As a child, I would watch with trepidation-tinged excitement and fascination the conversation between one of my uncles and the long-haired, sickle-sword wielding “velichappaad” (oracle through whom a revered deity, mostly the Goddess Bhagavati, would speak). This is how the conversation would play out.
The long-haired velichappaad, ritualistically adorned and armed (anklets, waist-belt with bells and a sickle-sword), whole body in rhythmic convulsions after being possessed by Bhagavati, would, in gasping utterances, assure the elder of the house that she would bless the household/community with good harvests, health, happiness, fertility, etc. and then ask – is that enough? Typically, the elder would respond in the affirmative. Not my uncle. Paraphrasing his typical response: “Mother, you promised these things last year, too, but failed to deliver.” I’d heard many times that in the old days, such a response from a devotee would evoke a kind of atonement for the promises not kept – the velichappaad, aka the Goddess, would hit her head violently with the sword and start bleeding profusely. The idea of rebuking the Goddess herself for promises not kept and the violent atonement that followed was mind-blowing.
This ritual comes to mind as I ponder that for every New Year, based on the Gregorian or other solar or lunar calendars, the outpouring of wishes for all good things in life is immense. But, does this deliver, ever?
Here’s what I wrote last year on this “occasion”: “I have an almost knee-jerk reaction to the typical… something naturally contrarian within that I am not able to hide always. I have to look at the side that is not being shown. So it has been that all the manufactured chronological milestones have failed to evoke the usual excitement in me for some time. Their impacts in terms of good food and good times are welcome, of course, but mustering enthusiasm for an event per se has been a somewhat difficult task. This has meant that I have to make a deliberate effort to overcome the cynicism that froths up at such times and focus on the positive and profound. This year, it seems to be a tough ask.
The sun still shines, stars still twinkle, flowers still bloom, streams still gurgle and the birds still chirp, music is still magical and sublime, but even as I gratefully revel in this miraculous revelry, a profound feeling of sadness and disquiet remains and prevails, because the defining features of the year that is about to end have been the deepening and worsening of injustice, myopia, hatred, bigotry and gross abuse of power… and nowhere is this more apparent than in India, where I have lived for the last two years. People dying as they waited desperately in line to collect their hard earned money following demonetization, millions of migrants walking hundreds of miles after having their threadbare livelihood rugs pulled from under their feet with no warning, body blows to the informal economy, hundreds of thousands if not more dying without oxygen and hospital beds on streets and sidewalks, people floating bodies of loved ones down the river or burying them in shallow graves on riverbanks because they could not afford a proper cremation or burial, procession taken in support of rapists and murderers, lynching of innocent people on suspicion of their eating the wrong kind of meat or having the temerity to act “beyond” their low caste status, “leaders” openly calling for violence against minority communities being rewarded with plum cabinet posts while those who fight non-violently for justice are jailed in gross abuse of draconian laws, a minister whose son deliberately mows down innocent farmers in broad daylight in the minister’s car remains in office with no questions asked…; internationally, Julian Assange remains incarcerated in the most brazen travesty, dissidents and whistleblowers are hounded all over the world, the pandemic kills millions… the litany of woes is endless.”
Since then, the US-Nato instigated and driven conflict in Ukraine has been latest one to bloom as psychopathic Washington neocons and their pathetic vassals stick to their agenda of endless wars and enormously profitable arms sales, bringing the world perilously close to nuclear exchanges and annihilation. Millions face the prospect of the bleakest of winters that looks set to claim more innocent lives. Meanwhile, the victims mentioned last year have not received any kind of justice and non-violent justice activists remain incarcerated, in India and abroad. Closer home and heart, on Christmas Day, a remarkably selfless and tireless artist-activist, KP Shashi, departed this world far too early.
So, like my uncle all those years ago, I want to grumble my discontent to the universe about this global outpouring of wishes failing to deliver anything substantial for the cause of peace, equality and justice. That said, what would I use to try and tilt the scales at least marginally towards the positive?
Internationally, the growing Free Assange movement is of seminal importance in what its success can do for free speech and real journalism in general and for the likes of Leonard Peltier, Mumia and other dissidents who have spent most of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit. In India, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra seems to be providing a much-needed antidote to the hatred-filled, divisive agenda of the fascist dispensation in power. While there is no guarantee that this will translate into electoral victories or that hard core neoliberals will not be replaced by an apparently softer version of the same thing, a start has been made.
I also know there are people and grassroots movements the world over fighting against great odds for various just causes and that alternative media outlets as well as individual journalists are presenting ever more serious and credible challenges against mainstream media narratives that are basically stark lies and false propaganda.
Can all these coalesce into a potent struggle against the hugely corrupt, unjust status-quo?
I’ve no clue.
My New Year wish/resolution is that we – you and me – individually and collectively – make more effective contributions to the struggle for peace and justice.
Hari Chathrattil: Copywriter by trade, based mostly in Vietnam for the better part of three decades, still hoping to do something more worthwhile and meaningful in life.