unwanted or unsolicited touch by any man of woman’s body. If you compare it with the condition of fully dressed women travelling in Indian cities buses, one can imagine what is the meaning of decency? Whether crushing the hapless women in crowded bus is more indecent or people dancing/singing on roads without harassing each other is more indecent?Another reason for scanty dressing is, apart from purpose of Costumes or mas, generally Carnival is held in the hot months ,particularly in South American/Caribbean countries and one can not wear full clothes walking in hot sun for hours together.In fact at many spots on the way there is spray of water on walking carnivals, so that people could cool their sweating bodies.
Attended an expensive fete with some UW colleagues on 5th March, the day when it was Panorama-the competition of steel pan bands in Port of Spain, where I could not go, neither on 6th evening ‘Dimache Grass’ the costume and calypso competition-the two major events which I sadly missed, though saw Dimache Grass on television and even photographed from the screen. Some of my photographs in carnival album posted on face book are in fact from TV screen on 6th March.On 4th March night saw ‘Chutney’ in Tuna Puna moonlight club, actually a bar.Every where in Trinidad, for competitions there is panel of judges-three at least and with minimum one woman out of it.Tuna Puna competition was disappointing,but earlier in UWI, saw calypso competition on 25th February or so, this was quite good.
Steel pan band is perhaps Trinidad specialty in carnivals of the world. This is group of people-men-women mixed who play pans of steel and create beautiful music out of it. These are musical instruments of steel, as we have sitar, tabla or dholak etc. These are more common to western style music.
The major functions I saw on 7th March Monday-‘J’ouvert’ at Tuna Puna roads, but here also I made error, I should have been there before 8.a.m.People come on roads by 5.a.m and then paint ,colour,mud each other like Indian ‘Holi’ festival.Then for five-six hours they dance, sing,drink tons of beer and some hard drink too-men and women both without distinction.They do winning on the roads.
Walked through Port of Spain on 7th afternoon and saw the steel bands/costumes/mas festivities in large numbers.Watched in savannah grounds platform the performances of bands.This was most enjoyable time.So on 8th March-the day of Carnival, walked through Port of Spain roads from 10 a.m to 8 p.m.,but the festivities went up to past midnight.Venezuelan embassy distributed caps to bands, Ambassador Maria Eugenia Marcano Casado herself was greeting bands from the gate of embassy. May be more than half a million or half of the population of Trinidad had walked through Port of Spain roads on that day and other half may have walked through other parts of the country.
It was an aesthetic experience of different kind undoubtedly and will remain a life time memory. My two carnival albums on face book tells it without words, also many videos which I have posted and trying to post more.
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