She did not win any titles this Carnival, but in thinking about the complexities of motherhood, it’s worth noticing the mas of Rosemary Kuru Jagessar. Any onlooker would think that Rose’s Queen costume, made of silver, pink and white, was simply about Fancy Indian mas colours and design. Talking to Rose, however, what she talked about wasn’t being a bandleader or past Carnival queen, but her mother who passed away a decade earlier from cancer. The pink, played and danced with all its joy on the stage and on the streets, symbolized an awareness of how many other women’s lives are affected by cancer and how poignant and powerful memories of women now gone remain. In talking about the mas as bringing healing, Rose’s eyes clouded as she thought about the doll her mother made her or her own wish to make her roti to eat and to simply see her again.
I thought about this conversation over the days from the King and Queen semi-finals until Ash Wednesday. In the midst of revelry, we also connect to our humanity. Beyond what Carnival has become to most people, remains the way that family, neighbourhood, friendship, reciprocity, generational connections and love are worked into mas, making it so much that which demands everything while also being deeply sustaining.
On stage, Rose was dancing to compete, but also to connect. She was dancing the mas to portray a bearer of a peace pipe but also to personally heal. This is what Carnival offers to us beyond simply two days of letting go. Those who are involved, whether in steelpan or in working and making mas over the course of a lifetime, know that what people see or hear in a rhythm or in a portrayal is only part of the meaning it holds for them. Those other meanings, which may not be shared with anyone or everyone, are what feeds their spirit and gives them reason to give their all each year.
I’ve learned a lot about motherhood watching Rose as bandleader and mother. I’ve seen how she stretches resources to look after her family, has led a band for decades with her husband Lionel Jagessar and is a veteran to the big stage, but this is the first time that I appreciated her as daughter as well. It was a new connection for me to make to her many roles.
This is so much what discovering more about the lives of women is about, recognizing that in the midst of big concepts like culture or public moments like Carnival, mothering continues to inform what most matters and gives us reason to do our best, even if we don’t always succeed. It’s great to be able to get these lessons from these days gone, to see beyond bikinis and beads, and to understand how Carnival can be much more than what it is often limited to, especially for those women who invoke a spirit from both within and beyond their costume.