Society, economy and festivals

Bakreed was a time for me to visit old Muslim friends and have excellent home-made mutton preparations. The social function festivals fulfil is of immense value. In fact, in today’s context the spiritual dimension of festivals is almost entirely eclipsed for many people by their social and other intrinsically non-religious aspects and meanings. Take business interests, for example. The market is splashed with rebates, special deals and favours for customers every festival. A festival is an occasion to extend gifts and greetings to valued clients, patrons and contacts with the intention of strengthening business.

Special attention needs to be extended to some people and it would look a bit conspicuous and odd to do that without the premise of a special occasion. Festivals provide that special occasion. A gift, favour, service or concession packaged with the festival greetings to further business considerations does its job much more effectively than a pure professional initiative.

In human relationships, it is not possible to keep secluded compartments for the different facets of life. A person has many roles as a member of society and these roles influence each other. Some roles recede into the background and others dominate in a given situation, but a relationship is assured of more vitality and depth if more of a person is addressed by involving more of the roles he has in life.

So a business relationship that needs to be made strong and lasting is made to move beyond business to family, leisure, health and other dimensions that make up life. But there is the need for a pretext to go beyond business and create a relationship that services business better by its connections with vital areas other than the professional life of a person. Festivals become that pretext. They become an excuse to reach out, be nice to, smile at and embrace people, venture out, be fresh and break new ground.

Apart from their spiritual content, festivals for most people from early in life mean holidays, good food, new clothes, and going out and meeting people with a happy spirit. If bringing people closer is one aim of spirituality, festivals achieve it with spontaneity and gaiety.

I realised how crucial the social side of festivals is when I lived alone in Delhi while working as a journalist. For many years when I was a bachelor and my parents were in my hometown Patna, I would be marooned on a social island during festivals. Having grown up celebrating festivals with family and friends, lonely spells during festivals made them sad and depressing occasions. Of course, there were friends and relatives I greeted over the phone and visited too, but distances are always huge in Delhi and transport was a big hassle on festival days as I did not own a vehicle. I spent many festivals inside my flat with nobody for company, nothing special to eat and nothing different than ordinary routine to do. I knew that I was not alone in being alone in that big city on a day when you want to be with people you feel close to. But this knowledge could hardly be any consolation and I soon became wary of festivals. It showed to me the powerful social effect of festivals. My generation, born in the 1960s, was the first to begin professional life in the environment of economic liberalisation in India which began in 1991. For many, it meant a life away from the place they had grown up in with some of their closest family members and friends. It meant a life choked with work and its killing pressures in a big, often completely unfamiliar city whose way of life looked cold and at best indifferent to small city people. Friendships and contacts initiated later in life rarely acquire the intimacy and strength relationships developed since childhood naturally have.

Earning a livelihood, creating a bright future and moving ahead in life were the reasons that pushed young, educated, qualified people from the soothing shelter of their homes and families to the abrasive, brusque, insensitive cosmos of big cities. My generation was the first to experience since the beginning of its adulthood that life can be very dreary and desolate at times when it is uprooted and disconnected from the milieu in which it grew to adulthood.

Health is indeed wealth and both health and wealth hinge on a lot of inter-related things and need to be seen holistically. Wealth includes emotional richness of life and emotional health depends to a great extent on how a person is integrated with other people in his family and society. Since 1991, wealth creation has gained prominence and momentum in India at both the micro level of the individual and the macro level of the nation.

My generation is the first in India in which families became nuclear for many people. The lifestyle and values of the West were getting entrenched in India. There is material wealth in the West and India was getting materially wealthier. It was becoming more Western in many respects, including the loneliness and isolation that accompany an emphasis on individualistic living having just a working, minimal integration with family and society. Even the West, after experiencing for long the negatives of this kind of fragmented social life, has begun realising the importance of healthy integration of individuals with their family and society.

Economics textbooks in my school listed joint families as one of the reasons for the economic backwardness of India. But joint families don’t looking so unhealthy and backward now and not just social science, but economics textbooks might also endorse them one day.

Amit Shekhar is a senior journalist and columnist
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