As we move deeper into the month of April and must, almost automatically, consider its traditional song and dance, our thoughts are collectively overshadowed by this other consideration. Both, in the minds of many, have to do with the unseen, the unknown and the frightening. On the one hand, we want to engage in activities we normally won’t be doing like cracking out the crackers, lighting weird shaped lamps, beating drums and engaging with family members and strangers in weird, ritualistic ways wearing new, bright clothes all to ward off unseen inimicals lurking behind Pisces and Ares and invite benevolents waving from behind the sun and the moon. On the other, we are told to engage in activities we normally won’t want to like staying indoors, staying away from the fridge, staying close to hot drinks, washing hands raw, engaging with family members and strangers in weird, ritualistic ways wearing masks or space suits or both all to ward of some unseen inimical lurking in the throat of one’s best friend or watching one with vicious anticipation from one’s spouse’s car bonnet. As we move deeper into the month of April we must, almost necessarily, consider its traditional song and dance, this time glorified twice over by two entirely different but superbly complimentary and congruent set of unknowns and vagaries.
The key here is unknown and vague. Very few know that Avurudu is a harvest celebration and not a Buddhist or Hindu religious ritual. Most think it is the Sri Lankan version of the bacchanalian. A booze fest disguised as a fashion pageant. Few thought quarantine was a form of voluntary self-denial of bad habits until the authorities literally had to point a gun and say “quarantine is not valentine” and put everyone under enforced house arrest.
Very few urbanites know that Avurudu achieved social sanctity and relevance to our farmers because they toiled in the field, worked the land, planted things and reaped the reward of their labors. It is they who are justified in giving thanks and giving gifts to one another to commemorate a bountiful harvest, and, for those that way inclined, giving alms to the clergy of their new produce, and, transferring the good karma of meritorious deeds to their departed. Or, when their crops failed, convert the celebration into an understanding of climate change, failure of science to predict the lack of rain, karmic causality, inability of agrochemicals to do much more than poison the earth, god’s will and other similar religious instruments for dealing with setbacks while resolving to bear the hardship, giving and sharing of what little they have and, either feeling strengthened by their sacrifice or, for those that way inclined, holding those acts of merit gained despite of their suffering as their forfeit to create the spiritually valid enabling conditions for better times next year.
Very few know that the Venetians forced ships to stay isolated outside port for forty days (quarantina) during the Black Death or bubonic plague of the 14th Century that also originated in china and attacked Italy first among Europeans before decimating a third of its population. Nor do they know that the only way to stem this almost unstoppable, unseen and deadly juggernaut of death was to take themselves out of the ecosystem of disease transmission either out of desperation or enforcement or social responsibility.
Ah but how things have changed.
Regardless of how dumbed out our urban population is, COVID has done something that other world threatening crises such as the food crisis, the energy crisis, the climate crisis, the environment crisis, the conflict crisis and the religious crisis tried hard to do but never actually got any global traction.
It has proved to the world that the world is in serious trouble.
It has proven to the urbanites that their white collar jobs, their ties and designer shoes, their desk jobs and their debt ridden wealth display are useless. It has shown the world that there is a very good reason to stem exclusively profit oriented industry. It has told the world to recognize the song of birds, to listen for the tune of the bread man, to speak to one’s neighbors, to engage in family activities. It has actually made people aware that the simpler life removed from the complications of competition, gain, fame and pleasure is actually a great way of being. It has proved to the urbanites the truth of the fact that health is indeed the greatest profit and happiness is the greatest wealth. It has demonstrated that growing one’s own food and sharing one’s wherewithal with the community is more important that 10 foot tall walls, roller doors and SUVs. In fact, for the first time in a long time, the urbanites are actually justified in celebrating avurudu because they too are now societally engaged and agriculturally enabled. They, in fact, have reason to think, “thank whatever determinants, dynamics, deities, defenses, deployments, displacements, devices, dogmas and dodges for the fact that we are still alive”.
As urban life progresses suddenly non-linearly with swirls and clouds of unseen particles proximating everyone to disease and death, as urbanites growl and grumble at the speed at which their comfort zones were assaulted and violated, as urban travails are suddenly reduced to the mundane through the COVID treatment of social astigmatism, let us be thankful that as a collective, either through force or necessity or sheer darn desperation, we have been awoken from our social slumber, we have been recharged by our recognition of the ultimate levelling of human existence, we have been made to renew our license to live through the payment of our dues to the country.
Avurudu is ultimately a celebration of renewal. COVID19 has sloshed a big bucket of deep cleanser over our urban population. We have been washed cleaner if not completely free of social sickness. It is truly a time to celebrate.