Kavinash “Fish” Rampersad now has non-stop orders for chulas —the traditional East-Indian fireside/stove.
Rampersad, 31, who is the sole breadwinner of his family, became one of the scores of Trinidadians who were forced to stop their operation after being branded a non-essential worker when the COVID-19 restrictions were implemented last month.
With bills to pay and the need to put food on his table, Rampersad prayed for some guidance from God as to his next move. Noting what happened next, he said his good fortune came from the earth.
At the beginning of April, however, he stumbled upon a vein of sapate clay on the family’s Penal property when a back-hoe was excavating an area of the property.
Rampersad said his mother asked him to build a chula using the clay and he immediately started working on it. He said he learned the skill through the constant observation of his elder family members while growing up and decided to translate what he had absorbed mentally over the years into reality.
Rampersad said he eventually posted his completed creation on Facebook just to show what he had accomplished during his time at home. He said he was surprised when he was immediately bombarded with request from various people who wanted a chula and were willing to pay for it. He said with no other income coming in, he took the scores of requests seriously.
A traditional chula is placed on a metal steel drum cover as a base to ensure the heat of firewood does not burn through the table the device is placed on. He said barrel covers are sourced from a fellow villager who is also glad to earn some cash in these trying times.
Rampersad said the clay is mixed with cement as a binder then coated with fresh cow dung as a sealant using a traditional process called leepaying. The chula is then dried in the shade before being turned over to its new owner.
Chulas are usually powered with firewood or coals and used in an outdoor shed. The early East Indian immigrants used chulas well into the third quarter of the 20th century. Chulas were gradually replaced by gas stoves that could cook indoors without the hassle of smoke and having to gather firewood. However, Rampersad said the aromas created by the smoke fire of the chula infuse a richer and unique nostalgic flavour into foods which some people still prefer today.
Rampersad said with families now forced to spend more time together at home, many want to go back to the traditional style of cooking where preparing food was used as an element of social bonding. He said people are also worried about their LPG gas supplies and this may be prompting the demand in purchases, since many want an alternative cooking option.
A chula, Rampersad said, can last for years, adding he is happy not only for the opportunity to earn a few dollars during the current hard times but even happier to see this aspect of the culture of the people of T&T being revived in trying times.
Photos courtesy Kavinash Rampersad
Chula 01,02,04- Kavinash “Fish” Rampersad creates his Chulas at his Penal Home.
chula 06- Shanti Rampersad, cooks in one of her son’s chulas
chula 03,05,07- Chulas created by Kavinsh in action.