Cheryl Boodoo

TRADITIONAL COOKING: Cheryl Boodoo stirs a pot of bhaji and melongene in preperation for her family’s Divali meal in St James on Saturday. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

FOR Divali celebrations in the past, Hindus and non-Hindus indulged in a lavish, celebratory meal, usually consisting of roti, curried vegetables like potato and channa, pumpkin, chataigne and mango. Basmati rice and warming dhals and tomata choka are also a favourite on the Divali smorgasbord. Prasad (a delicacy from parched wheat) is also served after evening prayers.

In years gone by, the kiosks in community in Penal fondly known as “Bara City,” would be overloaded with sweets including kurma, barfi, gulab jamon and jelibi for Divali.

This year not so much as with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, communal dining and feasts were restricted or banned at homes and temples, as a result of the health restrictions that limited gatherings of more than ten people.

Another factor was finance, as many Hindus opted to spend prudently on essential items, and not fancy jewelry, bangles, fireworks or gifts like elephants-a symbol of good luck in Hindu mythology.

In Port of Spain, restauranteurs, merchants, vendors, hucksters and customers said the 2020 Divali celebrations were much more low-keyed this year compared to 2019, and previous years.

Meanwhile, there seemed to have been a return to the traditional sense of family, and, people on the streets took the time to wish each other “Happy Divali.” As the country continues to wrestle with the pandemic, there were many remindier to friends and loved ones to be vigilant during the celebration, which is dedicated to Mother Lakshmi.

People buying roti skins, cooking vegetables

At Town Centre Mall, at the popular Indian restaurant, proprietor Ashmeed Ali last week told Express Business: “More people are buying roti skins ($10 each). The food sales are slow, compared to other Divalis. More people prefer to buy the roti and cook their curried vegetable or meat.

“Normally, the queues would be long. My wife (Alicia) would sometimes complain about her aching feet. But since March with Covid-19, we have not been able to open all three stations at once. We opened one station on one day. We opened two stations for the remaining days. We opened all three stations for no days.”

He said there was a small spike when the public servants returned to work and on Friday, the eve of Divali, when a reporter spoke to him, he said that it was ”busier, compared to other days.”

No deyas on Charlotte Street

Asked about the feedback from other businessmen, Ali said: “Most of them are saying people are not spending extravagantly like before. They are buying their essentials. Food is a necessity. They are not buying jewelry, fancy lights, and decorations like before. People don’t know what will happen in 2021. They don’t know if the economic situation will get worse.”

On Charlotte Street, vegetable vendor Martin “Son” Alleyne, said: “It’s more darkness than light. People are not spending like before. Some people can’t even afford food.”

His kiosk was stacked with potatoes at five lbs for $10, tomatoes at $18, melongenes at $12. and avocadoes at $20. each.

Mamoral resident Kelvin Bissoon said: “You can’t see any deyas on Charlotte Street. Long ago, vans would be parked up selling deyas.”

Inside Wang Li supermarket, veteran cashier Michelle Richards said: “We don’t sell Divali items like deyas. We have dhal and Basmati rice. But I saw deyas in San Juan at $1 for the small ones and $3 for the large ones. Outside Tru Valu supermarket, they had some fancy designs for deyas.”

The Divali shopping tapestry was broken by mask vendors ($20 to $40), slippers ($40) and, clothing from $50) Hucksters continued to sell water at $5 per bottle

Mask vendor David Narine said: “Port of Spain is slow for Divali. People are not shopping like before.”

Chaguanas is dead

At Chaguanas, activist Pradeed Cassiram paused from cleaning his home.

Giving an update on Chaguanas, Cassiram said: “Chaguanas is dead. People are not shopping like before. They are buying a couple of deyas. People are just cooking some food for people to collect. They don’t want people in their homes. A large number of people are not working.”

Cassiram added: “Endeavour is dead. Most people work in construction or small jobs. Shops are only hiring two workers, and, not ten workers. Even in the groceries, people are not buying apples, grapes and prunes. Some people are buying butter, and, not ghee.”

Cassiram said he shuddered to think about 2021 when the removal of the gas subsidy gains a foothold. “I don’t know what will happen. Chaguanas Borough gave out some hampers. Christmas is around the bend. People would want something nice, too,” he said.

Cassiram added that his in-house celebrations would have been be low-keyed.

He said: “I am just washing down, and cooking a meal. People are still buying deyas to light up. They are saying prayers to Mother Lakshmi. Divali is not as fancy as last year.”

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FOR Divali celebrations in the past, Hindus and non-Hindus indulged in a lavish, celebratory meal, usually consisting of roti, curried vegetables like potato and channa, pumpkin, chataigne and mango. Basmati rice and warming dhals and tomata choka are also a favourite on the Divali smorgasbord. Prasad (a delicacy from parched wheat) is also served after evening prayers.