By Shoaib Hashmi
The full name of the current
month is 'Asvaj' but being lazy we shorten it to
'Assu', which fits better into the little doggerel,
"Assu maanh siyalay, dinnay dhuppan raatee
palay". And roughly translated it means, "Assu
is the mother of winter, with hot sunny days and
cold winter nights"! Which is a bit of native
wisdom that will save you from the usual change-of-season
sniffles and whimpering.
Or perhaps you are one of those 'modern' types who
haven't a clue to what I am going on about, in which
case I must tell you that the reference is to the
'Bikrami Calendar' which was well known a few decades
ago, along with the Western calendar and the Muslim
Hijri Calendar, which went out of normal use as
the British moved in, and was retained only marginally
to keep track of our religious occasions and festivals.
The first is a solar calendar which means the year
measures the time it takes the earth to circle the
sun, but the earth is uncooperative and does not
accomplish it in a round number of days. That meant
that after it was established at 365 days it actually
slid backwards and by the Middle Ages it was eleven
days behind. Pope Gregory remedied this by decreeing
that the third of September that year would be the
fourteenth. There were riots all over Europe. People
thought they had been robbed of eleven days. They
had a point!
Our own calendar is a lunar calendar which is about
ten days shorter than the solar, so our festivals
slide all across the seasons going the whole gamut
in thirty years. We have never rioted about it though
we come close every year when the people of the
north try to add another day to it by pretending
to see a new moon when even a blind man can tell
there isn't one!
What most forget, and some don't even know is that
the local people had their own calendar before the
other two, established by Raja Bikramjit and so
called the 'Bikrami' calendar. People in the countryside
still go by it. It is also a solar calendar, but
for some obscure reason having to do with the sidereal
year, it is about twenty seconds shorter than the
other solar year. Don't ask me where Raja Bikramjit
got the stop watch to time it, or how he managed
to start a new year's day twenty seconds early.
There are titterings now that in a thousand years
it will be all out of kilter, and I say let whoever
is Pope then sort it out.
The thing is that the people accepted it and they
tied it instead to the seasons and it became a part
of culture and a repository of wisdom. It was much
in use about fifty years ago, and you used to be
able to get a 'Jantaree' as easily as a calendar,
and it was a riot because the months had cute and
picturesque names, which were part of verbal culture
and the stuff of poetry and song. You must know
that 'Savan' and 'Bhadon' are the months of the
rains, though 'Katak' and 'Maghar' may be less familiar.
'Jeth' and 'Haar' are the months of the high summer
and the songs sing of the burning sun "Pal
pal suraj aag lagayay", though quite naturally
more of them sing of the cooling rains than the
heat. And 'Poh' and 'Magh', shortened to 'Po-mah'
are the months of the chilliest winter and folk
wisdom advises, "Aagya Poh, tey bachan gay
oh jeray saun gay do"! It is the month of Poh
and only those will survive who sleep two by two!
Now that is advice that people were eager to follow
even in the months of 'Jeth' and 'Haar', not to
mention 'Phagun'; and it explains why the calendar
was so popular for centuries.
Perhaps deep in the countryside children still sit
at their grandmother's knee and learn the names
of the Bikrami months because they are the only
ones she knows. But certainly in the towns and cities
it would be easy to count the number of people who
remember them -- after all who remembers any more
which day of the week 'Shukarvaar' is! That is the
way of all flesh.