Vishu… and How It Has Changed

Vishu is the annual harvest festival of the people of Kerala, India. It usually falls on the 14th or 15th of April and is one of the primary festivals for us, the other being Onam. There are many myths about why we celebrate Vishu, one of them being that this is the day when Lord Vishnu slew the evil demon Narakasura. But for us, Vishu marks the beginning of the new year and is a reason for celebration.

Celebrations begin on the night before Vishu itself. Crackers are a must for the people of Northern Kerala on the occasion of Vishu. Those from the south usually refrain from them, preferring instead to use crackers on the occasion of Diwali. But for us, we love to light crackers on Vishu. After bursting crackers all night long, we turn in for the night, and await the festivities of the next day.

The day of Vishu begins with the traditional vishu kani. In malayalam, kani means the first thing you see after you wake up in the morning. There are many superstitions floating around here about kani. Like if you see a pot full of water, your day will be good . A broom is a strict no-no.

Even though we rarely follow any of these in real life, we tend to religiously follow the ritual of Vishu kani. The kani usually consists of an image of Lord Krishna, a mirror, a variety of fruits and vegetables, unni appam (a sweet), money, clothes and konna ( a flower). The idea behind this ritual is that on the first day of the new year, you have to see everything that symbolizes prosperity. If you do so, your whole year will be prosperous.

The most awaited part is when the elders give the children kaineettam. Kaineettam is money. The amount usually varies. In some households, the children get around 100 rupees from every person. In others, the amount is usually around 5 rupees. The amount in reality does not matter. You get money, however little, on this day, your year will bury you with money. That’s the belief.

What follows is usually another cracker session. After that you usually play games with your friends and relatives, and in the noon, there is a feast.

The feast differs in the north and the south. The south keralites prefer an all vegetarian meal with payasam ( a delicacy). The north keralites want a fish fry, curry or chicken with it. Sometimes they even go for biriyani.

 

This is how I usually celebrate vishu. But this year, for the first time, I wasn’t looking forward to it. In fact, I hardly felt the excitement, the emotion, the happiness that usually surrounds the season. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I am older now. But I don’t believe it, because Vishu, Onam, Christmas these things go beyond age. You celebrate then from the time you are a kid, till your death. There’s no point where you lose interest…

But this year I had no interest. The reason was that I had no one to celebrate with. My parents were there, so was my uncle, aunt and my elder cousin sister. But this is hardly the family that is here every year to celebrate any festival. In the peak time, we usually have 17 people here for the celebration, and the lowest we have dropped to is 10. But this time, it was 6. An all time low. And I was the only one inclined to bursting crackers, so the idea was scrapped. The kani was there, I got my share of kaineetam, and the feast. But the joy, the excitement, the happiness, the whole damn feel was just not there.

 

We are running forward. We are chasing our goals and dreams. Every day. Every minute. Every second. We are striving to make our dreams come true. We leave our homes, we travel to distant lands to study, to work or live. The ones we saw and talked to on a daily basis now become acquaintances. Or we reach a point where we know our acquaintances better than our relatives. We make conscious choices every second, whether to go home and celebrate with family, or stay and study. One extra second of work  put in could mean a promotion.

This is not an accusation. This is not a cross-examination. And I am not fit to do either. Because I myself have been guilty of this crime on more than one occasion. And I may be guilty of the same some time later. This is the way life goes around nowadays. This is life. There is no use blaming anyone for it, there’s absolutely no use trying to change the world.

I am just saying that we should realize this drift. And sometimes this drift drags us into the chasm it conjures up in its wake. We feel weak, helpless and pathetic. We feed our own ego, feed our own ambitions and starve the feeling on closeness we feel during such celebrations, the sense of union with the universe we feel when we do something we love, when we pamper ourselves a little bit, have a little bit of “me-time” as a fellow blogger mentioned. And sometimes we cry out loud.

Really loud.

I’d be a fool if I told you to forget your ambitions, leave your job, or to flip off your promotion. We all want that. Hell, we need that. But we need something else too. We need our soul, or mind, and our family. Without them, everything else is just not worth it. Balance is the key.

As Paulo Coelho noted in the Alchemist

“The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go study for my test…!!!

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