Last update: 10-Dec-2013 12:48 am
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Deokienanan Sharma: Give East Indian culture more prominence
At the 10th anniversary celebrations of T&T’s Independence the former government secretly gave the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) $10,000 to carry out its events, with the promise not to make this fact public. The reason? According to president of the NCIC, Deokienanan Sharma, a 76-year-old civil engineer, the government did not consider East Indian culture part of the country’s cultural fabric.
Sharma, who says the relations between the various ethnic groups in the country are very good, laments the lack of adequate representation of the Indian community at official cultural events, including Carifesta.
Q: Mr Sharma, the NCIC is celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, what has been the greatest achievement of your group so far?
A: (Clearing his throat in the study at his home in Palm Road, Valsayn, on Thursday morning) Divali Nagar is the best project we ever came up with, because it is the first time in the history of Indian culture in this country the entire nation has been exposed to what Indian culture is all about. We have also been in the forefront of the revival of East Indian culture in some of the smaller islands in the Caribbean.
There was a controversy some years ago over whether chutney should be performed on this programme. Has that situation changed?
No. We do not allow that at the Divali Nagar. Nor do we do promote chutney at the NCIC, because it became associated with vulgarity; the compositions are not of the standard we would like.
Chutney is an integral part of East Indian/T&T culture. Isn’t that discriminating against your own heritage?
No. It is not a form of discrimination, because we do allow some types of chutney singing, based on its original form, but the way it has turned out in recent years, we don’t think we can promote that. As you know, chutney shows are synonymous with the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and we do not serve alcohol at any of our functions. My personal view, and this is not the view of the executive of the NCIC, is that it has gone away from its original moorings.
So you are saying that it is not Indian culture?
No. I think they have gone far away from what is Indian culture. You don’t hear an India beat in the recent chutney type of song. We don’t have the tabla, we don’t have the harmonium and we don’t have the dholak and so on, right? They have taken more to the calypso style of singing.
Do you have anything against the fusion of both types of music?
No, I am not saying that. There will be fusion because we live in a country where we cannot avoid it.
If you had your way will you ban the chutney?
(Half smiling) I have no intention, I will never ban chutney.
So why this vehement stand against it at Divali Nagar?
I repeat, because it is associated with vulgarity and the kind of dancing which cannot be on our stage, around which we have developed the promotion of our cultural heritage. Don’t get the impression that we do not appreciate other forms of our local culture.
I gather that you have some kind of beef with the Carifesta programme?
Yes. I was on that planning committee, the only East Indian, and when I tried to push for the inclusion of East Indian items I was told in no uncertain terms that Carifesta was an Afro-Caribbean cultural presentation.
Really? By whom?
(Shaking his head in the negative) I wouldn’t name the person now. That person is alive today. Since then we have been given token representation and I am not aware if anything has changed substantially in the last couple of years as I am no longer active in that sphere. Coming from T&T, where almost half the population is of East Indian origin, I feel East Indian culture must be given more prominence.
Generally, Mr Sharma, are you of the opinion that the East Indian culture is not given the kind of prominence it deserves here in T&T?
Generally it has improved but I feel there could be much more prominence at the major cultural events in our country.
We have had two prime ministers of East Indian origin, one of whom is currently at the helm of our government. Have you ever attempted to raise the matter at this level?
No. I have not really done so but I do speak about it on my platform and I maintain we can get more prominence.
Exactly in what way?
(Slightly pinching his right cheek) For instance, when we had the Icons celebration at the country’s recent 50th anniversary of Independence, when we looked at the programme there was a paucity of East Indian performers.
One of the items that got me real mad was that the Shiv Shakti dancers, probably the leading East Indian dance group in the country, couldn’t perform or wasn’t allowed to perform a single dance by themselves. They were subservient to a singer who performed a wining song, which they danced to, and the four East Indian dancers were wining to the song. (Furrowed brow) And that was the total sum of East Indian performance at that function.
I notice that you don’t like the word “discrimination” in the context of our discussion, but don’t you feel this is some kind of discrimination?
Yes. I try to avoid the word because I really don’t think it might be discrimination. It is just…
Any similar type of experiences you might have gone through?
Yes. For our country’s 10th anniversary of Independence we were a very small and struggling organisation at that time, we went to the former minister (whom he named and who has since passed on) with overall responsibility for the celebrations and asked him if we could get some assistance to run our show throughout the country.
And there was a lot of argument about whether East Indian culture was part of T&T’s culture, and it was clear to us that the minister (name called again) made it very clear that the government of the day did not consider East Indian culture.
Wait, wait, Mr Sharma, are you speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Mr Raphael, I have no reason to speak an untruth and as long I live I will always remember that encounter. To continue the story, he told us, however, “We are going to give you $10,000, but please do not advertise at any of our shows that the government of T&T has given you $10,000.” Because they did not consider East Indian culture as part of T&T’s culture.
Do you think that attitude still exists today?
No. That has changed considerably. Since Divali Nagar started, the culture has gone on the national and international stage, as it is broadcast all over the world. We are getting text messages from almost every corner of the globe.
Mr Sharma, have you ever tried to take advantage of the fact that our prime minister and some of her top ministers are Hindus and, therefore, the NCIC should be treated more favourably than the non-Hindu based organisations?
(Adamantly) Mr Raphael, we have steered clear away from the politics as much as possible and of course individual members will have their preferences, but as an organisation we do not endorse any particular party. We invite all MPs, every single one of them, at our opening ceremony each year.
What kind of bill are your faced with staging the Nagar programme, let’s say this year?
We do not have the final figure as yet but this year it is estimated in the region of $3 million, with the Government contributing $1.5 million, an increase of $.5million from 2012.
Mr Sharma, it appears that the Divali Nagar is better organised than the African Emancipation Day activities. What is the NCIC doing better than the Emancipation Support Committee?
(Quickly with a guarded response) That is coming from you, right? I have not been to the Emancipation celebrations and it appears to be a well-organised celebration, but in the case of our programme we have been in it for so long, we love our culture, we want to ensure that it is preserved, propagated and we are buoyed by the response from the public.
It also apparent that more Afro-Trinis attend the Divali Nagar than Indo-Trinis do at the Emancipation celebrations…what do you think accounts for that, if I may say, imbalance?
(A big smile) I cannot doubt that because I have not been to the Emancipation programme, and perhaps in recent years Indo-Trinis are a little bit scared going into Port-of-Spain because of the crime wave and so on…I am not sure. I don’t know why they are not going.
Finally, Mr Sharma, do you have anything else to say which I was unable to extract out of you?
(Shifting in his chair with a broad smile) I think you have covered quite a lot of ground, and I did not expect you to get me into all kinds of politics and racial things (laughter) but without that the article will not be very good reading. I am sure what you have done here will create good reading.
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