Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Night at the Diwali Nagar

Last Monday I decided to visit the Diwali Nagar for the first time in over ten years. I thought it might be interesting to write about the Nagar’s enduring popularity; analyzing its significance among our rich and diverse cultural landscape. Plus I was really in the mood for pepper roti.

Back in the 1990’s, in the more innocent days of my youth,  before Chaguanas had a Movietowne or a TGI Fridays, visiting the Nagar was a major social event every year for my friends and I. Where else could teenage boys gawk at pretty girls in saris, while perhaps collecting free samples of detergent from the Breeze booth, and maybe learning why you should put all your savings into an insurance plan from the CLICO booth next to it?

Plus the Nagar happened at night, which made it even more alluring. Not counting rums shops in Endeavor, or certain establishments in Chase Village, there was nothing to do and nowhere to really go in Chaguanas at night. And even today where else can you see fireworks in Chaguanas? Except perhaps in Enterprise Village, but that is actually just gun fire.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Nagar was more or less the exact same way I remembered it. There was the main stage providing seemingly endless performances of Indian singing and dancing.  And there was of course dozens of commercial booths, selling everything from clothes, to tattoos, to even archery lessons.
The archery lessons in particular appeared really popular with one onlooker telling me that archery is an “excellent way to hunt agouti”.

There were also booths offering Mehndi, a booth where you could take pics with Mickey Mouse and a ‘Naturally Fair’ booth; which promised that you could “discover fairness in 4 weeks”.  Where else could you celebrate the traditions of a civilization spanning centuries by getting Mehndi, pretending that you’re in Disneyland and aspiring to look white, all on the same night.

People love to criticize the abundance of commercial booths at the Nagar, but I love them. I think they are great and they have always been the main source of the Nagar’s popularity. People may not admit it, but the Nagar’s charm has always stemmed from the fact that it is part Indian movie, part flea market, and part primary school bazaar.

But the Nagar isn’t all about Mickey Mouse, hunting agouti and fairness creams; there were also a handful of serious booths offering real advice on things like diabetes, HIV and heart disease. Thankfully though, they are tucked away on the far side of the Nagar where they can’t bother or upset anyone, especially people trying to buy pies and sweets.You can safely walk around eating your pepper roti and cheese without anyone trying to rub alarming statistics about heart disease among Indians in your face.

Where the Nagar really gets bizarre though is in its exhibition inside showcasing groups such as the Sai Babas, the Raja Yogas, and Hare Krishnas. When I was younger I remember being fascinated and deeply intrigued by these groups. Now, seeing them with older eyes, and being less of a stupid idiot, I couldn’t help but be struck by how odd their now appear to me.

The Sai baba movement was led by a peculiar man who thought he was a God and who naturally had serious allegations of child sexual abuse against him. I was actually part of a Raja Yoga class when I was younger. It involved mostly just sitting quietly and it was going ok until I was told that in order to move up to the next level I needed to stop eating ice cream and take a vow of celibacy.

The Hare Krishnas though, give out free bags of Prasad, which you have to admit is an excellent way to rope people into your cult sorry I mean religious group. The trick is to pretend to listen to them while grabbing as much Prasad as you can.

There was one interesting booth from the Center for Indic Studies however. It was disseminating information for LGBT Hindu youth and offering services they may need. It seemed like really informative and useful information. I guess they must have snuck in.

All in all, I had an excellent night at the Diwali Nagar. Pretty girls in saris, target practice with a bow and arrow, cults giving out Prasad and of course pepper roti with cheese; it’s easy to see why the Nagar lives on. Happy Diwali.

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