October 1, 2016

An institutionalised NY Phagwah

Dear Editor,
The spirit of Phagwah has traversed a great distance over the last 25 five years and is now being celebrated in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Toronto with great enthusiasm. The vibrancy of the festival is cherished by Indo-Caribbeans everywhere (and also enjoyed by people of other ethnic groups) and hence its public observance in places alien to Hindu or Indian culture.
The parade and celebrations in New York associated with Phagwah are institutionalised in the psyche of the Indo-Caribbean population with some people from other ethnic groups also partaking in the festivities in Queens, Bronx, Jersey City, Orlando, Ft Lauderdale, etc. In NY, people eagerly look forward for the festival which has been transplanted by Indian (Hindu) immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname. It has now become an institution in the Richmond Hill community, the Bronx and Jersey City.
Without a parade or a cultural variety show as happened in the parks in Florida, NY and New Jersey there is no Phagwah celebration because there would be no public avenue to celebrate the joyous festival known for its vibrancy of colours. The parade has gained recognition in Queens if not in the wider city with politicians offering assistance to help pull it off; mainstream media report on it.
Politicians and community leaders march in it. And the police provide guidance and protection for the marchers. Tens of thousands line the parade route to take in the spectacle.
Thus, congrats are in order for the conceivers, founders, planners and organisers of this annual parade which was initiated in 1990. The parade has brought so many diverse people together and they look forward for it every year. Everyone (Ramesh Kalicharran, Pt Satish, Pt Ramall, Kishore, Bal Naipaul, Pt Upadhyaya, Pt Anand Sukul, etc.) and every organisation that played a role in starting the parade should be recognised and applauded for his or her contributions never mind that they are divided and fail to see they are hurting the community through their division.
Up until two weeks ago, a Phagwah parade was not certain because of division in the organising committee: the members split in two factions allegedly over the rights to host the parade with each faction applying for a parade permit. The police department issued a permit to one faction and banned the other side which went to court to block the parade.
The same happened last year and it was cancelled resulting in this writer traveling to San Francisco to partake in the Chinese Parade that was carried live on TV. While Hindus are fighting over petty matters, other groups are moving big with sponsors and mainstream air time.
Community leaders and the court as well as the police department urged the factions to resolve their differences rather than cancel the parade. A court appointed officers brought the two sides together. Tens of thousands of dollars were wasted over a petty squabble and over egoism. Good sense prevailed from both sides. Differences were temporarily resolved as a result of concessions from the two factions and a parade is pulled off at the last minute. It would have been a great disappointment if the parade were not held again after being cancelled last year over egoism.
It is high time to heal the division permanently. The organisers of the parade and all community leaders in general need to work together to promote Phagwah and other festivals celebrated by the community.
The meaning of Phagwah is to bury differences.
People should have put aside hatred and enmity and come together as preached and practiced by Lord Krishna.
Unity would help in achieving goals and objectives for the community whereas infighting would defeat the purpose of having organisations. With greater unity in the community on observing festivals, the community would be recognised and courted.
Also, politicians would come forward to provide greater assistance. Let me take this opportunity to applaud the organisers of the parade for their hard work and the two factions for putting aside differences so we can have a parade. They overcame many serious challenges in pulling off another parade.
I hope they will use their unity to help empower the community politically through the large number of people who celebrate the festival rather than spite each other over ego.
I, therefore, urge community elders to work together to strengthen rather than divide the community. The two factions must come together to jointly organise next year’s Phagwah. The organisers should meet soon and decide on a course of action.
I should note that Phagwah has been celebrated in grand style since 1990 because of the large influx of Indo-Caribbean people.
It has been celebrated annually with parades (Richmond Hill, Queens Village, Bronx, Jersey City, Central Florida, South Florida, etc), melas or variety concerts, pageants, etc, over the last 25 years.
Prior to the parade, there were small celebrations in mandirs in the Bronx and Queens. There were also a few concerts in the auditoriums of public schools. But the parades really brought out the celebration.
The Caribbean community should applaud the efforts of all who helped to institutionalise the Phagwah celebration, indeed all Indo-Caribbean cultural and religious celebrations.
They have done yeoman service to help institutionalise Phagwah in NYC.
Although Phagwah is not a holiday in NY, the community leaders have helped to make it possible for the festival to be celebrated in exuberance just like in Guyana, Trinidad or Suriname. The parades and the celebration at the various parks render unnecessary the need to go house to house to celebrate or to pour abeer on revellers as is done in the Caribbean.
In fact, it is impractical for people to celebrate Phagwah by going house to house. People can spray abeer and sprinkle powder on one another at the outdoor celebration even if it is done in difficult freezing weather.
It is an impressive celebration that brings back memories of the celebration in the Caribbean. It is necessary to salute the people who initiated and launched the Phagwah parade in 1990. I was closely connected with the founders since 1990 and provided advice and support as well as coverage in the local media during the planning and organising of the first parade.
I am pleased that the parade has become institutionalised as part of the celebration of the festival. I applaud the organising committee of the Phagwah celebration for its dedication and hard work in putting together parade year after year.
Observing Holi with a parade and observing other Indian festivals in NY help to enhance a sense of pride and admiration for the rich cultural heritage of Indians and foster unity among Caribbean people.
The celebration promotes a common feeling of togetherness and rekindles the flame of love and unity among friends and loved-ones.
Community leaders must continue to promote these kinds of festivals.

Regards,
Vishnu Bisram

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