The festival of Diwali has been commemorated. The sweetmeats have been consumed and the diyas exhausted. The faux chariots of the gods have been rewarded and retired for another year. The businesses have extended their greetings to the public as they modified their sales pitch to the occasion. The politicians have rushed to remind one and sundry of the “meaning” and “significance” of the serendipitous message of the victory of the forces of “light” over those of “darkness”. Each party left no doubt as to who represented the “good guy”: the accusatory fingers were pointed firmly outwards. And the commercialisation of another cultural festival continues apace.
This is all rather unfortunate. Festivals such as Diwali that originated in pre-literate times were intended to transmit values in societies in a performative manner. As the individual performed the prescribed practices for the occasion, the concepts, ideas and values were apprehended directly, in addition to being comprehended by some. Comprehension, which is emphasised so much today, in our age of literacy, is not necessary for apprehension, which takes place at the deepest levels and guides our behaviour even beyond our conscious thoughts.
So two questions arise. Firstly, are the values of Diwali still relevant to our “modern” society? And secondly, if they are, how do we inculcate and transmit them in the face of the relentless creep of the market into all human relations. As to the first question, from the extensive debate and discussion in the press and other media, very few Guyanese would deny that the negative qualities inherent in mankind are ascendant in our country today.
Corruption in government, shady business practices and sexual depredations are only the surface of the dark clouds that dominate the public sphere. And as the high ones do, so will the folks lower down the chain all the way to the bottom. Hence the consensus that we are a very dissolute society through and through. We need values that can re-tether us to moral action that would re-vitalise our society in positive ways.
How then to give life to the values of Diwali? We can begin by deconstructing the concrete practices of Diwali. For days before the festival, there is an intensive cleaning of firstly, one’s house and then its environs. In analogous fashion, we have to look at ourselves and cleanse ourselves of all that is negative in our own character and practices. This obviously is going to be neither easy nor quick.
But what is important is that we begin this process of introspection as soon as possible and make a start at improving our behaviour. Can we honestly say, for instance, that we have not participated in the “corruption” we rail against so vehemently? Never offered a “top-up” to the cop that stopped us for speeding? We will have to “remove the mote from our own eyes”, as is said by another religion, before we move to step two: cleaning our surroundings.
How many of our own immediate family do not also engage in negative behaviour? Ultimately, what we do is intimately bound up with the activities of those around us – and the closer the relationship the greater the effect. It is not for naught that it is said, “Show me your company and I’ll show you who you are.” To assist our own self improvement is to assist those around us to improve. We must stop accepting immoral behaviour from our near and dear just because of our relationship: we do neither them nor ourselves any favour.
And as far as the need for a light to be lit in the public arena, in addition to the inevitable demonstrator effect of our individual, heightened moral behaviour percolating upwards by capillary action, there is, serendipitously, the device of elections to select leaders in the most powerful political realm. This coming election, let us not choose candidates because of race or ethnicity: let moral behaviour be the standard. Light a light for all Guyana.
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