Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mas, mas and more mas for Kuru-Jagessar

ONE day many moons ago, Rosemarie Kuru-Jagessar ran away from home to ’chip down the road’ in a Carnival band.
The product of a Hindu home, where it was taboo to play mas, Kuru-Jagessar defined customs. ’I lived on Coffee Street, San Fernando, where all the bands would pass. There was no getting away or locking out Carnival from my mind. I would look at the bands and long to be on the streets among the masqueraders. Then one day, a set of us painted our faces and ran down the street to take a jump up. My mother knew our plan. My father never knew, or he pretended not to know.’

That was the start of her eternal love story with Carnival and costumes. That love was enhanced when she met her life partner, bandleader Lionel Jagessar who has been playing mas since the 1970’s.
Today, decades later Kuru-Jagessar’s love for Carnival has flourished. ’Carnival is in my blood and on my mind every moment and in everything I do. Even if I travel abroad, I think of colour schemes that would look good in costumes. I think of materials, and designs. I live for the joy of creating and making mas,’’ she gushed.
For the past several weeks that is where you find her - burning the midnight oil at the mas camp on Sutton Street, San Fernando, where she assisted in decorating costumes for their 2010 production Sioux Nation. When she is not in the mas camp, Kuru-Jagessar would be at home cooking for the volunteers in the mas camp.

Kuru-Jagessar’s name is synonymous with Indian mas - the kind that has oodles of feathers, sequins, beads, glass, and lots of stripped suede materials and other decor that come together to create unique costumes.
This year, they have decided to bring out costumes with less heavy material to please some masqueraders who like the skimpy look. ’But in so doing, we are not compromising the tradition of our mas,’ she assured.
’One problem we have, is trying to get young people to appreciate this mas,’she stressed.
Her husband, a wire bender, craftsman and designer, studies the history of the traditional Indians, choosing the topic that they would play. ’He designs and draws the costumes and I choose the colours. I get them sewn and I help decorate’ she said.
The former Naparima Girls’ High School student has been playing queen of the band for 28 years. In 1982, she entered her first queen competition portraying an Aztec Indian. She placed 12th in the national competition and fifth in the San Fernando competition. Although her costumes are on par with others, the first place always evades her. ’I have placed from second to 10, but I do not know why I never won the national title. I have seen the score sheets and missed sometimes by one or two points.’

Jagessar 58, a mother of four grown children, said she used to be discouraged in the early days, but not more. She won the San Fernando queen title three times and Masquerader of the Year title on 12 occasions in San Fernando.
She said: ’At one time it bothered me that I did not win the title when I think I deserved it. I even contemplated dropping out but my love for mas won over my desire to win. Carnival is more to me than a title. Everybody cannot win, but we can all keep culture alive and nobody could stop me playing mas.’
They have left behind the authentic Indian mas to enter the competition under the Fancy Indian title ’because it allows us more freedom to use a variety of materials to bring out the sparks in the costumes. Authentic Indian mas never allowed us the use of glitter so we chose Fancy Indian.’
’I have never taken any classes to learn to decorate or match colours, it’s just something inside me,’she explained.

Four years ago, while on stage she toppled and fell. ’The wind pushed so hard that I could not control the costume. I went down with the costume and injured my knee.That incident frightened me, but still could not stop me.’
Besides Carnival, Kuru-Jagessar is involved in events management. A floral arranger and decorator, she got her family involved in her home business too. ’They all help me when I have to do decorations for weddings and other functions.’
val is just wining, jumping, drinking and bacchanal, she said,’ For me Carnival is freedom to express our talents, show off our creativity, craftsmanship.’ It’s also educational. She has been teaching students how to make costumes at several of the nation’s schools for the past five years as part of a National Carnival Commission’s annual workshop. She has handed it over to her younger son who also plays king of the band. ’I am busy throughout the year. When it’s not Carnival, I am doing other decorations. I always say people don’t have to have a big job to have money. I say I have millions in the talent of my hands. Money cannot buy everything.’ She admits that one of the things which worries her is the absence of a Carnival museum in the country. ’We need a place where we could leave our costume throughout the year so that visitors could view and get written materials about our country and culture. Most of the time, she said ’we have to strip our costumes because we have no place to put them after its all over.’ But when the two days of merriment ends here it still continues for this masquerader and her family. ’We continue to promote Carnival, by travelling to various Caribbean islands to design and produce costumes for their carnivals.We also contribute our talents to both New York Labour Day and Nottinghill Carnival in London.’

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