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A reluctant smile for Ugadi


Bombarded as we are with news of devastation and violence from all quarters, how do we celebrate Ugadi this year? Do we lapse into romanticism and celebrate the innocent smile of a child that survives against all odds?

WHAT CAN possibly be new about Ugadi? Holige lunch, bevu-bella, panchanga shravana, a string of mango leaves on the door frame, and poet Bendre's good old "Yuga yugadi kaledaru" song on All India Radio... Well, we may send a Ugadi e-greeting card now, buy holige off the shelf in a shop, complain about how expensive "mere" mango leaves have become, go to an "upto 40 per cent discount" Ugadi sale and crib about how deceptive the "upto" in small print was... But, essentially, is anything new? Finding great security as we always do in repetitions (or, do we call it "tradition"?), even cynicism can become another comforting habit. And the irony is that Ugadi is a celebration of new beginnings, hopes, and fresh thoughts.

Even Bendre complained about the human fate: "Why are we alone cursed with one birth and one death in one single life." At least, the poet, who lived in Sadhanakeri in Dharwad, was close enough to nature to admire its eternal regeneration, take in the fragrance of Honge blossoms, and listen to the bees singing among them.

We, cooped up in apartment blocks, can only listen to the song on radio (if are not completely sold on the TV, that is) and sigh. Pratibha Nandakumar, Kannada poet, writes of Ugadi of "our times" — defined by credit cards, computers, testtube babies, hundreds of TV channels... — in her poem "". Ugadi has come to be a holiday, a festival of plastic mango thorana and a "shampoo bath". The poem says: "Yugadi has no website/ and we have no time."

This Ugadi, coming right on the heels of devastating news from all quarters — be it in Palestine or within our own home, Gujarat — seems ever more difficult to celebrate.

Poet G.S. Shivarudrappa in a poem in the latest Ugadi special issue of a magazine writes: "Ugadi, which came flying into my frontyard/ on the dawn of the new year/ had a sharp knife in its beak/ and not sprouts of spring." He goes on to talk of a Ugadi that has blood stains instead of colours on its wings, sparks of an explosive instead of blossoms in its eyes, and cries of innocent people instead of a song in its throat.

What can one celebrate when the image of a young man begging for mercy from marauding mobs, published on the front pages of all newspapers, simply refuses to fade from memory, and there is no sign of healing? Celebrations and extravaganza seem out of tune with the present...

As one gets sucked into a whirlpool of melancholy, some eternally-optimistic soul is sure to drag you out with a: "Hey, come off it. Life goes on." He will tell you that there was always war, violence, meanness, and Ugadi too. One does not cancel out the other. At least, such optimism is essential for survival — a pragmatic attitude that helps you sail through life, as a modern-day guru who teaches the art of living would put it.

Poet H.S. Venkatesh Murthy, in his poem "Yugadi mattu Magu", talks of optimism that springs from unexpected quarters. A rather distracted poet is wandering aimlessly on the Ugadi day. Walking towards him from the opposite direction are a couple and a child, dressed in new clothes. The child suddenly waves out to the poet and calls out: "Mama, mama." The couple, perfect strangers to the poet, also give him a warm smile. The poem celebrates this sudden collapsing of barriers. It concludes with the lines: "The child, who brushed aside the veil/ looked just like Yugadi." Should we then, if only for the sake of time-honoured symbolism of Ugadi, take solace in the innocent smile of a child that has survived in a ghettoised refugee camp, and sing with Jagjit Singh?: "Do aur do ka jod hamesha chaar kahan hota hai?/ Soch samajh valonko thodi nadani de, Moula." (Two and two need not always add up to four./ Lord, give some innocence to men of cold reason.)

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