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Phagwah Parade to be held at Richmond Hill on Saturday

Photo: Youtube

By Rob MacKay

Get ready for colorful costumes, colorful floats, colorful personalities, and colorful talcum powder.

The all-afternoon (and often all-night) Phagwah Parade will fill the streets of Richmond Hill (at Queens, New York) with rainbows of joy on Saturday, March 26. If the weather is good, at least 100,000 revelers will celebrate this 28th annual Indo-Caribbean spring ritual by singing, dancing, riding floats, and throwing red-dyed powder, perfume, and water at each other in a cheerful, good-natured manner.

The formation will begin at around 10 am in the vicinity of Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street with at least 20 floats full of sari-clad women and large speakers blaring tropical music. Many more people will line the streets to watch the floats pass by. In past years there have been delays, but the schedule calls for a noon start with participants proceeding westward down Liberty Avenue, heading to 125th Street, where they will take a right turn and head north to Smokey Oval Park (aka Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park) at 92nd Avenue.

At the public space, live music, chanting, and traditional cultural performances will take place until it gets dark, maybe even a bit later. Foodies can expect plenty of curry, roti, and maybe even some sorrel (a cold drink made mostly from red hibiscus flowers). If you’re looking for a break from the action, may we suggest a Guyanese Chinese dinner at the nearby Nest Restaurant.

Phagwah (pronounced Pah-gwah) is also known as “Holi,” “The Festival of Colors,” and “The Festival of Shared Love.” It occurs every spring, after the first full moon on the Hindu calendar, as a de facto new year’s party. It’s also a commemoration of the triumph of good over evil.

Its origins are in northern India and Nepal, where it is also popular among the non-Hindu populations. The word “Holi” probably derives from “Holika,” who is the evil sister of a demon king. According to Hindu folklore, Holika tricked her nephew, Prahlada, into sitting on a burning pyre with her while she was wearing a protective cloak. But as the flames grew, they created a wind that blew the cloak from Holika and onto Prahlada. The fire then killed Holika, while Prahlada survived. The next day, townspeople spread ashes from the pyre on their foreheads, a practice that probably evolved into today’s distribution of colored powder and liquids. (Some people say they use colored powder to chase away the winter grays.)

The celebration of Phagwah came to Richmond Hill via the Caribbean. Many Indians immigrated to Guyana and Trinidad in the 18th century as indentured servants after the British West Indies abolished slavery of Africans and their descendants in 1838. Most of these new immigrants worked on sugar cane plantations, the backbone of the Caribbean economy at the time.

About 30 years ago, a large number of Caribbean-born descendants of these Indians began settling in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. Currently, Richmond Hill hosts the largest Phagwah Parade in North American. The first one took place in 1988 with about 40 attendees. It has steadily grown since then to become a major religious, commercial, and cultural event, attracting Hindus and tourists from around the world, including India.

However, there was a break in the action last year. Due to a contentious schism among organizers and a flurry of court mediation, the event was cancelled. Some attributed the problems to natural growing pains as members of the Hindu Parades & Festivals Committee sparred with The Federation of Hindu Mandirs Inc. and other community leaders over control. Others blamed egos, power, and politics. (Ethnic parades, such as the Dominican and Puerto Ricans ones in Manhattan, have experienced similar issues.) This is all in the past now, and it’s parade time.

Getting there:
To get to Liberty Avenue and 133 St., take the E train to Jamaica/Van Wyck and transfer to the Q24 bus, exit at Atlantic Avenue and the Van Wyck Expressway.

Rob MacKay is the director of public relations for the Queens Economic Development Corporation. Source:

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The Invisible Coolie Shines in ‘The Cutlass’ (Comment: Special to Newsgram)

The Cutlass
Dr. Kumar Mahabir

Aug 21, 2017: “Coolie” is the name of the character played by Narad Mahabir in the play directed by Errol Hill titled Man Better Man.

The local play was performed at NAPA in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in June and an excerpt was staged in August during the premiere of the CARIFESTA festival. Mahabir was given a minor role as the lone Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) villager in the musical which was laced with humorous dialogue, Kalinda dances and calypso songs.

