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This Fall Season: This Christmas

By Debasish Chowdhury

The fall season this year is almost drawing to a close. The lovely poise and serene sanctity of the hills in this part of the world with clear azure sky up above and full bloom poinsettias all around down on earththough are still running riot of colours on the horizon. Meanwhile, a smiling nature is eloquently advertising the arrival of another precious Christmas in our lives. The festival euphoria of our longing although seems to have gone for a tossin this season.

The countrysideno doubt hasdonned her festive apparel but the socio-economic setting in which the vast majority make a living in this land is hardly in festival ready mood. The festival may be approaching but the pitched battle the rank ordinaries routinely fight here at various fronts; – at work places, at markets, at health centres or at the doors of the citadel of the democratic governance supposed to reflect the collective will of a faceless mass; – despite assurances of the much hyped ‘good days’ is hardly hinting at any probable truce.

It is festival time.It does appear to be a tense time as well. The other day a few alleged supporters of a political party led by its local team leader created a violent raucous in a prayer meet at Coimbatore, the textile city of India.Though ticked off as an aberration, such events do not exactly enrich the spirit of respectful cohabiting in a pluralist society. The excessive emphasis on the principle of a ‘one nation, one people, one tax’ seems churning her up from within.Often, such churning turns violent for, in a way, it is seeking to redefine her core principles by striking at the root of her pluralist character. The social harmony much needed for a salubrious festival season, as such, seems to be fairly stressed these days.

India of today is a republic. But much before donning the republican robe, India, through ages, has been carrying in her cultural DNA few core foundational principles. Much of those core principles;- the ability to accommodate even adversaries, to appreciate the great diversity of culture and ethos she is known to represent, the resilience to sustain the plurality  that largely defines her strength;- hardly seems to make any tangible sense to most. A sweeping aggression and an insatiate urge to bully down all that cannot beowned up as ‘me and mine’ seems to be the dominant trend of the time. Somehow therefore, much of the core principles that used to define India now matters little for many.

It is intriguing time for us as well. Some two and half a millennium ago,the young prince of a tiny kingdom in the foothills of Himalaya, Siddhartha by name, renounced his worldly engagements to seek the eternal truth. Through ages now, that prince reigns over millions of hearts as Lord Buddha. In this changed time, worldly matters and not heavenly wisdom seems to fascinate our sages. India, through ages, has revered her worldly outbound sages. Once our sages ruled our hearts, today our sages seek to control our body-politic. In a faded past, spirituality used to be the dominant concern of the sages. Today,an acute business sense to leverage multicrorecorporatehouses piggy backing on public demonstrationsof yoga seems to be the fashion. A return trip towards worldly from spiritual seemsgradually taking us over for whatever that may mean.

India, for millenniums now, has served as home to people adherents of all conceivable hues of religions. And since diverse faiths have been cohabitating in this land for so long, occasional skirmishes and frictions due to contesting interests could hardly be ruled out. Yet, her history is reasonably free of large scale intense war events such as the crusades or the hundred year war. Religious differences and communal bigotry, occasional aberrations apart, remained largely subdued here due to her overbearing culture havingthe unique capacity to accept and assimilate diverse, even adverse, ideas using mutually acceptable improvisations. Since ages, place of worshipsin this beautiful land, be it a temple or a church or a mosque or whatever else it be known as, could exist by each other’s side.  For the rank commoners, it hardly ever mattered if a devout Hindu walked in to offer his prayer at a dorgah of a Muslim fakir (Pir) or a devout Muslim entered the premises of a temple of Goddess Kali to offer lighted candles thereat. The Firingee Kali temple in Kolkata and the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi fortunately exists to date to confirm this cultural inheritance.

Cutting across perceived religious boundaries, the rank people of this land have in general been displaying a prized sense of mutual respect to the faith of his counterpart. It is even more gratifying that this tradition of mutual respectability and forbearance had survived in her people despite the bitter experiences of external aggressions and onslaughts they were subjected to through the ages. Despite the deep scars inflicted upon the socio-religious psyche of her people by Mahmud of Gazni, Indiansstood and still stand tall displaying the grit to take part in Islamic religious festivals such asEid or Sabe-Barat.  Mahmud of Gazani, like a host of others of his ilk, survives in India’s public memory only as a tyrant and certainly not a foster hero of the religion he was an adherent to.

Incidentally, may it be noted here that India is home to the second largest contingent of Islamin the world. With 14.2% of herpopulation(roughly 172 million people as per 2011 Census)claiming allegiance to Islam, it is hardly feasible that they may simply be wished away or kept under siege for long. Such attempts wouldsurelylead her into serious,bloody and unwarranted socio-legal complexities. Localised editions of such complexities and the consequent bloodletting thereof are fairly routine matters in today’s India. Actively engaging this huge Islamic contingent in the ongoing development discoursesshould be a reasonable way out of this tangled issue.Hurting community dignity or using coercive cajolement hardlycan succeed in making that participation possible.

Unwarranted rumour mongering and tweaked representation of facts can only lead us to a bleeding India, a potential possibility that certainly does not serve her destiny well. To have her occupy the exalted position every true citizen desires her to occupy in the global arena, it becomes imperative that the currently dominant faux nationality narrative be earnestly reviewed without much waiting. Since ages,India has been a civilization with her ever evolving and distinctive culture of plurality well ensconced in place. To exist in harmony with all, be it the nature or be it a fellow traveller, has always been her cardinal principle.

The rank wise people of the land indeed, unless provoked to do otherwise, have rarely slipped off in upholding the sagacity worthy of their true civilisational heritage. Religious festival, be it a Christmas, an Eid or a Dusshera has always, in general and at ordinary times, been accepted as a social carnival of sorts.People of this land, irrespective of their religious affiliations, did and do even now participate in these festivals in true spirit of celebration. This time too when another Christmas has come calling by, it is unlikely to happen otherwise.

Christmas essentially is a festival of love. Coming as it is a quarter century down the line since Babri mosquedemolition on December 06, 1992, the Christmas celebration this time can perhaps service the cause of reconciliation in a great way by helping to rebuild confidence amongst the fellow travellers in a spirit of love. After all, the deep scar inflicted upon the social psyche of the nation by that demolition and the subsequent gory retaliatory as well as counter retaliatory episodes of fratricidal bloodsheddings and mass madness; the 1993 Mumbai serial blast, the Godhra carnage and its aftermath leaves nothing to imagination as to the extent of damage religious bigotry is capable of inflicting on a society that can neither shed off its perceived opponents nor can think in terms other than that of revenge and counter revenge.

Upholding the message of love and mutual respect that once made the star of Bethlehem adore this worldly arena eventually to sacrifice his life in the crossrests the real hope of a true resurgence, we so desperately are in need of. Let this Christmas be not allowed toslip by merely as another yearly ritual of the Christians alone.Instead, let this Christmas unfold before us as a grand festival celebratingthe core spirit of humanity. The grand masters of this land have always strived to envision man as ‘sons of immortality’. It, perhaps, makes perfect sense for us to reclaim that heritage right away. Can we get our acts together now (or else it may be too late to do so) to claim what we truly deserve? May the spirit of Christmas illumine our hearts and raise us to newer glories. Wish you all, dear friends, a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.


(Debasish Chowdhury is currently serving as Controller of Examinations, Sikkim University)

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