It's a week before Divali and stalls selling deyas line the streets from the back road from Carapichima to Edinburg in Central Trinidad.
As I drive along the busy streets photographer, Micheal Bruce and I see deyas in all form and fashion, in a variety of colours, some decorated, some with wax and wicks, some without. Anita Ticklal is sitting at her stall just outside a building with the sign Radica's Pottery and she is masterfully putting designs on neatly carved and moulded deya houses. I know about deyas but not much about deya houses (Bruce tells me that the larger vessel is a deya house made to house the lit deya) so I am amazed at the temple-shaped vessels.
We stop to enquire about Ticklal's skill and the products she has on sale. "Hi, you want deyas or pots?" Ticklal asks me. She reckons we are interested in purchasing deyas for Divali as customers keep piling in to prepare for the Festival of Lights. I inform her that Bruce and I are actually interested in her story. She raises her head from the deya house she is working on and looks at us astonished. "You want to do a story on me?" she says blushing. When she hears it's for Woman Express her excitement increases and the words begin to flow. "This business, that is the pottery and deya making business, is really a family business. My grandfather used to do it and then he passed it on to his sons (one of them my father) and daughters and then his sons passed it on to his children. I am really into the third generation group who running the business. I learned the skill of deya making/decorating and the pottery business from my aunt Radica who is now deceased."
In a room behind the stall several clay pots with exotic designs are displayed alongside others that are more practical for gardening and planting orchids. But the deyas take the spotlight today as they are not your regular plain clay deyas. Sparkly patterns and artwork make them stand out and the burning incense amidst the attractive packages sets the mood for a Divali shopping spree. "You like the smell of the incense?" Ticklal asks. "I light it to set the mood for Divali. Hindus like to smell these aromas for the special occasion; it gives you a feeling of Divali. I love working in this business. Is like it in my blood since I small. I used to come home from school on evenings and I used to help auntie Radica in the shop. I don't know any other work and I don't think I will enjoy any other. I like sales too; I think I have a talent for it," the 31-year-old declares.
I realise she does indeed have a knack for sales as customers come in and ask for the slim girl called Anita. No joke. A tall man with a hat argues in the background to Ticklal's cousin who is conducting a sale on pots and he insists that he wants to deal with the "slim girl called Anita" because he wants a discount. Ticklal smiles at the request and asks to be excused briefly from the interview.
"How much pots you want?" she asks. He shows his purchase and she deliberates for a while and then gives him a $10 discount. "Hi darling, how much for these deyas with wax and wicks?" another woman in a business suit requests. "Hi Anita, I come back for the orchid pots," another woman approaches.
I decide that Radica's Pottery may be a family business but Ticklal is "the" woman of business in the lot. She quickly handles all her customers expertly and within ten minutes she returns to the interview. As Bruce's lens captures her daily tasks in her dream job, the petite Indian woman smiles as she speaks about her favourite time of the year- Divali. "I just love Divali. It's not only great for business as many Hindus buy deyas and other things for the festival but being a Hindu myself I see it as an exciting time for reflection and family". Unfortunately the major part of Divali day for Ticklal is spent in the stall selling to last minute shoppers and the stall only closes for 1 hour for her family to do their own lighting up.
Interested in the pottery side of things, Bruce's wanders off to the back of the building to view the entire deya-making process and as Ticklal escorts me to the "workshop" I am amazed at what I see. Two men mixing a heap of clay and singing to chutney soca, another man masterfully moulding the clay into deyas and two older men at another station moulding pots- it looks like a scene from a movie. It is a great sight and everyone seems to be enjoying what they do. On seeing Ticklal they all smile and give her picong about her big newspaper interview. Blushing shyly, she takes over the lead at one of the moulding stations and gives Bruce and I a tutorial in deya making. "In moulding deyas and pots it's all about the hands. You have to have talented hands and actually feel what you are making. Like this... You have to keep wetting your hands and mould the clay into the shape you want," she explains. My mind travels back to the story about the potter and his clay and the intimate relationship both elements share.
Before we know it, there is a crowd of clients on the outside shopping for deyas and Ticklal washes her hands and returns to her sales role. As I wish her and her family an early Divali greeting, I marvel at the whole deya/pottery experience but most of all I admire Ticklal's talented tale and her enjoyment in what may soon be a dying skill in Trinidad and Tobago.
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