Almost every elementary school teacher I’ve had has asked me a variation of the same question when I was growing up. What are those colorful flags in front of everyone’s house here? Do the flags represent something? Are there any in front of your own house? A group of students would patiently explain the significance of the cloth prayer flags attached to bamboo poles that littered many of the front yards in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park. They were markers of the Indo-Caribbean Hindu households in the neighborhood, remnants of jhandis past, and a link to our East Indian heritage, to the indentured servants who migrated to Guyana (and other parts of the Caribbean) and who chose to practice Hinduism in their new homes.
The tradition is reflective of the double diaspora unique to the Indo-Caribbean community abroad. My relatives refer to the prayer flags as bamboo flags. At the end of every yearly jhandi--an intimate Hindu prayer service usually held in the home of the family offering pooja--the bamboo poles would be washed with coconut milk, marked with turmeric and adorned with a cloth flag. The flags come in an array of colors. Some are plain, others are emblazoned with the image of one of many Hindu deities. Sometimes the edges are frayed with gold or decorated with glitter.
For my parents, the flags represent another year lived in their adopted home. For me, they represent another means of recreating a home and culture which often evade my grasp.
– Nadia Misir