SONGSOPTOK: Festivals have always existed in human society. We all agree that festivity plays an important role in our lives. What would be your personal definition of festival and festivity in the context of today’s society?

PARNA: Any celebration of any sort, that compels us to pause our virtual existence for the moment and pay attention to the real people around us, connect with them through face to face verbal exchange and physical touch, be that a pat on the back or a formal handshake, is a festival. This may include family gatherings like birthday parties or wedding ceremonies, or in a larger context, Durga Puja or Diwali that brings not only friends and family members but also neighbours and acquaintances in close contact. 

SONGSOPTOK: Throughout the ages, one of the underlying objectives of festivals was to bring people closer together and create a link. In the context of today’s competitive and egocentric society, do you think that this objective is actually achieved by festivals?

PARNA:  In today’s egocentric world, festivals are more important because they actually achieve the aforementioned goal. In a time when people are self-centered and focused on themselves, festivals compel them to pay attention to the surroundings. And thus observe others and come closer. A much focused child, determined to do well in the exam after the Puja vacation might find the loud sound of the dhaak extremely distracting for the moment. But this sound would eventually bring him out of his shell. Since it is impossible to study in the noise, a little catching-up with friends in the pandal outside can do little harm. And this is just a very simple example. There are ample examples in various contexts to prove this point.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that the form and content of festivals have evolved over time? What is you own experience? In what way would you qualify the evolution?

PARNA:  Yes. The form and content of festivals have evolved with time and this evolution is necessary. Anything that does not change with time cannot be eternal. There was a time when certain Pujas meant sacrifice of life. That is no longer possible or considered human or celebratory in any sense today. Whatever the form or content, a festival should be acceptable and enjoyable to all. As long as it brings happiness, joy and togetherness without harming anyone’s sentiments or existence, any change is welcome.

SONGSOPTOK: Since antiquity, festivals have served to bring people together and hence closer to each other. To what extent are festivals relevant in the context of today’s intensely competitive society?

PARNA:  The relevance of festival in today’s world depends to a great extent on the region where it is celebrated. Too much globalization has made certain regional festivals insignificant in certain places. Sporadic festivals like Holi or Eid no longer have much impact on the lives of people because of excessive work pressure. But long-drawn festivals like Navratri, Durga Puja, Ramadan have the impact on people as they compel people to participate in the continuous festivities for some days, if not through the entire celebration.

SONGSOPTOK: Broadly speaking, there are two sides to all types of festivals – preparation which is essentially materialistic and the celebration. Which aspect is more important for you and why?

PARNA:  The celebration is obviously more important as all the preparation is due to this very celebration. We look forward and prepare for festivals so that when they do come, we can put our best foot forward and enjoy at our heart’s content. Those few days of madness, joyous celebration make the festival memorable enough for us to again prepare for it in the coming year or next time.

SONGSOPTOK: The essence of festivals lies in the connection between the individual and the collective. To what extent do our individual and family oriented lives helps or hinders this connection?

PARNA:  Festivals are times when we reconnect with the extended family, with friends of friends and indulge on personal and cultural exchanges through meetings and rituals. During some festivals we make it a point to visit and invite friends and neighbours. We decorate our houses, wear new clothes because it is the time when we present ourselves to the otherwise disconnected world outside of our limited existence. During festivals, everyone indulge in display or “showing off” which, although affected, furthers the connection of the individual with the collective.

SONGSOPTOK: The origin of most of the festivals seems to be religious; to that extent, almost all festivals are essentially communal since it is the built around the religious sentiments and beliefs of specific communities. Would you say then that such festivals are actually detrimental to world peace and unity?

PARNA:  It is my personal observation that although the origins of most festivals are religious, celebration of that festival is not necessarily limited to religion. My most enthusiastic pandal-hopper friend during Durga Puja is a Muslim, during Eid most of my brothers are cordially invited to the houses of their Muslim friends where they willfully munch on tasty home-made biriyani, and during Christmas, it is a must in our household to cut cakes and celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. Hence, if anything, in my experience, festivals highlight and further peace, happiness and unity.

SONGSOPTOK: All religious festivals are social but not all social festivals are religious. Do you think that social festivals should be more important today than religious festivals? Why?

PARNA:  As mentioned earlier, in my experience even religious festivals take on a social colour and people of various religions come together to celebrate these. So as long as that happens, as long as we see Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan happily performing Ganesh Puja or Mamata Banerjee is seen praying during Eid, however affected that may be, as long as people do remember that the chief reason behind a festival is celebration of togetherness beyond the barriers of religion and social standing, a festival, be it religious or social, is always good for society.

SONGSOPTOK: For countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel, Palestine and all other countries that share borders with different religious majority, would you say that religious festivals play a negative role for peace and unity? Please let us have your thoughts on this issue which seem very important to us.

PARNA:  If Indians can celebrate any Islamic festival with equal vigour as in Pakistan or Bangladesh, then it is the finest way of showing respect to the neighbours. Similarly, if Pakistan or Bangladesh allows idolatry and do not ban the celebration of say Ganesh Puja or Durga Puja and let the Hindus present there celebrate their festivals equally passionately, then that is the best way to show respect and unity. But that is not always the case. Hence sometimes such festivals become reason for contention. Festivals do not necessarily play negative roles. They uphold togetherness and unity. But it is the people involved and their mentality and interpretation of such festivals that have positive or negative effects.

SONGSOPTOK: Irrespective of the origin of festivals, whether religious or social, the form and content often varies from one region to another. In fact, regional culture has always been an intrinsic quality of festivals in different parts of the world, often in the case of same festivals. Do you think that today’s globalization could actually wipe out these culturally rich regional influences? Do you think that this is a loss for the human society in general?

PARNA:  Globalization cannot, according to me, wipe out the regional influences of festivals. One of the chief reasons why people celebrate festivals with passion is the fact that festivals connect us with our roots, culture and past. Our memories are made rich by our experiences of every celebration. No matter whatever our present influence or situation, we always try to return to our roots through festivals. Hence while celebrating these festivals we always try to connect with our regional and cultural specificity in the way we celebrate a certain festival. In Columbia, Christmas is celebrated through fireworks, much like our very own diwali. Hence if a Columbian finds himself in UK during Christmas, where the essence of Christmas is family gathering and a fine dinner, he would always try to make that ‘boring’ dinner interesting through fireworks. This is a natural human instinct. A Bengali in the USA doesn’t get a four day holiday during Durga Puja. But they nevertheless celebrate Durga Puja for four days. They just space out the puja through the month during the weekends.

SONGSOPTOK: If we look closely, we can often find a close relationship between different types of festivals and nature. Would you agree? What is your personal experience?

PARNA:  Most festivals have their origin in ancient times and nature played a very important role in the lives of the ancient people. Christmas is actually a celebration of an ancient ritual that worshipped the new Sun in the beginning of the Winter Solstice on the 25th of December. Hence it is only too natural that Nature shares a close relationship with various festivals.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that festivals and celebrations in their present forms can play a role for world peace and unity? If not, how should they evolve to become a message of world peace?

PARNA:  Festivals play a very important role to further unity and world peace. And festivals have this very unique capacity to change appropriately through time. The evolution of festivals has always been very time-appropriate probably because festivals involve a lot of people and the celebrations do not follow individual dictates. Hence I have faith on the fact that they will, even in future, change appropriately to survive the times and I do not require to, as an individual, state the ways in which they can best evolve because that will be against the nature of festivals as they do NOT celebrate the individual, but the collective.



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