A CELEBRATION IN SEARCH OF MAN: Contemplating Onam
Routledge Publishers publishes a book in 2001. The book is, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, written by German psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. I consider Jung, one of my gurus. The book seems significant to me in two ways. One: Its title reminds me of another life changing book namely Man’s Search for Meaning. Two: I have an intuitive awareness that all human beings undergo some form of soul-searching at least once in their lifetime. What I realize today is more significant than a man’s soul-searching. I realize that sometimes, celebrations search for man.
Before untangling the knots of this puzzling thought let me take a moment to wish each one of you out there, reading, thinking, and sharing human being, a very happy Onam.
A celebration is in search of man. By ‘man’ I do not mean a gender specific entity. I would like to use the term to refer to the entire human kind. Apart from being a Malayalam nostalgia, Onam is yet another celebration where the role of humanitarian considerations have given way to concerns and anxieties of a post-humanist universe. Love has not a dime’s worth of value neither does family, commitment of friendship, and respect for our fellow beings’ feelings. “I don’t care what someone else thinks,” they say. It’s fine until the bothering is restricted to the other person’s thoughts. Still, I think there is a little hypocrisy about it. No one actually bothers to check how our behavior made the other person feel about life.
We can’t find enough time to go and meet our grandparents, or parents, for that matter. Our cousins and siblings are mere buddies in Whatsapp and Facebook. Reality TV is our new pal. But they don’t give us that sweet friendly hug. We are not great huggers, by the way, so that is OK. The TV show host tells us that our childhood was better and that there used to be a lot of flowers in the open fields. They tell us in the morning that Onam is here and everyone is celebrating etcetera. The truth is available readily in front of us. It’s laid on the couch. The patriarch lies and the mother is either tending the garden or getting busy with her kitchen chores, as usual. By noon, they eat an ordinary meal and by night, the kids come home from special tuition and complain of not getting enough out of Onam holidays. The patriarch argues about getting a better future. The children dream about their summer vacation. In some other homes, the wife calls the catering service and orders a good Onam sadya, the family feast.
There is celebration. There is no celebration. Between this ironic binary exists one of humanity’s greatest challenges: the loss of empathy. The culture of celebrations acts as yearly reminders of the lost empathy among humans. What someone else feels about our actions does matter; it is this concern that makes us human. Instead, today, we are concerned about our performance and stand in public. This concern is all for the wrong reason. A verse from the Bible comes to mind: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8.36-37).
Only a success, which is harmonious with our ability to show empathy, could help us keep our souls in exchange for all the agonies we go through. After all, we go through all those nerve-breaking struggles to be happy and content. It seems that the new generation of India is busy improving their grades in schools. I doubt if they truly feel the great joy of forgetting every worry in a celebration. Each celebration and holiday season is an opportunity for an additional tuition class or remedial coaching. They prepare for an endless contest, forgetting that the beauty of any contest is at its conclusion. Onam comes every year. So do Easter, Ramzan, Christmas, and Diwali. And these festivities are supposed to remind us that it matters what our actions make someone else feel. Empathy… empathy… empathy.
But… the root of empathy is love, isn’t it? It’s simple and clear at sight. The celebration is in search for man, to be fully present, without holding any of the joys back, without holding any of the love back, a man without prejudices, a man with empathy…