Except for recent plays written and directed by Indians like Victor Edwards, Seeta Persad and Walid Baksh, Indian actors and actresses have been given minor roles or none at all (“invisible”) in “national” theatre and cinema. In this context, The Cutlass is a movie with a difference. And indeed, the tagline of the movie on the cinema poster is “A breakthrough in Caribbean Cinema.”

Surprisingly, Arnold Goindhan is given the lead role (by the non-Indian TeneilleNewallo) as of the kidnapper named “Al” in The Cutlass. Paradoxically, he is given only a fleeting presence in the film’s trailerHe is the only Indian actor and the only character who is Indian, in a movie that is based on crime, race and class.

As a villain, Al is portrayed as an evil Indian Hindu. A calendar painting of the anthropomorphic Hindu god, Lord Hanuman (The Remover of Obstacles) is captured fleetingly on the wall of Al’s forest camp. In the film world of poetic justice The Cutlass, light must overcome darkness, whiteness must overwhelm blackness, and Christianity must conquer Hinduism. The pendant of Virgin Mary in the hands of the white kidnapped victim must overpower Hanuman.

Goindhan is a full-time Indian actor from Malick in Barataria who also sings and plays music. The “Island Movie Blog” on August 11 noted that when Goindhan “keeps his portrayal subtle, he really shines.” The July/August edition of the Caribbean Beat magazine stated that The Cutlass has delivered “compelling performances” to audiences.

The kidnap movie premiered to a sold-out audience at the T&T Film Festival in 2016 received rave reviews. It copped the T&T Film Festival’s Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film and People’s Choice awards. The Cutlass was also screened at international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Mart at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

The last time an Indian was chosen for a major role in a local feature film was 43 years ago in 1974. That film was titled Bim which featured Ralph (Anglicised from Rabindranath) Maraj playing the role of Bim/Bheem Sing. Bim was based on the composite life of a notorious assassin, Boysie Singh, and aggressive trade unionist and Hindu leader, Bhadase Sagan Maraj.

As an actor, Ralph Maraj was preceded by Basdeo Panday who became the first Indian in the Caribbean to appear on a big screen in Nine Hours to Rama (1963). The movie was about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Panday also acted in two other British cinematic movies: Man in the Middle (1964) and The Brigand of Kandahar (1965).

But the Indo-Caribbean actor who has earned the honour of starring in the most movies – Hollywood included – is Errol Sitahal. He acted in Tommy Boy (1995), A Little Princess (1995) and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004).

Valmike Rampersadand Dinesh (“Dino”) Maharaj is rising stars to watch. Originally from Cedros, Dinesh is the lead actor in Moko Jumbie, a new feature film by Indo-Trinidadian-American Vashti Anderson. Moko Jumbie was selected for screening at the 2017 LA Film Festival.

Dinesh acted in the local television series, Westwood Park (1997–2004). His cinematic film credits include portrayals in Klash (1996), The Mystic Masseur (2001) and Jeffrey’s Calypso (2005).

Nadia Nisha Kandhai is the lead actress in the upcoming screen adaptation of the novel, Green Days by the River.

There is a real danger in marginalising Indians in theatre and film when they are in fact the largest ethnic group in T&T according to the 2011 CSO census data. Cultivation theory states that images in the media strongly influence perceptions of the real-world. This theory was developed by communication researchers George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania in 1976.

The Cutlass can transmit the following wrong perceptions of reality: (1) Hinduism is evil, (2) Indians are one percent of the population, (3) there are few Indian actors, (4) Indians constitute the majority of kidnappers, and (5) the majority of kidnapped victims are white.

I presented a research paper in 2005 based on 40 cases of kidnapping in T&T. My findings revealed that 78% of the victims were Indians, and according to the survivors, the overwhelming majority of the kidnappers were Afro ex-police and army strongmen.

Watch Trailer: The Cutlass


The Writer is an anthropologist who has published 11 books

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