What Millennium?

Besides loving our sleep, the editors of Himal like the majority of South Asians celebrate, live and sleep by a different set of calendars. The calendar of the sequel Pope, Gregory XIII touches our lives but skin deep, in economics and administration, but our cultural being is ruled by calendars that are more homegrown. They may be a bit unscientific, relying as they tend to on the lunar rather than the solar, but they have proved quite sufficient these past several millennia to call forth a Dasain or a Dussehra, or a Pongal or a Karva Chouth.

On another level, we could go into the metaphysical bit about how time can't be measured by calendars, but that's better left to the poets and particle physicists. The 21st century, by some of our calendars, is old hat, while by some, like the Islamic lunar one, it's a good six centuries away; the Tibetan Buddhist calendar is now running 2126, while the widely used Hindu Vikram Sambat is in the year 2056. Meanwhile, the Nepal Sambat struggles gamely along, tortoise-like, at year 1120.

How can we call archaic or useless these calendars which rule the cultural lives of more than 90 percent of South Asia's 1.3 billion people? Most certainly can't, dear English reader. That's why we would hate to run into those back-slapping execs on 31 December 1999/1 January 2000 (Gregorian), with their borrowed drawl: "Hey man, welcome to the 21st century."

In this dismissal of the Gregorian 21st century, we are in the august company of some of the more reactionary mullahs and shivsainiks, to be sure, but take note that Himal is not about to declare a fatwa on non-Christian revellers. This is because we realise that the entire Millennium Phoobah is not so much about the Western Gregorian calendar-wallahs being entranced by the epochal import of December 1999 turning into January 2000. The millennium madness has more to do with a global reason to party, with the help of transnational media, transnational hype and the willing complicity of English-speaking (or at the very least Occidental-leaning) elites everywhere.

This is just a bigger version of the Valentine's Day fever that has caught all our South Asian societies at the teeny bopper level, and an indication of how much the excitement and hype created in the Northern Atlantic affects us all. In a planet which has had its first global war by satellite television (Operation Desert Storm), its first global sexual scandal by Internet (Bill and Monica), what we are waiting for is a Global Reason for Party. And the millennium comes in handy at this very moment.

Why didn't we party when the Buddhist and Hindus turned the millennial corner? To begin with, there was no worldwide media available back then. Even if that were the case, global hype is mostly manufactured in the United States these days, although the rest of the world partakes in it with gusto. Then again, the tens and hundreds are not given the same earth-shaking power in other cultures, where 12-year or 60-year cycles may be given more importance.

We will not insist that nobody party when the clock strikes midnight. But let us try and keep some perspective on this. If we are to celebrate the turn of the Gregorian calendar for purely religious reasons, keep in mind that Christianity while certainly the most populous religion in the world, does not pull in any more than 34 percent of the global populace. For Hindus, 1 January will just be another day in the month of Poush, year 2056. For Muslims, it will be the middle of Ramadan in 1420. For the Tibetans, it will be another day in Earth-Hare year 2126.

For the rest of us whose administrative and secular lives are certainly ruled by the Gregorian calendar, we should remember that those who are getting excited about it is because the myth has it that Jesus of Nazareth was born, supposedly, on a manger, 2000 years ago. Now if that makes us jump with joy that the Son of God came down amongst us to lead us to salvation, we should just go ahead and party.

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