The Suriname connection

My neighbour Lizzie from the Czech Republic is a true yoga fanatic ...

By Raksha Chandnani

Fast-forward to the early 2000’s, the local Hindustani community in Suriname was greatly involved in learning Bharatanatyam and started ordering traditional costumes, jewellery and ghungroos from my parents. FedEx boxes filled with goodies for our customers arrived regularly and in it, my aunt would sneak in some gifts for us too. This business not only gave us an additional income, but also provided my father’s siblings in India to generate profits by exporting these goods abroad. Meanwhile, my brother not only became well-known for his percussion skills on the Tabla, but he also started repairing Tablas for fellow learners at the cultural centre in his early teens. I was the girl who helped classmates with their English homework, since they discovered that I spoke it at home. In my free time, I applied Henna for brides, whilst my mother and I provided courses in Henna making and application. Younger cousins of the bride asked for henna tattoos on their bellybuttons and backs, while the brides asked me to hide the groom’s initials in the design “just like they show in Indian movies”. Even though living abroad seems easy, it definitely wasn’t for my parents. I remember giving them a hard time in my teens when I wanted to do everything my local friends did, even if it didn’t fit into our values as Indians. I can only imagine how it must feel to want to preserve your culture, with little means to do so.

In the last decade, my father started working for local companies, where he was valued for his managerial skills and command of the English Language. My mother became a full-fledged international teacher of English, and now teaches in eastern countries to non-native speakers. My brother and I both studied in the UK. He settled down there after graduating and stills plays the Tabla on cultural occasions, alongside working as an aerospace engineer. In 2016 e.g., Indian movies and communities like ours had spread our culture and values so greatly that the same Surinamese community started ordering vegetarian food from my father’s Indian take-away. Courses on Vedic cooking were gaining traction, both for health and religious purposes. WhatsApp not only made it easier to connect with all generations through free calls, but it also enabled people to share snippets from our movies, lifestyles and culture, just like YouTube and other apps.