On 13 April, the holy northern Indian town of Haridwar saw a Puma Maha Kumbh, a gigantic religious mela of a crore devotees crowding to take a dip in the Ganga where it emerges into the plains. Now, this event is defined by the lunar calendar, and the gathering of the religious did not really care that it was in fact 13 April. However, the national Anglophile press of India insisted on calling it “the century´s last Maha Kumbh”.
This mixing of calendric apples and oranges is symptomatic of the English-speaking upper class schizophrenia when it comes to identity and interests. And it pushes us once again in these columns to insist that the distinction between the local calendars of the Subcontinent and those of the Gregorian era be maintained. While we have no wish to question the unassailable position the latter calendar has secured in our lives, we only wish to alert the English-speakers amongst us not to assume that the billion-plus South Asians are going into any swoon over the upcoming transition from 1999 to 2000. This is someone else´s millennium, by and large, and let us not get carried away by the hype that will doubtless get more intolerable as the months roll on.
Indeed, the middle of April saw a new year arrive in various parts of South Asia – as Baisakh in Nepal, as Boisakh in Bangla regions, and as Vishu in Kerala. Likewise, Punjab, Andhra and many other parts of South Asia marked a new turn of the calendar, albeit in different sambats, or eras.
New Year´s is not even a transition that need necessarily be greeted with glee, as has been the fashion that has gained ground even with vernacular turn-of-year events. The “happy new year” greeting has been forcing all of us to paste a smile on our faces. New Year´s eve parties, as imported from the Gregorian/Western tradition, are flourishing all over.
Rather than make-believe glee, marked with the setting off of firecrackers, hanging of coloured light-strings, and offering of laddoos all around, the year´s transition should be a moment for pragmatic contemplation. Let us relegate loudness to 1 January, and enjoy the other new years more sedately.
The only people who truly and wholeheartedly enjoy multiple new year eves during one calendar year are the marketing ex-ecutives at the daily newspapers. One Kathmandu newspaper, for example, revels through four new year events, each with a great fallout of celebratory advertisements: Lhosar (the Tibetan calendar); Vikram Sambat (the officially adopted Nepali calendar); Nepal Sambat (the new year celebrated primarily by the Newar community of Kathmandu Valley); and, of course, the New Year of 1 January.
Some of us would prefer to sleep through it all.