Approximately 150 kilometres from South Mumbai is Malshej Ghat, where, in 1993, as Creative Director of Clarion (India’s first employee-owned advertising agency started in 1956 and killed in 2002 by globalisation), I was part of a two-man team conducting a workshop.
I asked the participants to solve what I thought was a wickedly-devised-and-impossible-to-solve marketing problem and went off on my favourite pursuit: a trek to a nearby hill.
A farmer, taking a break under a tree, invited me to share the shade.
I noticed his forehead had an identifiable mark, and asked him if he was a ‘vaarkari’, a pilgrim who walks to Pandharpur in June or July.
He stared at me uncomprehendingly.
Of course he was a vaarkari, but he had never heard of the Gregorian calendar or the names of the months.
He only knew the Indian calendar month, Aashaadh, and its 11th day, Ekadashi, the starting day of his pilgrimage.
Malshej. 150 km away from Colaba.
So there are two Indias: a small English (11 percent understand it) India and a big non-English (89 percent) India.
It’s not water-tight, but the language is a proxy for the culture.
If you think non-English, you tend to think Indian calendar.
It is a lunisolar calendar: it uses a solar year, but divides it into twelve lunar months.
It is 78 years behind the Gregorian.
For the non-English India the year is 1934, for English-India, it is 2012.
Because it is lunisolar, it is intimately connected to the rhythms of the universe.
When one follows the English calendar, most milestones are man-made, from the biggest to the smallest: 60th year as retirement for R&R, March-end mayhem for filing corporate balance sheets, June-end jihad for IT returns, Monday-mornings as enemies of Sunday’s bacchanalian spirit.
When one follows the Indian calendar, one is connected to the sea, the moon, the seasons, the worms, the gods, the flowers, the vibrations of the universe.
Tomorrow starts Shraavan, the fifth month of the Indian calendar, when the Southward movement of the sun (Dakshinayan) begins.
Shraavan is connected to the science of life, ayurveda: in the rainy season, most of the ground worms come up to the surface and infect the leafy vegetables.
Hence one must stop eating leafy vegetables in the month of Shraavan.
According to Ayurveda, excess vata (air + space) causes one of the three constitutional imbalances in human bodies in Shraavan.
Hence intoxicants like alcohol and non-vegetarian food that causes imbalance of the mind should be avoided.
Shraavan is connected to the cycle of life: when human beings avoid eating fish, they get a reprieve, they are able to breed and multiply in the new waters that join the oceans during the rains.
Shraavan is connected to the entire universe through festivals: beginning with
Guru-poornima (homage to one’s teacher);
Raksha-bandhan (reaffirming one’s commitment to your sister);
Naagpanchami (homage to snakes, the metaphors of rebirth);
Naarli-poornima (homage to the angry seas);
Gopal kaala (homage to Lord Krishna) and finally,
Pola (homage to the uncomplaining bullocks that plough the fields that fill our granaries).
Of course, if you are clever enough, as you read this and if you are in Maharashtra, India, you might be nursing a hangover in a gutter: since the night before Shraavan month is Gataari Amaavasya, where you drink enough to land, pleasantly oblivious to the universe, in the gutters.
If you haven’t, I suggest you switch calendars.