Thoughts about New Year
Today is supposed to be New Year day. I looked around in the morning to see what was new about the day. I found the day to be very similar to yesterday. It was rather cool outside my house, the same as yesterday. I heard the same kind of bird songs. The same plants and trees stood in the same places, fortunately. The house also looked the same. The newspapers for the day were lying in the courtyard. And I read about people killed in accidents, about people murdered by individuals or state machinery, about people who committed suicide, about poverty, about joblessness and about political manipulations. And my house maid did not turn up, just as yesterday. So what is new? What was the big celebration people indulged in yesterday about? I hope you understand my doubt.
If I had a paper calendar, I would have had to replace it with a new one. Since I didn't have, well, it was just like any other day. Just that, hence forth, I would have to write 2009, instead of 2008, when I want to write the date on a cheque leaf, for instance. Well, but this kind of thing happens often, every day, in fact. Because every day the date changes. Once in a while the month also changes. So, of course, it is only fair that once in a longer while, the year also changes. This happens to be how we record the passage of time. Yes, sometimes we also need to write the time somewhere -- for instance, in a gate pass when we enter some institutions. Why fireworks and drunken displays when the date changes from December 31 to January 1?
In Kerala, India, where I stay, the year does not start on January 1. It starts on Chingam 1, where Chingam is the first day of the local calendar. But that is not celebrated. In many parts of the country, New Year is celebrated on April 14, the day when the Sun, the provider of all wealth, reaches the first point of Aries. In Kerala we have the traditional Onam festival some time in August or September. This is considered as a harvest festival. This was the time when paddy was harvested and people got their basic food grain. This was the time when the heavy rains from the South West monsoon ended and made life easier for the people. This would naturally have been a gime to celebrate. April 14th is also celebrated in Kerala as Vishu (interestingly, there is a similar celebration, Bihu, in the northeastern state, Asom, on the same day). But this is a short, one-day celebration. Interestingly, Vishu is also considered as a harvest festival. What I am trying to say is that such celebrations have always been associated with something good that happens at that time. But what about January 1? I am not able to find anything special about that date, in Kerala, India or anywhere else. In fact, in much of the northern hemisphere, which has most of the inhabited land, the temperate regions will be in the middle of winter and very cold.
Come to think of it, almost any day must be a new year's day in some part of the world. Even within India itself people follow different calendars in different parts of the country. And each one of them must have some history related to that region, and, therefore, related to the geography of the region. And, therefore, there could be reasons for celebration at that point of time. But what relevance does January 1 have for people in Kerala? Apart from the fact that many employees of government and private organisations get their salary that day? Aren't we aping the West again here?
Let me make one thing clear. I am not against using a common calendar all over the world. It does make things easier for a lot of people (though computers and the Internet should be able to handle the problem of multiple calendars easily). And New Year's eve has become an occasion for people to get drunk and drive madly. It is good that the police has put an end to the latter this year, but this was not always the case. What a waste of energy both human and fossil fuel! And what a meaningless and vulgar adoption of culture from the West.