The ghanta (bell) echoed joyfully as the adults rose to receive arati at the end of the evening puja. There was a piece of camphor and a deeya, the wick soaked in oil in the taria (container) surrounded with fresh flowers. I followed the shadows of the flame on the ceiling, they looked like deities dancing happily on the tapia roof of our modest open-air Kutiya (Hindu temple) on the left at the end of Boodhoo Trace, Debe.
These rooftops bring back the sweetest, innocent childhood memories that protected us all, it was absolute sheer ecstasy. This covered area was filled with local residents on Friday evenings and weekends. Personal family pujas, Bhagawat Geeta, Ramayana Yagnas, weddings and funerals were held there. It was the center of everyone’s social life, our home away from home, our pride and joy. Most of the residents walked, some came by bicycle and several families came on donkey or bull carts.
Weekends and holidays were spent at the home of my Agee (paternal grandmother) and Aja (paternal grandfather) attending parties and festivals in this Kutiya community. I walked hand in hand with my Agee to see her and the other ladies leepay (apply a mixture of cow dung, dirt and water) on the ground floor in a semicircular clockwise motion from one end of the Kutiya to the Others. My Aja and the other men cut all the bushes with a knife; it was essential that everywhere was spotlessly clean to welcome all Hindu dietitians.
The hanging bell at the entrance starts to ring as soon as the expert arrives. The hand drums, dhantal, and cymbals were in tune with the evening’s bhagans and arati. The enthusiasm of the musicians was infectiously delightful to watch and listen to. I helped sweep the grounds with a cocoyea broom before the events, then spread out the rolled-up joint (burlap) to sit on. This Kutiya brought out the best in each of us by picking flowers, mango and pan leaves for the evening puja. We sang while arranging everything neatly on a tray and making malas (garlands).
The older ladies helped prepare the mohanbhog (prasad), their churiyas (bracelets) clinked on their godnas (tattooed wrists) as they stirred the huge pots. Godnas are family traditions, if you didn’t have one, no one will accept food from you. It is a kind of initiation into that family value system to which you belong or the family you are now married to. Handfuls of mohanbhog were served to everyone on curly brown paper squares after the evening arati.
Behind the right wall were three barrels of water with cups to drink from your cupped hands, a technique that I still master with skill to this day. I also used gourds with water from an enamel bucket to water all of the Tulsi trees around the Jhandis. This Kutiya was surrounded by these colorful (prayer flags) in every conceivable color on tall, straight bamboo poles. A custom that was brought back from Uttar Pradesh, they still have them to this day.
I loved to sit quietly on the grass and wish them, blowing in the wind, like the colors of the rainbow. Sometimes when there was no wind they looked sad, but they all lived for me and were my imaginary friends playing with me, they were my compass. I kept a log of their numbers from one visit to the next and placed them in three categories: kids, adults, and grandparents. As the months passed, some of the bamboo turned brown, rotted and fell down and was used in fire for cooking.
Indra Persad-Milowe is a retired nurse who is now an artist and writer.