Bonfires of vanities 

Packets of vivid powders would lie on the kitchen table like scattered pieces pulled from a pretty patchwork quilt. Bags of iridescent prismatic crystals glittering in the morning sunlight and jars of scented white talcum would emerge from my mother’s sturdy vine-woven market basket, in time for the annual vernal festival of Phagwah or Holi.

A riot of colours that signifies the start of spring, the exuberant celebration of Phagwah during the Hindu month Phalgun came with the immigrants many of whom left Bhojpur, India for the tropical West Indies, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hence Phaguwa in the distinct Bhojpuri dialect still survives as the original name of the joyous national holiday in Guyana, while Holi is derived from the Hindi.

My mother, born nearly a century ago, was continuing an ancient custom, brought by her parents to their uncertain new world. These enduring traditions had their deep roots in an agrarian society where the end of winter signalled the start of new life and renewed fertility, and reinforced the belief in a natural order and constant cycle that were reassuring and reaffirming in their predictability, while comforting for the classic message of justice and good overcoming evil.  …to continue reading this article, please subscribe.  Already a subscriber ? Sign In.

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