Today is Ugadi, which ushers in the New Year, but only for Hindus in two of the thirty-two Indian states: Karnataka and Utter Pradesh. There are more than 30 different versions of the New Year in this country – I’m not sure that even Indians can keep track of them all. All week we’ve been trying to gauge the importance of the holiday through our filter of Christmas? Easter? Thanksgiving? Presidents Day? But like most of India, it falls outside any familiar reference point.
We got up this morning and the front of house was decorated with flower garlands and colorful chalk drawings. Our maid/cook/helper/nanny, Rathnama, brought me into her quarters to show me the sweet bread she was cooking for the celebration.
This was the first time I’d seen her living space. It was smaller than any of the other rooms in this obscene villa we’re renting here in Bangalore, including most of the bathrooms.
Normally when the guilt of good fortune kicks up I can quell it quite easily with a stiff dose of gallows humor, but there in that tiny room with Rathnama, her husband, her niece, nephew, and their baby all sitting on the floor preparing for the festivities, there wasn’t room for anything, least of all the bad jokes that would usually be darting though my head.
I smiled and kissed babies and tasted the treats, and wished them all a happy Ugadi; then, despondent, I climbed three floors to my air conditioned bedroom, slipped back into bed and spent the next two hours trying to sleep off my white guilt.
To be here as an American it is impossible not to feel the accident of your fortune. Technically, I have nothing, but I was lucky enough to be born in a place where my nothing is worth a lot more than their nothing. I’m guessing that in Ugadi, as in most significant celebrations, there is an element of reflection involved; and today I did little else.