Happy New Year.
by Susmita Dasgupta on Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 12:53pm ·
I am a bit uncomfortable with New Years; it is usually a time for regret, of promises not fulfilled, of goals not attained. I rarely rest on my laurels, what remains beyond me somehow assume a greater importance for me than what I seemingly have attained. Failure, non completion, occupies my mindscape with greater force than satisfaction. I read somewhere among Tagore’s writings that such is the mind of a pilgrim utterly unattached and sublime; I also read somewhere else among R.D.Liang’s works that such is a mind of an overtly competitive person unable to remain contended. Anyway, whatever the case be I suspect that somewhere the notion of a time flying past me, bringing in an unprecedented and untasted new and relegating all that is familiar behind me into an irretrievable past bothers me with a stranger anxiety. I rather like the vernacular New Year, which is poila boishakh, a time that will come every year, representing a circular notion of time. I like festivals, those which are renewed each year, with a certainty that there will always be a next time. The New Year is so unlike these, there is a definite goodbye to the bygone in favour of one which is novel and largely unknown and untested.
My friend Zuchamo Yanthan has posted a note about how Christmas is a relatively novel festival brought on board only in the beginning of the middle Ages, a festival around a birthday being a rather new concept and quite absurd. Usually a birthday is not something for celebration, there is no promise in being merely born until and unless human live births are rare and human life is valued in a new way. The celebration of Christ’s birthday was neither due to a new value of human life, nor because of its rarity but because of Christ being especially “sent” in by God in Heaven to rule men on earth. In this way, Christ’s birth was an event of great importance, an expression of God’s Will. Christ’s birthday i.e Christmas has therefore an enormous significance for the believers in the sacred realm. In the profane realm, the custom of celebrating birthdays must have had something to do with a new importance that is attached to the individual. The birth of any and every individual must have brought in a sense of anticipation of the society from that individual. In an age in which individual talent and genius was beginning to play a part in scientific discoveries, planning of expeditions, writing of texts, paintings, sculptures and other performative arts, the birth of a person invariably brought in a set of expectations and anticipations. While such sentiments of the middle Ages can justify the celebration of birthdays, the celebration of a new year as new time would be connected to the idea of a longitudinal time as opposed to circular and seasonal ones.
Celebrations of the New Year are then invariably tied to the idea of longitudonal time which itself seems to have been affirmed through the notion of a unidirectional and progressive evolution. History has it that the celebration of 1st January as the New Year was observed in ancient Rome as the day of the God Janus bringing with it prosperity and wealth. But this celebration was to bring in a season, not a new time that drives the old one into lost memory. The idea of the calendar where time slips away into the abyss of the Infinite seems to be somewhat an attribute of modernity, where the new and emergent is superior to all that has been, where history is continually being improved upon, innovated and renovated.
I have not evolved as yet to longitudinal time; I am more comfortable with rhythms that return, cycles that repeat, seasons that come and go away only to come again. The circularity brings for me a sense of certainty, an assurance that something is not irretrievable into the past but will revive again, reborn and resurrect. Hence New Years feel a little eerie to me; I am still vernacular celebrating seasons, cycles of circular time.