Don’t screw Holi!/ Tradition v/s ecology

Don’t screw Holi!/ Tradition v/s ecology

Its Holi time. 🙂 The best time (for some) to be in India. It is a global party to prepare ourselves of the terrible weather that will soon turn us into homebodies – scared of stepping out in the day time 45 degree dust bowls. One last day of being out and enjoying it – beat the heat with style.

Social media, the zeitgeist barometer, though indicates a different Holi to me this year. On the one hand, there are people talking about the HoliCow party – stripping holi to its most basic ritual, and turning it into a modern dance banality. And on the other, there’s concerned city folks who are advocating abstention from the whole thing – save water/ “Think of the poor” – droughts across India/ natural herbal colors as replacement for the more energetic color+water combination.

(Should we blame this on ACs? I have a hypothesis – Holi will be played more vigorously in towns where there is low penetration of Air-Condition machines. There is a correlation between ‘forever weather’ (AC) and demise of ‘weather/ time rituals’ (festivals such as Holi.). (note to self – death of time.))

Both attitudes indicate a basic degeneration of the festival. I would concern myself with the later for this post.

Old tradition – the sacrificial lamb on the altar of new gods
The Hindu society has no crucifixion equivalent central narrative of a knowing and willful sacrifice (not that I know of). But with the western media consumption, there is an appreciation for such a sacrifice and an implicit sense of sin, though it might manifest differently.
“Ecology is the new opium of the masses, replacing religion” says Slavoy Zizek.

So what that means in this context is – the original sin now, is towards nature – we feel that we are creating an ‘imbalance’ with our acts of excess and dereliction of our effects. While, this sense of original sin towards nature is now almost universal, the implication in India is new.
We (urban Indians) are ‘sacrificing’ our festivals and rituals at the altar of our new religion – ecology. 

The feud: modernity V/s tradition  

Yes. we must be more conscious of our consumption, but how is it that this dialogue surfaces only in the context of our traditions and rituals? It never occurs to people to switch from shower to bucket bath, or from car ride to bike ride (or even better, bicycle ride), or from wasteful quick service restaurant food to traditional foods. (served in plastic v/s metal plates. excess tissue papers/ no tissue paper.)

It seems that the modern ecological consciousness activates itself only in offense against the traditional practices. It seems that urban India can only see modernity and traditions as  dual opposites, (even as they lamely try to negotiate between two)

Sacrifice of the other
The urban thought culture sees traditions in context of the other India – poorer, backward, the one that needs to learn from the urban.
(cracker less diwali, colorless holi – Project deIndianisation. Q: ‘what did you do in Diwali?’ A: ‘saw TV’). 
(Either objectify – holi in vrindavan with firangs. or strip it of its meaning – holi in HoliCow in Delhi with EDM playing)

The operative assumptions (wrongfully) are
Traditions = non urban India, aspirations = urban India
the sacrifice must come from this other India that doesn’t know better. (would you dig a mine under marine drive if you find oil underneath?) (power outages – 0 hours in Mumbai, 15-18 hours in many villages)

 A possibility
How about exercising moderation always? don’t kill our festivities, kill the wastage.
Being able to waste is a sign of wealth, so people have incentive to waste.
Brand wasters as idiots. go ahead, next time you see someone wasting food/ water/ electricity – call him/her an ‘idiot’.
Shift the object of our offensive from our traditions to our excesses.
Stop being a spoil sport. Go play Holi.

On why it took a firang to start FabIndia/ OR Why India still can’t chart its own modernity

On why it took a firang to start FabIndia/ OR Why India still can’t chart its own modernity
Exhibit 1a. Girl wearing a chuda, off for clubbing late at night

This is one of those simplistic visual tropes one might expect in any ‘tradition meets modernity’ narrative.
In one of the automobile brand ads, I believe there is one such shot too.
(the brand champions the insight about modernity being tempered by the Indian youth in Indian terms. What this assumes is – to be Indian is to be ritualistic. and to be urban/modern is to reject the rituals. Brands come to rescue us here and provides an in between truce. ‘Adjust kar lo‘.)

Usually the narrative is set in the premise of ‘victory of the young’, as ‘smart strategist’.

Smart strategy – yes – to the extent that traditions and modernity, both are reduced to mere symbols that are entertained for maintaining the status quo. That’s the strategy- to strip our acts off their meanings.

Why wear a chuda? ‘I am supposed to. must be the right thing. I am confident now of being Indian. This is ethnic cool.’
Why go dance to yo yo Honey Singh in crowded clubs? ‘that is what i am supposed to do to have fun.’

Both acts – wearing chuda, clubbing regularly – seem to be acts whose will is outside of the person doing it.
A part of the society wants you to wear Chuda, so you do that. Another part of the the society tells you that you cannot really be ‘free’ and have ‘fun’, unless you spend a quarter of your income in expensive clubs.  and you do it too.
There is no ‘victory of the young’. The young are supplicating to whatever forces they are subjected to.

They are supplicating to not just one god, but many gods! and that is being a true Indian.
Second misreading – its not the confidence of being Indian that is allowing people to continue practicing old rituals. Its the permission from the western image that ‘allows’ us to feel confident about our own rituals. We look to west for what is acceptable and what is not, for we deem ourselves incapable of charting our own modernity.
(why is the image of a man wearing a mundu,woman wearing a salwar kameez in corporate offices, sacrilegious? why wear coat and tie in the hot tropical climate? if modernity is about rationality, what is the rationality behind the uniform of coat and tie for corporate image?)
When the western image accommodates an Indian images (that it cannot understand) as ethnic/ exotic, we in return also see our own traditions and rituals as ethnic/ exotic.
See how us city folks pronounce the words ‘Mahabharata’ or ‘Ramayana’,
or how we tend to act as outsiders at traditional events, we literally keep ourselves at the periphery.
Or how there is still an audience for ‘America returned do-gooder’.
It took a firang to start FabIndia and such. The cultural industry of Indian identity is almost entirely run by Firang, for firang.
The visa to ethnic pride still gets stamped in the western image. 
Another observation by Saba Dewan – 

“Why are the new jingles based on a reworking of old Hindi film songs sung in this fake, ‘firang’ accented Hindustani? Regular desi speak not good enough uhnn? We need to sing even good old Hindi filmy songs in some phony nowhere accent to match our ‘global’ aspirations?”

What does it mean to not being able to see ourselves with our own eyes? that we need a western eye to recognize our own  self?
We Indians can accept ourselves, only ironically. Its as if we do not exist outside the conscience of the white man. If we are not recognized/interpreted by the west, we probably do not (should not) exist. (Imagine Dongria Kondh’s fight without Survival international’s image building. Imagine the futility.)

P.S. – Again.. wearing chuda/ going to club – both acts by a woman. Tradition and modernity, both hold women responsible for transacting with symbols of meaning. A man’s act is invisible to the civilizational meaning, but a women’s is not. heavy unfair imbalance.