Thursday, January 01, 2009

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.


Cris said...

New year day is like you say just another day. Its a date change. Same way people have their birthdays. Being 20 is no different from the last day of 19 and yet people mourn for lost teenage.

But there is just one way a year could end, and that is by the end of the last day of the year. That date could be any, its not about 31/12 or 1/1. Its just a point for people to remember that another year has gone by, when people actually stop and think about time lost, time remaining, time that went by.

Personally, I feel it an occasion to remember, to mark down, even to celebrate and to wish others. Its not about having booz parties and making nuisance. Thats not the only way to celebrate. Calling your dear ones is itself a joy, though you shouldnt look for reasons to call them, it so happens in busy lives that people keep these things off for days like this.

An year end could mean a lot of things, a point to start changing for some, a point to just note down how far time has taken you for some others.

Its just another day, but the date change calling out to people that another year went by. What have you done so far? Its a reminder to look at your life, and the others you care about!
Why should it be that only harvests or some other such deal be the only time to celebrate? Why cant each single day we live be celebrated because we may be too lucky to have gotten just one more day...

And why cant we as humans of this world have at least one occasion to celebrate together when every one of us see another year go by? Why do we want to separate even that from one state to another, one country to another? We are all humans, of one world. It would seem a naive idea when said that way, but separating us into East and West for every single occasion is a little sad.

I hope I didnt say anything wrong Sir, just wanted to express my thoughts. That said, I wish you a Happy New Year Sir. May this year prove quite good for you, and the rest of the world.

Sasi said...

Dear Cris,

Don't worry about what you write (so long as it is not abusive :-)) Let me try to reply to your question about "dividing people between East and West".

It is not a question of dividing, actually. It is about retaining diversity. It is like objecting to cultural globalisation. I believe there are always reasons for how habits evolve in a society. And the reasons are often related to the region, the terrain, the climate, and so on. Our traditional food habits must have evolved like that. And I suspect the food was best suited for our health too. Similarly for each region of the world. I even suspect the geography or a region influences the language spoken there too, though I have absolutely no evidence for this. The same should be true of our culture also.

This is what has created diversity in human society the world over. This is one aspect that makes it interesting when we go from one place to another. This diversity is what makes it interesting even to meet different people. Imagine how monotonous it would have been if every person was very similar to any one else. Imagine if Carnatic or heavy metal music was the only form of music available. Let me make it clear that I am not arguing for maintaining the status quo, just for preserving diversity, and for imitating others simply because what they do looks glamorous.

I agree fully with you that New Year can be used as an occasion to remind ourselves about the time gone, and also to get in touch with near and dear ones.

Cris said...


I am not trying to argue against what you say but what is really wrong in doing something someone else did when they appreciate whatever it was the other did? I may like something my Mom did and do it just the way she did because I thought it was great.

Why cant a person from East who thinks what someone did in the West was nice and do it the same way? Why was imitation always called a bad thing? Why was even wanting to look glamorous a bad thing? Is it because we dont like the West we say that or is it because glamour was a bad thing?

Doing things your own way is important, I dont deny that. But I dont understand the logic behind people saying you cant do it this way, cause its like imitating the West. So someone who genuinely likes, say a Bryan Adams song over a classical song cannot reveal it because he fears he will be branded nothing more than a cheap West-follower with no mind of his own.

With all due respect,

Sasi said...

You don't have to "sir" me, especially in a blog :-)

I like your attitude about accepting something only after critical analysis. This dialogue also helps me to clarify my own ideas. I wish more people would raise such questions about my other posts too.

Look, I am not criticising individuals copying other people's ways, habits or even styles. I am concerned when entire societies try to imitate others. I too like some of the Western music, though I am a bit old fashioned in my tastes. But that is beside the point.

As I said earlier, what I am against is cultural globalisation. And this has become important in view of the mass media, especially the visual media, becoming globalised, and flooding our homes with images of the West, which are glamorous and therefore attractive to the local people. I don't understand, for instance, why male news readers in Malayalam TV channels should wear a coat and tie. The dress is not at all suitable for our climate. Why can't they appear in a shirt? Why should we always try to imitate the West? This is my basic question. Imitation often takes the place of innovation, and that is not good.