Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some holidays

They like their holidays here. I knew this before I came…whenever I attempted to learn about the meanings or approximate dates of the holidays I quickly gave up in face of the sheer overwhelming mass of events that they partake in. In the US, it’s basically New Years, Valentines Day, St. Patricks Day, Easter, Veterans Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. That seems like quite a few more than then are actually important. I mean, all that Veterans Day entails for me is a day off from school. Unless you’re somehow connected to the military you don’t do much. And all I’ve ever done for St. Patrick’s Day is remember to wear green about half of the years.

India has tons more. Like, at least 20 or 25. I think when I arrived I was in kind of their festival-hiatus time but now they seem to be coming fast and furious. Part of the reason for this is that there are a ton of different religions in India and they make recognition of all of the holidays. Hindu holidays are obviously the most important, but they note the Muslim, Christian, and Parsee (Zoroastrianism) holidays. I’m not sure about Jewish and Buddhist holidays, but those are two religions that are almost non-existent in India. Even though Buddhism originated in India, it moved out a long time ago to most other parts of southern, eastern, and northern Asia. It left India for good quite a long time ago.

Since I got here, I can definitively identify three holidays that have happened. The first was Indian Independence Day, which was on Sunday August 15th. I would be annoyed with not having the day off from school but I don’t go to school enough for it to really matter. They don’t take this holiday quite as seriously as we take the 4th of July. All over Surat in the morning there are flag-hoisting ceremonies. I attended one with my dad and a bunch of other Rotarians at a school for the deaf and dumb that our Rotary club sponsors. It seems like they have promoted me to club photographer based solely on the fact that I have a nice camera. I got up quite early and went to the ceremony. While we were driving we could see these flag-hoisting ceremonies all over the place. All sorts of groups hold them – offices, businesses, schools. Most schools hold ceremonies were the students are politely requested, but not required, to attend. I can be considered a part-time student at best at Shardayatan and I really didn’t want to go to that place so I elected to attend this other one with the Rotary club.

That day was the same day as the first district-wide orientation, which was about an hour and a half away from Surat. It was very similar to one of our Rotary orientations so I’m not going to bore with the details of the various lectures that were given to us. But on the way back, I saw a bunch of folks walking barefoot along the road dressed in traditional clothes of orange. The line of people went on for miles. It was explained to me that they make some barefoot pilgrimage to the sea on Independence Day. The reason for this pilgrimage was not really explained to me. But it was a neat sight.

There was a Parsee holiday later that week. It seemed to be recognized by everyone but it had absolutely no impact on my life, school, or the activities of the city as far as I could tell.
Tuesday the 24th of August was a Hindu festival called Rakshabandhan. I’ve been imagining these Hindu festivals as kind of crazy dance parties in the street. I think a few of them are like that, but most of them, and this one, are mostly family oriented. Rakshabandhan celebrates the relationship of brother and sister. To celebrate this relationship, the sister ties a symbolic band to the brothers’ left wrist. This symbolizes that the sister can supposedly reach her brother at any time that she needs him.

The definition of sister and brother is pretty loose. My two brothers have no sisters but nonetheless earned a number of bands from a couple cousins, their maid, and a couple of family friends. I was expecting zilch bands since I was a neither a Hindu nor in possession of any family sisters. But I got one from my host cousin Prachi and one from a family friend whose name I don’t know (this is not my fault, nobody introduced us). We hung out with my dad’s sisters’ family for most of the day, which was fun. For lunch, however, we went to the home of my mom’s parents. I had not met them before. They are very unusual in that they are grandparents living alone. They only have the one child (my mother) and our house is occupied by my dad’s parents. Plus I don’t really think that grandparents go to live with their daughters. They are elderly but seem to do quite well, and nobody, including them, seems too concerned about their lack of youthful support in their old age.

I was surprised to find myself alarmed at this. I mean, all of the grandparents that I’ve ever known live by themselves, and they do just fine. It was a sign that I’m thinking a bit like an Indian. It has now become the norm, in my head, that grandparents should have young folks that they can live with. The fact that somehow my mindset has been changed without me knowing it makes me uncomfortable. I think the essential reason that I’ve never thought I’m going to have a great exchange is because while I’m delighted with adapting and participating in this new Indian culture, I’ve never wanted to embrace it. I’ve never wanted my mindset to become Indian rather than American. I don’t want to think like an Indian. It’s not like I have a problem with how they think. I guess I’m just resistant to permanent changes in my thinking.
I shouldn’t be. This is not what Rotary wants of me. But I can’t help it.

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