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New Year, the one festival that is beyond region and religion
Despite being settled overseas, the Tamil diaspora loves to recreate the life they left behind in India. Here’s a glimpse of their lives, celebrations and struggles on foreign shores.
New year is all about the calendar. Looks like ultimately it is about counting 365 days all at once, and when done, declare that the year ended and the new one is about to begin. Is it that simple? What about the tummy turns at the stroke of twelve, the new year resolutions, the look back at the year to take stock of the wins and losses, and the huge shout out for the grand entry of the new year? Wait a bit – is it different when living in other parts of the globe? Of course not, as new year is all about what you want the next cycle of 365 days to be. Where you live hardly matters, especially when you are living in the land of opportunities.
There are choices aplenty to celebrate the new in the US. Party at a friend’s place or at a favourite restaurant is the most common choice for immigrant Indians. This time turns to be part of the vacation season for most offices and educational institutions. The last 10 days usually have less work even if the offices function. With the lean season at work, most take off or prefer to work from home. This assures party time to chill. Theme parties and planning for these, from the dress choices to the potluck menu, keep most of them busy. Some do travel to warmer destinations and welcome the new year.
Usually for the new immigrants, whose visa approvals are at the mercy of the project’s life cycle, the story is quite different. They have less options for breaks or work from home, and usually end up covering the seniors for their extra party time. “I am one of those unlucky ones,” says Mathura Manickkam, an IT professional who moved to the US a year ago.
For many non-party people, the interesting news is that the temples are open through midnight on the new year eve and activities like bhajan, prayers and cultural events are organised. “Every year, on 31st night, we attend the special sahasranama puja at the Guruvayoorappan temple and be part of the 1,001 laddu archana. It’s such a divine feeling to be at the temple receiving the laddu prasad every year at the stroke of 12,” says Rajalakkshmi Gopinath of New Jersey.
Most of the college-going teens come home for the winter break. They do get time to hang out in malls and theaters with the neighbourhood buddies. Unlike in India, the consequences of drunken driving are serious – it would result in accumulating heavy points in the driving record or even losing diving privileges. The cumulative impact on the escalating insurance is something that most want to ward off. There is always a safe play when it comes to real partying in general for the immigrants from India, for whom the records for the H1B visa remain the critical concern.
A much-fancied talk around the East Coast is the new year eve’s ball drop at the Times Square. The crystal ball with electric lights is made to fall from the top of the building in Times Square, just at the last minute of the year. Exactly at midnight, the ball reaches the ground sliding through a pole. Every year, despite the sub-zero temperatures of the cold December 31 night, over a million people gather from afternoon to find their spot to view the ball drop. The event, which has been around since 1907, is a major tradition that most would love to be part of.
Other states across the US have their own version of the ball drop. The objects lowered in each state vary. For example, it is a giant replica of peach in Atlanta and acorn made of brass weighing 900 pounds in Raleigh North Carolina, and ping pong ball in Strasburg Pennsylvania. But these traditions are not the favourite choice for the immigrant Indians for whom partying among friend groups is on the top of excitement list.
“We loved to watch the ball drop in the first year. The experience was amazing but not thrilling enough to see it every year. The crowd and cold weather are too much, prompting us to instead settle with friends at home,” observes Ramki Sharma, a long-time resident of New Jersey.
The social media confession is another important feature of celebrating the new year. Posting the party pictures, essentially to tell the world how happy you have been, and making an open confession on your new year resolutions is yet another compulsion for many.
With social media groups getting firm ground in designing friendship, the number of parties one attend is ballooning for sure. “Partying with fitness pals, kitchen pals, beauty pageants, family of pre-kindergarten tots, office colleagues, the walk buddy groups, the school group, the college gangs – all want to meet to bid farewell to 2019. The last 10 days of the year are just not enough,” feels Seema Bhatia of Connecticut.
What a big world we have created for ourselves! Staying away from the motherland, one truly feels integrated with friends from different ethnicities at work, school, college and neighbourhood. New year is one festival that is common for all. No restrictions in choosing whom to wish. It is beyond region and religion, and has so much of integration to offer. The feeling of happiness, introspection and promises for a bettertomorrow is universal and that underlines the celebrations.
Of course, we are all just the same irrespective of where we originally come from! Let’s celebrate this oneness. Have a wonderful 2020and beyond!
— The writer is ajournalist based in New York