November 6, 2020 10:50:03 am
Festivals are integral threads in the intricate weave of faith, religion, history, ethnicity, tradition and rituals, all interlaced in the ornate Indian cultural fabric. Celebrations often are the embellishments that cover several rips below, hiding uncomfortable realities that we would rather not acknowledge, leave alone mend.
Such is the power and light of festivals that the mere mention brightens up faces, even those deprived of the security of a regular meal. The mention of a festival brings our hands together in reverence, and hearts fill with joy, marking the arrival of divinity and blessings.
Traditions, religion and gods that bestow hope and happiness change every few kilometres in the great Indian subcontinent. Combining regional and national occasions, we can boast of the maximum number of festivals celebrated in the world. Not to dampen the spirit, however, our country has the second largest population in the world and counting, besides also topping charts in people living in extreme poverty, with no food, water or shelter.
Festivals help us stay connected with our roots, culture, origin and preserve it. They relieve us from the monotony of life, reinvigorate dullness, creating a shared sense of cheer and purpose. Festivals help us to forget problems, enmity, embrace one another and create bonds of love, tolerance and cultural harmony. Festivals create social gatherings, where all the family members, relatives, friends and loved ones can meet and share their bonds, make beautiful pictures to share, surrender and offer prayers together to invoke the blessings of gods.
It is truly a coming together of pure intentions to share, love and give to our family and friends who eventually have to find clever ways of recycling, reshuffling and redistributing those gifts.
But, not too far away from our homes, there are bands of boys barely covered in rags, joyfully burning paper and recycling leftover cracker stubs to celebrate their festival, putting aside their hunger or beatings of the day. In my childhood, days before a festival, there would be deliberations between my parents and us, family members in and out of town, neighbours inquiring over short boundary walls and gardens, friends hung out on each other’s terraces lined with drying spices and jars of fermenting pickles and eager staff in the house. Clean, repair, gift, arrange, shop, decorate and celebrate in this way or that, discussions were all about the upcoming festival. The excitement, honest enthusiasm and anticipation grew every day, percolating into our hearts and homes. Halwais would set up camp days before in the backyard and the aroma of their dishes sweetened the air. No meal was eaten alone since there was always someone visiting to wish.
Festivals brought everyone together in cheerful conversation despite different views, uniting us, augmenting a connect. The cost of such festivities was enormous. Gifts, clothes, lighting up homes, flowers decorations, firecrackers, idol adornments, polishing and renovating homes, parties, the list was long. But in the name of a festival, no one complained and nothing was denied.
A few years ago, during Diwali break, we brought with us to our farmhouse, kids from a home for destitute and orphaned children, who had no one to go home with during the break. No one in this world of billions, to call their own. As we sat in the garden chatting, one of the boys pointed at the stars saying that’s his mother celebrating Diwali. Another said the stars were Eid lights put up by his father.
I sat transfixed, listening to the conversation as they told my son they had never seen their parents, wondering which part of the country they came from and never having tasted ice cream. I was unable to utter a word.
That dialogue which ended in the boys rolling in the grass and cheerfully moving on to the swings redefined my view of festivals and what I had carried on my vision board of what festivities must look like.
We are already primed to celebrate festivals in the most gregarious way possible, collectively eliciting similar emotions of merrymaking, spending, bonding and connecting. I truly believe in the spirit of celebrating. All I want to suggest is to extend our perceptions of festivals to mean an opportunity, a goal, to connect, uplift and give to those who don’t have facilities, family, friends or food.
This year, more than any other, requires us to be safe, conscientious and reach out to many who have suffered and continue to struggle. Millions have lost someone they love, their jobs, their savings and suffer compounding troubles, just to keep families fed. If every festival began to mean a whole-hearted celebration along with responsibility and resolve to provide for someone in need, given we celebrate countless of them, you could just land up being the blessing that many fast and pray for through the year.
(The author is a Mumbai-based psychologist and psychotherapist)
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