Starting afresh

For the writer, the environs and celebrations will be very different when the new millenium dawns

Published: Tuesday 30 November 1999

tiring from a way of life that enslaves us to pretentious lifestyles, habits of wasteful consumption and the dependency-syndrome for even the most basic of life's needs, this Christmas I shall leave Delhi -- its pollution, disorder and violence -- and transport myself into temporary exile in a village or two in Jharkhand's Chotanagpur.

"The old order changeth yielding place to the new." Come New Year's eve, I am going further my resolve and twist these old poetic lines to make the new yield to the old.

But before that I need to be revitalised and cleansed of the accumulated sins of civilisation. The metaphor for this is the mahua ( Madhuka indica) tree that we had planted in our Delhi house. It is a tree of ecology, of the mother Earth itself, providing oil, medicine, a source of food, liquor and strong wood, also performing the functions of cleansing and restoring. Like the tree, I shall try to wash off at least a layer or two of the corrupt Indian in me.

Then, I shall celebrate nature, I shall celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and celebrate the end of the most tragic millenium in human history in a little hamlet at the edge of the jungle. The jungle I have in mind has been degraded by the former colonisers as well the citizens of modern independent India, but it is still a jungle. Life, too, has been degraded, whole cultures decimated, but in Chotanagpur, shades of original life and original Adivasi cultures still survive. They survive through a spirit and strength that are still there but need re-vitalising.

Among Advasis, excess is frowned upon. Excessive clothes, jewellery and make-up. Excessive personal possessions, unnecessarily large houses, food and drink, egos and power. Less frowned upon, though not actually endorsed as such are excessive hospitality, excessive cultivation and over-use of fields. Perhaps the only excess that is actually looked upon with envy is a dignified propensity to play the mandar ( drums), and to dance, to celebrate our God-given sensual powers.

In December, the late maturing varieties of rice are harvested. The fields and jungles pulsate with a mood for celebration and sharing. Christmas and New Year add a note of religious energy and fervour. It is also time for friendship to be revived and forged, a time for weddings, a time to soak and bubble rice in magic herbs that cause fermentation by a process of divine chemistry.

This December, the last of the millenium, I shall allow myself to be overwhelmed by this divine chemistry as I mull over the tragedies of the 20th century -- a century in which humans killed more of their brethern, animals and other living matter than in any other proceeding millenium. And despite, the war and nuclear threat the instinct to survive has prevailed. I shall plunge into the mini-reservoirs of that instinct still resident in the psyche of the primeval peoples of Chotanagpur.

The mahua shall not be in bloom in December. The saal ( Sukhwa ), too, shall not be flowering. But there shall be other blossoming. I shall allow the intoxication of the drums and dance to seep into the pores of my skin and soul. I shall pray to my skin to be tanned a deep coffee-brown, I shall pray for my personality to turn a shade blacker and have my rascist Aryan whiteness retreat into hibernation.

No, the mahua shall not bloom in December, but I shall fertilise it with my toxic excretions -- which in turn shall be de-toxified by the mahua magic that, hopefully, in turn shall re-vitalise and re-cycle this rotten uneducated Sikh into a reformed human machine.

For this millenium journey into exile, I shall indeed take along a little paper, a pen or two, a little khadi to wear, even the old stylish jacket, hat and turban ...but nothing else. I shall turn my back on all this and surrender to the medicine that is Adivasi passion and joie-de-vivre. I am off to the land of India's most beautiful people -- a statesque, seductive, unpolluted people -- Munda, Oraon, Kharia and others.

This is where I shall see the new century take over. In the arms and bough of my mahua baby to the sound of drums, a taste of haria and the swish and swirl of beautiful black and brown bodies, dancing, chanting, singing in a circle.

The author is a well-known social activist based in Delhi

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