Sunday, September 1, 2013

These Days and Dates

EDUARDO Galeano may be fascinated by the days and dates and could have written a book on them, telling or recounting the history behind each of them. But for many, days and dates, specially, the 'days', bring a kind of fear as they have to splurge a lot of money. What is the history behind each of these many might not know, even those who are religiously observing them included. 'They are observing, so we too should observe' has become the fad. This, in fact, is creating lots of problems.

Take the example of Raksha bandhan. While all the schools and offices have declared August 20 as a holiday, the Parliament of India declared 21st as a holiday. According to some, both the days can be observed for the festival. That apart, rakhi means a 'bond of protection' and a sister seeks it from her brother, who is considered to be 'shaurya'. This custom, according to many studies, seems to have started during the medieval period, with the Rajputs. A newspaper, which prides itself in calling it as more interested in advertisements than news, carried an advertisement about itself on Rakhi. It states that brothers should take a 'hard look' at their sisters on this day and respect her for all her strong attributes and achievements. Perhaps, the newspaper in question is trying to wash away its sins of sexist and patriarchal depiction of women it carries throughout the year, with one such advertisement. In the hoopla, many of us intend to forget that this entire custom is patriarchal and depicts women as the 'weaker' lot, who needs to be 'protected'. No wonder, many of our political leaders too pride in exhibiting their rakhis.

Let us come to another day that is observed in this month. Many children may not remember or even taught when and what is a Republic Day or an Independence Day. But most of them know or are being taught, when is Friendship Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc, etc. These days even Independence Day is being reminded through our 'Reliance' on offers and discounts. Of course there is also More, Big Bazaar, Croma and many other such giants to remind us of our 'independence'.

Now, one need not be a fanatic like the ones who are against these days, particularly the one in February – Valentine's Day, to be vexed with these days. One can go on celebrating every day, as everyday has a history and a speciality as Galeano has pointed out in his book, Children of Days. Of course, one needs to have the inclination and more than that the means. Before discussing about other days, let us see how the Friendship Day had originated or learn its history. According to Wikipedia, “Friendship Day was originally promoted by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards in 1930, intended to be 2 August and a day when people celebrated their friendships by sending cards”. Why is 2nd August chosen and not 1st of August or 3rd of August? Here is the answer from Wikipedia: “The second of August was chosen as the centre of the largest lull between holiday celebrations”. Wikipedia has other interesting facts too. “Friendship Day was promoted by the Greeting Card National Association during the 1920s but met with consumer resistance – given that it was her too obviously a commercial gimmick to promote greetings cards. By the 1940s the number of Friendship Day cards available in the US had dwindled and the holiday largely died out there. There is no evidence to date for its uptake in Europe; however, it has been kept alive and revitalised in Asia, where several countries have adopted it”. And three countries are specifically named in the article – India, Bangladesh and Malaysia, where this has become a big rage, with some people even demanding a holiday to celebrate it. It may be to escape from sparing another holiday to the workers, that the first Sunday of August was designated as the 'Friendship Day' every year.

The UN, which declares many days, 'Girl Child Day', World Hunger Day', Earth Day, Poverty Day, etc, etc, too joined in declaring a day for friendship and designated July 30. Here, there is an interesting fact. Going back to the article in Wikipedia, “In honour of Friendship Day in 1998, Nane Annan, wife of then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, named Winnie the Pooh as the world's Ambassador of Friendship at the United Nations”. Winnie the Pooh is not some face in the crowd. It is the marvellous creation of the creators of one of the most recognised brands worldwide – Disney. So, Disney creates the ambassador for friendship, just like Coco Cola dressed up Santa Claus in its colours. All of us, ignorant, intelligent or otherwise go on celebrating.

Interestingly 'Friendship Day' is not opposed (or at least as vehemently) as Valentine's Day, though both promote the same 'consumerist', 'western culture'. The religious in India wish reminding us about the friendship of Sri Krishna and Kuchela, while the revolutionaries wish recalling the great friendship of Marx and Engels or the indigenous Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Whatever the examples, on the Friendship Day, wishes are exchanged (music to the mobile operators) and bands are tied (jingling the coffers of their manufacturers). Media splurges advertisements and stories of stars and their 'starry' friendship, break-ups and 'hug and make-ups'. We gobble all this with intoxicated fascination.

Before proceeding any further, let it be made doubly clear that it is nobody's case against observance/celebration of 'Friendship Day' or its equivalent or any day for that matter. May all the days enjoy their time under the Sun! But let us think about a simple question, can we equate all the days? Is a Friendship Day equivalent to an Independence Day or a Mother's Day equivalent to Women's Day? While the former doesn't have a history of struggles behind them, the later are rich because of their history of struggles. What is being done today, is to promote the days without any history of struggles and rob those days which have precisely this history of their character and paint them with a commerical brush.

Unfortunately in the marketing blitzkrieg, the difference is getting blurred by each passing day. Already, Women's Day is robbed of its history of struggles for the rights of women. Leave alone thousands of ordinary people, many of those celebrity tweeters (or tweeple) do not know Clara Zetkin or other heroic fighters of that era who had fought for the rights of women and wanted a day to re-resolve to carry forward the struggle for women's emancipation. Today, it is Ponds, Lakme, Oreal or some other cosmetic brand, which promises women fair skin that projects itself as the champion of Women's Day by splurging advertisements. Just as the sexist newspaper prophesying us to respect women!

Similarly, Independence Day and Republic Day are slowly being converted into days to be remembered for the benefits they bring to the consumers, offered by the corporates on these days. Forget about the ideals of our freedom fighters, even the names of freedom fighters are being lost on the new generation of Indians. So much so that the discussion is on who is a martyr rather than on being what are the ideals that our great freedom fighters have fought for and how far have we travelled to realise them.

Here it is not impertinent to question that statement of our opposition leader in the Parliament who stated: “We couldn't be part of the freedom struggle, we were born after 1947, but now we will be a part of the 'freedom from Congress' battle”. Nobody has any issues on her taking part in the 'battle' for 'freedom from Congress'. But, here we should question her; she may have been born after 1947 and thus got 'deprived' of the 'opportunity' to fight for our freedom, but what about her mentor, and the BJP 'patriarch' – LK Advani or for that matter, AB Vajpayee? They were old enough to take part in the freedom struggle, but did they? No. Not only they, but the entire 'Sangh Parivar' shied away from the freedom struggle. Moreover, there are umpteen instances with unchallengeable evidences to show how they at times even compromised with the British. This is the history that they want to hide from the present generation. And this is the history that gets hidden under the wraps of commercialisation, if it is not consciously brought out and propagated. No wonder a former President of the BJP, as reported in a news report in the Hindustan Times, June 23, 2013, “has hinted that it will change textbook syllabi...if it returns to power”. If left unchecked, the already lopsided presentation of our history – with the emphasis on only a certain stream and a handful of leaders' role in the freedom struggle, completely blacking out or presenting a wrong notion of the other streams and leaders – will get further biased.

The media and market too have their own agenda - selfish, profit generating interests behind the commercialisation of 'days' and equating every day. Those who are afraid of history stand to benefit from such attempts.

It is upon us to blow the ash off, rekindle the fire of struggles of common people behind every day in history and place it before the people for their objective assessment of their present and decide their future. This is all the more necessary in these days of crisis – economic, social and political. Let us all stand up to this glorious task or historical responsibility, if you like to call it as such.

G Mamatha People's Democracy 25 August 2013

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