DR. J reflects on what blinked in his mind this Dashain tika.
So it happened that we took tika this morning. And more interesting is the fact that I am writing this piece even as Nepal’s journalists have taken a break from their newsroutines. No newspapers are published for a few days starting since the bada Dashain and even the broadcast media are tying to fill in their newshole by constant repeat of the headlines, among which include tika activities and a tragic plane crash at Lukla airport early yesterday morning.
Coming back to tika, yes we did it this morning. No more waiting from this year for the king to proceed first in receiving and granting the sacred smear. Officially. Though the queue to citizen Gyanendra’s Shital Niwas home appeared far more impressive than Prez Yadav’s Dhapasi residence. The king is no more in a new Republic, and still it seems he is around. Yet, every soul now in principle is a king (or a queen) and can go by its own fancies.
And so we did. Dashain tika, the hallowed mark – a mixture of vermillion, rice, and yogurt-- that can be witnessed on the foreheads of most Hindus during their greatest festival, also known as Durga Puja, symbolizes elderly blessings and victory over evil. Perhaps no evils as great as today’s are to be thwarted this round of the Dashain. Of the millions of evils that harass my countrymen today, I see a few that are extremely deleterious.
Take for example, the evil of egotism, of self-importance and self-worship. It is a secular country now; and yet demigods like Prachanda, Jhalanath, Girija etc. know no other selves, some even the eternal one, beside them. In this vast expanse of the universe, they dwell on the tiny particle (akin to a grain of the tika) called the earth and to duly recognize the Japanese scientists’ theory about quark that won them this week the Nobel Prize for physics, they themselves constitute nothing more than the thousandth or millionth of that minute particle. Still, despite their disavowal of religion, these and many of their protégés have become the only reality today. These are the worshipers of shakti (power) as Durga mata epitomizes. Even years of principled stances crumble before a greed for power— the atheist Prachanda testified to this when he gleefully received the tika he loathed for years! The race for self-centered shakti, not the other-centric power, is gradually eating away the Nepali lifestyle long characterized by fellowship and empowering others. A collective manifestation of such self-love today is party-worship, in place of devotion to one’s country or kind. No reality, even the divine mystery, is more profound than the dictat and ideology of the party, and circumbulating one’s neta is greater than the giant celestial movements gesturing mankind since the beginning of time.
An apt topic for this festive and religious occasion— spirituality— today is totally divorced from the spirit. It excels in material forms. Dashain is more of a time for worldly excuses than for spiritual reflections. Sure, the elders bless us— be healthy, wealthy and successful in your goals—but the subtext is always this: Beat the crap out of the others in a world of mistrust and vengeance. Have the guts to face the wretched future, sharpen your arsenals to subdue others, who are invariably evil because they are not as good as you. Just like Ram beat Ravan, the epitome of evil. The world minus you is evil and that’s why the rest is bunkum, just get rid of it. And there is a way to do that every Dashain. The forms matter the most—how well you dress, what you eat, how elaborate your rituals than the others’. Not how you change as a person, how you become better than yesteryears. Ironic again, you have to wait until the AD new year for your resolutions, and the great occasion to celebrate the victory of good over evil is spent by many in gambling and animal sacrifices. Symbolic gestures alone are enough. I often see many a passersby, a taxi driver or a motorbykist raising his or her hand in veneration in an instant crossing a temple, only to curse another instant a wounded beggar nearby. Dashain is a time of spending, exhibition and pomp, no matter how poor you are, rather than a time of giving to the needy, and self-reflection. No wonder why consumerism goes hand in hand with this great national festival—business is brisk and supplies are always in short.
What makes us individuals so special is not how many more kilo khasi (goat) than the others we eat, and I hesitate to say how much more we excrete, or how many more foreign goods we consume than the others during Dashain. If money were such a decisive standard, just look at the many rich who are not happy this Dashain despite all their wealth, because happiness is something to feel, not to be bought. So prejudice reigns over all things when the very door to spirituality abode is shut by the greed for self-importance. Dashain, then is a time to discover our humanity, bridging dualities we have created of poverty and riches, knowledge and ignorance, love and hatred, peace and conflict, goodness and evil, to name a few. It is time to sharpen our senses to distinguish the reality. It is often hard these days to think for ourselves since much of our thinking or blinking is leased to television channels. As if every body knows anything worth knowing! Curiosity is another name of ignorance. Indifference has become a public virtue. So, away from TV’s echo-chamber, and in the privacy of my ignorance, I began to gather a few concepts that characterize dualities of every day life. I would say the reality resides actually somewhere between.
Here are the concepts, that need to be sorted out or paired together: abase, advancement, aimless, animosity, arrogance, artificial, artificial, award, brotherhood, chaos, charity, concord, confidence, conflict, courage, cowardice, creation, curiosity, curiosity, darkness, deceit, degradation, depth, destruction, determination, discord, disharmony, dishonesty, disrespect, disunity, egotism, elevate, enmity, envy, exaggeration, excitement, extremism, falsehood, fanatical, felicity, foolishness, fragmentation, freedom, generosity, genuine, good-will, greedy, gross materialism, happiness, harmony, hatred, health, honesty, humility, hypocrisy, ignorance, ill-will, impure, indecisiveness, indifference, injustice, insincerity, integration, intelligent, intolerance, justice, kindness, knowledge, light, love, manipulation, mistrust, misunderstand, moderation, natural, oppression, order, passionate, peace, poverty, prejudices, pretentious, punishment, pure, respect, richness, self-abnegation, self-interest, selfishness, self-worship, service, sickness, sincerity, slyness, sorrow, strength, stupidity, superficiality, superstition, tolerance, trust, truth, understand, unity, vigor, vision, vitality, weakness, wisdom, etc. etc.
I realized this would be an unending exercise, and fun perhaps during the Dashain break, like playing card, flying a kite, or taking a swing. Only that it is a mental game. How much have we lost in moral wilderness that surrounds us these days. Of course, for these concepts to live and grow, they require conducive attitudes, thoughts, habits and action. For those politically inclined, there may be a few more concepts that capture the spirit of the times in Nepal: inclusion/exclusion, freedom/oppression, unity/division, peace/conflict, progress/retrogression, progression/status-quo or stagnancy, justice/inequity, security/insecurity, happiness/despair, rights/subservience, and many more, of course, including democracy and totalitarianism, which seem to be the next biggest dialectics of our times …
The fact is for an overtly conscious person a tika can be an allergic blot on the forehead, with the stench of yogurt occasionally stirring your nose and the gooey fluid oozing around. For the innately consigned soul, it can be a temple with verdant colors and life-giving waters. So the choice is ours. Throughout the few minutes I received the tika from my elders this morning, all these dualities and contradictions blinked in my mind. My pure wish for the moment was if only hypocrisies could be tamed, at the least.
Dr. J writes on social and cultural issues for Nepal Monitor.
Posted by Editor on October 9, 2008 1:34 AM