When I drive to my work in the morning or return from my work in the evening, I tune into the public radio Washington, D.C. WAMU (88.5 FM). Recently, more specifically from the beginning of January everyday I hear the word “unprecedented”. I hear it so many times during my 45 minutes of commute each way that I thought of keeping this as the word of the month and writing about it.
Because last week (week of January 20) and this week (January 27), impeachment proceedings are going on, many unprecedented facts, actions and reactions are coming to the picture as they are being discussed. In this country we always strive for unprecedented activities so that we can create our own mark, make something new, make something newsworthy. Now this trend is spread all over the world. People do things that are completely out of context, outside of anybody’s imagination and unbelievable. Some are in good sense and some are in disruptive sense. Like Elon Musk, the types of technology he is imagining and making them come true are so unprecedented that one’s eyes become widely open. And look at other people, like Harvey Weinstein, whose mind works in very strange ways.
In cultural side, Indian immigrant community in DC area do so many unprecedented activities that one becomes stunned. We celebrate all the festivities during weekends. That is OK. Our festivities here are done to bring people together and expose the 2nd generation Indians to our customs and traditions. However, sometimes it becomes extreme when Odia Kumara Purnami is celebrated on a new moon day (Amabasya) or a puja is celebrated more than two weeks later than the auspicious day.
Last week we had a very unprecedented event of celebrating a friend’s 25th year surprise wedding anniversary after 7 months of the actual anniversary day. Even though it was planned to happen during a weekend of the same month, however, for many different reasons, the event was postponed. As Washington DC Odias are always busy with so much cultural exploration with their own community as well as Indian and International communities, bringing the desired people together sometimes becomes an issue. In any case, the celebration was a lot of fun for everybody, both for the couple, who were surprised, and for us, as we all looked beautiful with nice and colorful clothing, we ate nice food that was catered and we enjoyed bringing back the memories of our own wedding event which was more than 25 or 30 years back for some of us.
We repeated some of the real wedding traditions with the celebrated couple, like garland exchange, bandapana, searching through dahi-handi and kaudi-khela. We cheered when somebody won. Some people spoke about the memories with the celebrated couple. Everything was sentimental and yet fun.
Our weddings were so dull. Most of us had to cover the face and bend our head looking down. The bride and groom had to fast while other people would be feasting and enjoying. Specifically, for girls who had to go to the in-law’s house after the wedding and had to adjust with unknown people in a new place, it was like torture.
All of us remembered those things, some shared the stories of their bride and groom selection experience, some shared their dating experience and how the dating was finally approved and some shared how things are so much changed now. Now in Odisha weddings are mostly held in hotels or community halls, sometimes in very luxurious settings. A photographer is hired. Videographer is hired. Movies are made and kept on YouTube. The girls go to in-law’s house as if going for a vacation and they come back to meet parents after just a few days apart.
One of my friends said, “You know, how unprecedented things are happening now. We were so unlucky. We had nothing fun for us during our wedding and our weddings were so stupid.”
And I said, “Look, in our days, we were taught to sacrifice. These days everybody is taught to first take care of themselves, their happiness. Because once somebody is happy with himself /herself, then only he/she can distribute that happiness among others. We were taught to sacrifice and expected everybody to sacrifice too. The result was that we did not enjoy when we were supposed to enjoy. Still we have a second chance to enjoy our life, enjoy making our wedding anniversaries special, making our birthdays special, just creating special moments and enjoy. In any case, this human life of ours is just one chance even though our Hindu religion teaches us that we have seven births.’’
“That’s true” – My friend agreed. “Even though seven months were gone, even if it sounds unprecedented, still there is value in celebrating this event than not celebrating”, she said. I agreed.
I took more than 500 pictures. Another friend helped in capturing some of the best moments. All those pictures tell a story, the story of friendship. Some families drove from New Jersey to be a part of this unprecedented celebration. We look forward to more such celebrations. Let it be unprecedented, does not matter.
(Dr. Das lives in Dayton, Maryland, US)