For decades, the residents of Felicity have found joy in coming together to celebrate the Hindu festival of Divali.
Thirty-three years ago, that joy spilt into the streets of the Central community, giving birth to one of this country’s most elaborate Divali light-up displays.
But the community has not been spared the economic impact of COVID-19 and this year, there are no grand displays to mark the most auspicious holiday on the Hindu calendar.
Guardian Media visited Felicity on Tuesday. The streets were unusually clear and quiet, with no sight of the frantic preparations of years gone by.
Krishna George, who has lived his entire life on Cacandee Road, Felicity, was busy repainting his walls and cleaning his home.
George said he was among the original group of residents who started the tradition in the late 1980s.
“We started with flambeau all along the walls and we graduate after, we say flambeau smoking out people, then we buy lights,” 66-year-old George said.
He said during the first five years, the residents erected bamboo poles with paper decorations, creating an arch over the roadway.
Their roads were unpaved and their homes much smaller and modest but George said the simple decorations brought happiness to the entire community.
“When you simple and you poor, you looking forward for this, you feel a sort of greatness…imagine you in Port of Spain and hearing someone saying, “Felicity look real nice for Divali. It make all the effort worth it.”
He said the decision to decorate their entire community also stemmed from the easy-going life they once enjoyed.
“As youths, we would light up our houses and go walking through the village in the night. Everybody as one, collecting prasad by everybody’s house and enjoying yourself.”
Up until Divali 2019, it was impossible to drive through Felicity on Divali night as people come from all over the country to view the extravagant displays.
“Most years, it used to have traffic until 2, 3 o’clock in the morning…people by the thousands coming through to watch the light up.”
The pandemic has not only stopped their way of socializing. Its economic impact has left the community with no funding.
“When you go to the business community, you can’t get and you need money to handle these kinds of things when you are having a big festival and you can’t get the funds, you can’t take things credit, is the people in the village and the businessmen who usually donate.”
While George said he understands the pandemic will affect people’s lives and livelihoods, he is still hopeful that there will a last-minute push to beautify the community.
“Well I hope so, I am not promising but I know how these fellas operate, sometimes Divali day you see fella working, so maybe they will get a little fire closer to the weekend and start to dress up the place,” George said.
Two streets away from George’s home, 20-year-old Dinesh Ramkhelawan, is starting a Divali tradition of his own.
Ramkhelewan is an artist and as a child, he was fascinated by the effigy of Rawan from the Ramleela plays in Felicity.
The effigy, often a towering structure made of bamboo and wire, is set on fire on the last night of the Ramleela performances.
“As a young boy, I wanted to try something with broomsticks, a year I built it with broomsticks and my dad said let us try it with bamboo and he said if I like it, I have to learn to build it myself and I ended up building it myself in 2013 but up until today, he still helps me,” Ramkhelewan said.
He recently built a 30-foot-tall effigy for a one-night Ramleela performance in the community and when Guardian Media visited, he was hard at work building two more.
Ramkhelewan said he would light the two smaller effigies on fire on Divali night, lighting up the community in his own way.