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Of cultural conundrums and influences

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The days leading up to Diwali were marked by the lilting fragrance of milk and sugar simmering away on the stove alternatively followed by the tantalizing aroma of fried crispies filling the house. The excitement and anticipation built up slowly with several rounds to the market to buy crisp new shimmery dresses and crackers. The actual day dawned with the air thick with winter-y fog. The sesame oil mixed with peppercorns combatted the outside chillness, working its way into the recesses of the hair and pores of the body, lending warmth, sheen, and softness. The hot water bath before day-break with a background score of fireworks set off in staccato rhythm in the neighbourhood shook us off the remains of slumber on the D-day; a culmination of all that we kids had been waiting for weeks up till now.

The childhood memories of Diwali come back to me as I'm eager to create similar sentiments for R. As I wait for him to come back from school, I wonder how much of the significance of festivals is imbibed at an educational abode and if the percolation of the nuances of our heritage is all but left to the family and social community. As though on cue, R comes back from school and during our usual after-school conversation casually mentions learning about lesser crackers and more sweets for Diwali. Interestingly, he seemed to be more informed about how Halloween is celebrated and how he's excited to be dressed as a ghost. Apparently, his seniors and more knowledgeable peers had taken care to keep him abreast of the current trend.

I struggle to fathom my own emotions. Yes, certain celebrations need to evolve and going green is the need of the hour. I also concede that initiating and sustaining eco-friendliness, water conservation, waste management or gender-equity in a country that has been infected, since decades, with patriarchy and apathetic civic sense, is a gargantuan task and it would certainly help if individuals hold hands and bring about a revolution to set right the skewed nature of our social structure. Why, then, did I sense a tinge of annoyance engulfing me?

I'm embittered by the self-righteous tone of certain sections of the media that gathers momentum only on selective days. The said societal changes require a lifestyle and mindset change that cannot be achieved by pointing accusatory fingers at occasional practices. It's comical to assume that by conserving water on Holi, by not observing Karwachauth, or by not bursting crackers on 2 days in a year, we can transform the society. Rules are to be followed all year long and exceptions made on certain days. Interestingly, it's quite the other way round with daily routine marked by an indiscriminate lifestyle and the vigil being heightened and tightened when there's a festival to be celebrated. The height of irritation for me was to watch foreign TV actors in a commercial against noisy crackers.

Worshipping deities, following practices and customs, and celebrating festivals in a specific manner have a certain significance and should not be trivialized or distorted by a selected few to influence a large society. Social campaigns have a certain role to play and they are effective because the message is delivered at a constant pace and intensity that slowly corrodes into the staid mindset and starts to take effect. To that extent, these are extremely powerful and need to be used carefully.

The 'secular' campaigns I see these days are extremely unfair. Masquerading as messiahs and instrumentalists of a better and advanced society, they single out certain communities, ridiculing and deriding the very nature and fabric of their set-up. How else do you explain our inclination to celebrate a new and foreign custom with absolute surrender and happiness, even as we magically turn into intellectuals and skeptics to question the basis of rituals that have been handed down to us for years now? When one faith observes month-long fasts in order to secure a place in heaven and then cuts open an animal's throat as a mark of its traditions and beliefs, it is said to be cultural freedom and even finds acceptance among other communities because, of course, to each his own. However, when it comes to the customs of another faith, one that is still followed by a majority in the country, there are extensive debates, opinion slapping, and shaming.

I calm the waves of restlessness that threaten to rise within and drown me and decide to follow my instinct and rules. My child will follow as I lead by example. I may not have a lot on hand myself to pass on but I seek to preserve whatever is and inspire R to find the answers I may not have. I look beyond my apprehensions and dilemmas and I notice with relief and hope that my generation is not doing away with the festivities, yet. There are like-minded people who take pride in their faith, want to safeguard the traditions with sensibility and strive to make it happen for the next generation.

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Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading about your childhood memory - Diwali is such a wonderful celebration- can certainly understand that you want to create the same memories for your kids:-)

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    1. Yes, it does hold some lovely memories. Thank you for reading, Eli. Welcome to this space :-)

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  2. I can relate to your feelings and emotions. With changing times, our children cannot have the same childhood memories as we have had. But I like the effort you are putting in creating some beautiful traditional childhood memories for your son. Great going, Uma!

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    1. Thank you, Shilpa for reading and commenting :-)

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  3. ok..then there is not just me who thinks this way. Glad to have found another soul whose thoughts resonate with mine. Every single day, there is so much pollution in the air and traffic and no one cares and when it comes to Diwali, stop crackers. Save water on Holi..I keep quiet on social media for I don't have the energy to deal with bashers. And how true is that. whole month of fasting and it's not a big deal at all and one day fasting for karva chauth and what a drama. Yes, we need to pass on the traditions to our kids in our own way :)

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    1. Latha, I'm equally glad to meet a like-minded person in you. I hesitated a lot before writing this post but something in me just pushed these words out. Happy to have it out of my system at least on my blog because I'm wary of the social media for the same reasons as you cite. As it stands, my blog is not popular enough to invite trolls and the people who read and do not agree have been decent enough to just pass by without commenting :-D
      I just don't understand the situation. Another friend of mine had to pull out a FB post because she spoke something similar about why Halloween is getting so popular and got promptly bashed. There's nothing against adopting a new culture but are we doing anything to learn about our own (real) history?
      I typed out a mini-post in reply. Was so starved to have someone engage on what I wrote..LOL Thanks for being here and commenting, Latha :-)

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  4. Absolutely loved reading this one, Uma! I had been sort of busy with some other stuff for the last few weeks and am slowly getting back to blogging world :) I really liked the way you balance out different sensibilities and thoughts in this narrative, and most importantly your desire to give a taste of your childhood traditions to your son. I agree with you completely about the sneering/lecturing type of posturing so many in the media take, teaching Hindus about how to celebrate their festivals etc. There is definitely a need to be more ecologically sensitive, but putting down people's emotional sensibility toward their festivals is not the way. Especially when there is such an asymmetry in how different religions are treated by our pseudo-intellectuals in the media!

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  5. Beloo, I was hoping you would read this piece and give your opinion. Isn't it strange that we are collectively bashing up ourselves only because we want to seem so fair and just? And, this on the basis of all the media articles that portray a one-sided opinion all the time. But, then, who wants to ask questions? If you say the opinion is one-sided, they lash back at us saying we are extreme people when the same yardstick can be applied to them. I wonder where all of this is going to lead. I myself do not subscribe to too much of crackers. And, I do notice that the extent of cracker bursting has come down in the last many years. But, no one points out that. Delhi smog is bad after Diwali is the standard headline. Delhi is polluted all through the year and winters are always bad. Why are there no measures to curtail the levels on the other days? Here, near my place we are suffering from air pollution and wake up to a thick smog because of garbage burning near our area. Was Diwali the culprit, then?

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  6. I can relate to what you are saying..I've always loved Diwali and yes, bursting crackers is fun - I understand it is not good for animals and does cause air pollution, but so does a lot of other things - all the people protesting, on other days, they never stop using the AC or riding bicycles to work...why is it only festivals that are targetted? One day of celebration definitely cannot cause all that damage. The Delhi smog surely wasn't just because of Diwali! It is acceptance when other religions are allowed to get their way, but somewhere, I feel the majority voices are being silenced...

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