Two events last week made me think.
The first was the anniversary of a soul who was born 154 years ago on 12th January and who visualized India as never before. The local press gave it a wide berth except for a rather abstruse article on the subject.* There is all the space to assign to topics of, at best, ephemeral interest, but none to celebrate enduring values critical for our times.
Viveka seems to be like the lone kite I was flying at Baina beach, near Vasco, to celebrate Makarsankranti on 14th January – my son’s birthday. The sands of time have not diminished Viveka’s relevance to our time. We were the lone fliers of the kite of what is touted to be a National Festival in India. Goa had clearly not got on to the bus. I miss the days in Delhi when the sky used to be filled with kites, each trying to outdo the other. From Sheikh Sarai in the South, we strained to see if we could spot kites from Old Delhi and the Red Fort. The exuberance of the day had to be seen to be believed.
‘Til gul kha ghod ghod bola’ the saying goes in Marathi. ‘Sweeten your tongue with sesame and jaggery and talk sweetly’ is the translation for this saying popularized at Makarsankranti. I could find neither kites not til gul at Vasco – many roadside stalls were still selling jaded stars. So much for celebrating 14 January when day and night are of equal duration. The kites I flew were preserved from last year. This year it was also a full moon night.
I also remember the time we used to celebrate lohri - the harvest festival of Punjab, on the terrace of my barsaati (one room on the roof) in Delhi. Everyone in the building used to gather on the terrace. Mrs. Vijay Kumar used to recite the Gayatri mantra 5 times around the night-fire after which we used to throw rewari, til, moongphali (peanuts) and pop-corn into the fire. The warmth of the fire and the cordiality across faith marked the onset of the warm breath of summer. It brought welcome relief after the severity of the Delhi winters.
At every step of his life, Narendra Nath Dutta, also known as Vivekananda, showed he was different. From the manner of his dress, the confidence with which he spoke, and the bold ideals he dared to champion. He was the brand ambassador of India at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. His concern was always the poor and downtrodden and the ignominies of their daily living. Following his ideals need not be limited to a fad of observing 12 January as a day devoted to his memory. Rather it calls for constructive steps to remedy a polarized India.
Vivekananda was 39 when he died. He does not deserve to be a kite in the wilderness.
Anshul Chaturvedi, ‘Why I Don’t Follow Vivekananda Anymore,’ Times of India, Goa. 12 January 2017, page 10. Pix of the boy Vivekananda on an unmade bed, courtesy www.belurmath(dot)org.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 22 January 2017.