Because that’s how it’s always done

I’ve seen my share of dictionary definitions, but so far, I haven’t found a single resource that equates traditions with obsessive compulsiveness.

Let’s back up a little.

Today’s a special day where I live. It’s the first day of the Tamil new year, and this means people wake up at 4 am and make “pongal.” It’s a rice-based porridge made in two flavours: savoury and sweet.

Today’s better known as the rice farmer’s festival, because its purpose is to thank the sun god for their year-long kindness to the crops and to wish for the same goodness in the upcoming year.

Farmers and their families celebrate this day with abundant gusto, dedicating today, the first day of the new year, to the sun, and tomorrow, the second day, to the livestock that labour through the fields year round. They deep-clean and decorate their homes, and serve pongal to the gods and cattle as a sign of their appreciation. They then gather round as family, wishing each other a good year ahead, and gobble up pongal all day.

Now that’s a nice picture: Thanksgiving for farmers.

However, it evolved into a generic Tamil festival which led people to adopt the habit of porridge-making in their own homes. What happens when townsfolk and ultra-urban dwellers celebrate Pongal? Well, they wake up early and make both kinds of pongal, serve it to the gods that reside in the kennels they’d built in their houses, and then devour porridge all day.

You could say it’s not too different from what the farmers do—except the underline purpose and the divinity associated with thanking nature for a prosperous crop-yielding year has depreciated altogether.

And so now, every year on this day, we make a big deal of making pongal early in the morning. And if you’re in a village where everyone wakes up at 4 am every day, it’s rather a competition to see who serves porridge to the gods first. If the auspicious time begins at 10:30 am, they try and finish cooking well ahead so they can pray to the gods as soon the time’s right.

That’s just one aspect of the Pongal festival. Another is the custom of making pots-full of both flavours even if it’s too much for a family of three. Farmers live in extended families—they have children, nieces, nephews, and cows to feed.

In the city though, it’s just the parents and a child or two. Since everyone in the neighbourhood also prepares the same pongal, there’s often too much to give around to others.

Regardless of making this mistake every year, and feeling bloated, people repeat it again and again—just because making pongal on this day is a tradition you shouldn’t skip.

Now if that isn’t obsessive compulsiveness, I’m not sure what is.

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Attention

“C’mon. You’ve got great figure. Flaunt yourself!”

“Yeah,” chorused her cheerleaders. She’d agreed to meet Jason, the new boy in school, to help him catch up with the curriculum. Julie’s friends were helping her get ready.

“For heaven’s sake! It’s not a date.”

“Oh, but what if?” wondered Katie.

Waving them goodbye an hour later, Julie sighed. They’d forced her into a little black dress and black heels, with her hair in a bun.

“Good luck!” Ruth yelled walking away.

As they disappeared, Julie ran upstairs. She pulled on a ragged t-shirt and shabby jeans.

She’d rather flaunt her mind.

Natural guidance

Ever flows the lake

reflecting light for the one

seeking a mentor

Can I?

“I can” is an emotion.

It’s powerful.

It’s aspirational.

We may write down our goals, set up reminders, even team up with accountability partners, and still fail. The reason is that all those are material factors. What we need instead, is determination from within—the mind.

We humans possess an incredible tendency to believe in things. Take placebo, for instance. We believe it’s a cure and it becomes a cure. It doesn’t matter that it’s a regular sugar pills. For our placebo-ed self, it’s a miracle worker.

Most people who think they want to change their lifestyle, live healthy, or make a positive change at work fail because their belief isn’t strong enough. Whole-hearted belief isn’t as strong without whole-minded belief.

It’s not just about writing it down or telling people. We often think saying it out loud stimulates our ego and motivates us to persevere. I don’t think that works.

For me, not telling anyone works. Telling myself, my mind, what I want to become, how I want to live, and what I want to achieve in the process keeps me motivated. I reflect on my life and decide for myself. I make a change in an instant, and see it through. That determination comes only when the influence comes from within.

Instead, when we look up to other people for constant motivate, influence, and validate us, whatever riles up in us, will shrivel down as fast as it rises.

Inspiration is good. It’s necessary even. However, we can’t just run on inspiration from others. What makes them run is their own determination, and it’s from that determination that they inspire. Just inhaling what they exude gets us no where unless we have our own grit to hold us to our goals.

Who am I—

The first thing family and friends do when a child is born, is assess who the child resembles.

Ears like the grandmother, fingers like the mother, forehead like the father, and a frown like the uncle.

It’s quite common to expect children that immortalise not only the physical traits of their family but also spiritual qualities like cultural beliefs, philosophical convictions, and habitual preferences.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m my family—I’m everything my parents are. The way I walk, the way I raise my voice when annoyed, or the way I wipe my mouth on my sleeve (hey, don’t judge) all resemble someone influential in my family.

I imitated and then adopted the behavioural characteristics of those I grew up observing. It’s natural—we all take hints from our environment.

From a young age, we see family as our sole resource to facing and navigating the rest of the world. And so it’s unsurprising that we inherit physical traits, as well as mindsets and ideologies. They aren’t too defined when we’re born, but as we grow up, revelling in the same practices, they become more pronounced in our lives—like religion and political opinions.

We tend to follow certain beliefs because we’ve always followed those beliefs. We don’t stop to wonder why we asset what we assert.

Therein lies the biggest problem of our society. Since we never challenge the status quo, we become blind to its weaknesses, building up a society that lacks both sense and sensibility.

To combat this, however, we should embrace change. Often underrated, change is a powerful indicator of how we live our lives. It’s a harsh speed breaker that forces us to stop and think why we do what we do. It helps us realise what we so often let slip by. When we move to a different environment, or surround ourselves with a radical community, we’ll find that our mindset also shifts. We envelope new beliefs, fresh perspectives, and even transformational characteristics.

When we change our environment with utmost consciousness, it elicits our innermost being, and brings forth the person we want to be. We’ll get to choose—among the various traits that we’re both with—which ones to follow, to ignore, and to evolve. When we surround ourselves with the right people, we may have—with time—the power to reorganise our behaviour.

Different cultures bring out different characteristics in us, and with precise choice we can forge a desirable future for ourselves—regardless of our inheritance.