Life | Ritualistic Re-Invention

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Ritualistic Re-Invention
Text by Viseshika Sharma
Published: Volume 22, Issue 1, January, 2014

With a serious shortage of time, is there a case for making your own traditions?

As the New Year kick-starts with its usual hullabaloo, let’s ensure that blind tradition is a thing of the past. Gone are the days when we had enough time to grieve a person when they passed on, leave alone commemorate the occasion each year. Surely it’s easier and healthier to remember a loved one on the day of their birth? Dame Anita Roddick requested that mourners at her funeral wear bright clothing instead of conventional weeds; it’s a different story that this posed quite the dilemma for a neo-Goth friend.

In my father’s typically South Indian Brahmin extended family, it’s customary to gather for only four occasions – weddings, funerals, sacred thread ceremonies and significant birthdays, all of which include several hours of chanting by innumerable priests. Anything that doesn’t fall under these categories is hardly ever a priority. My mother’s family is of Telugu origin. I remember my grandfather strictly observing a day honouring a rather violent-looking tribal deity – large amounts of biryani and liquor were consumed and cigarettes were lit. I was encouraged to join in the festivities with Phantom cigarettes. The only other holiday my grandfather concerned himself with was New Year’s Eve – I’ve been a red wine drinker from early infancy.

A friend sent out a birth announcement for his nephew in his own inimitable fashion. Handmade chocolate with an Indian touch was packaged in a minimalist manner that perfectly encapsulated his design aesthetic. We went so far as to joke that his brother had the baby but my friend ‘had’ the birth announcement. The only element that stood out sore-thumb-edly was a mirrored cutout that proclaimed, ‘It’s a boy’. Pointed questioning revealed that this was the fond grandmother’s addition – she felt that all the minimalism was a little too untraditional!

Is it really important to have a sangeet night at every wedding? It’s most annoying when I lose a certain friend to dance practice every night during the lead up to wedding season. The only nuptial tradition I can really get behind is the one of having a cocktail party – bonus points if no one can remember how they got out of that intricately laced-up blouse, or locate the bride the next morning.

My family, in all their misguided wisdom, has several other not-so-traditional habits as well. Each time I enter my uncle’s home, I have to perform an elaborate Bharatanatyam-style namaskaram.

Our dogs’ birthdays are celebrated with a puja and payasam, and human birthdays are marked with designated kooky songs, to be sung the day before and after, as well as on the day of, and heaven help anyone who forgets.

Our tradition is clearly to just go a little nuts.

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