Learning history 3: Birthday, new year and so on

All my official documents indicate that I was born on 11 May 1961, the day that has been declared National Technology Day in 1999 after the ‘Buddha smiled’. India became a nuclear nation and eventually, every nation on the earth had to remove sanctions and start dealing with India (http://www.sac.gov.in/SACSITE/vsse-vyom_files/Page394.htm). Every one knows NPT, non-proliferation treaty, was biased in favor of those who have. When you don’t have, you cannot point it out as it would be considered ‘sour grapes’. I am glad the USA is talking to Iran, despite the opposition from Israel.

I am digressing. I was home-delivered and there is no record of my birth. I am not unusual and it was quite common for people with my back ground. If you ask elders in the family: When was I born? The usual answer would be that year there was flood in Vaigai or there was an earth quake in Gujarat or some such pointer. Who needs more accurate information? You can find many without a birth certificate and our ex PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh was one.

Every society finds some way to keep records, for various lengths of time. If we did not have birth certificate, we would have a ‘horoscope’. And, some radicals come and mess up the system. Periyaar did this in Tamil Nadu. My father was a big follower when he was young and I was born. So no horoscopes were written for any of us. No birth certificate and no horoscope. My existence has been physically verified by many.

Those days, children were sent to school and one test for admission is that the student should be able to touch his/her left ear with the right hand taking it over the head. If you can do this, you are old enough to be admitted. So I was admitted. The school needs a birth date to be put on record. At times, the naive parent/uncle may ask, what date should I tell so that you would admit, we can’t keep him/her at home any more! Most of us have birthdays in May/June. It may be an interesting exercise to find out the distribution of birth dates for people of my age and older in India.

Usually, most don’t loose time because they don’t know their date of birth. One had to be 5 when entering class I. I must have been six and I did not go to kinder garden. (I used to tell my kids when they completed LKG/UKG, you have studied more than I did). I was born on 11 May 1961 and completed my pre-university in 1979 when I was 18. It sounds right today but I had many in my class who were born in 1962.

As my father grew, his views changed and he became very religious and was careful about time. I have heard him saying “நாள் செய்றத நல்லவங்களும் செய்ய முடியாது” What time can do to you, even the good people can’t do for you. The time of your birth, the day and time you get married, get admitted in school, everything will decide your future. It is astrology and action at a distance. Anytime, some physics experiments are reported proving Bell’s inequality, those who believe in astrology would say: I knew it. I am not an expert in astrology, nor do I understand Bell’s inequality clearly. It is related to action at a distance and teleportation and all those sci-fi fancies.  However, I was astonished by the silence among the Indian scientists and academicians when astrology was introduced in curriculum by a previous government.

I am digressing again. My father was pleasantly surprised to find out that his father-in-law, my maternal grand father, had indeed written horoscopes for all of us. He brought the horoscopes for the six of us (four brothers and two sisters) home one day in 1977, if my memory serves me right. I found out that I was born on 7th June 1962. I am not sure if my favorite number became 7 after this or it had been 7 even before this. When I could get a t-shirt with a number printed on the back of it, I asked for 7, even though some one else already had 7 (This was in our research group at Kansas State University). I was pleased to see my favorite player Dhoni wearing 7. I chose 7th November to start my career in IIT Kanpur, which happens to be C. V. Raman’s birthday.

When was I born? I had no clue I would be in Government service in India which would make me retire at a specific age. My real birth day is 13 months later than what was there in my SSLC (Secondary school leaving certificate) book. I assume my horoscope is correct as my grand father had no reason to write a wrong horoscope for me. Both my father and I were worried about my service ending more than a year before it should, some time in a distant future.

We took my horoscope to the Principal of TVS High School and requested him that my date of birth should be changed. We pointed out that my certificate date is less than 10 months after my elder brother’s actual date of birth (We hid the information that he also had a different date of birth and so in either case we would have had enough time in between). The principle showed us a statement signed by my father: All the above information is correct to the best of my knowledge. He also told us about another parent coming with their wedding invitation. The child was born before marriage. It was not possible in the conservative Madurai. The principal refused to change for them and for me.

Many of my facebook friends wish me happy birthday on May 11 and all I can say is: Thank you for your thoughtful wishes. Of course, celebrating birthday was not part of our way of life.  The first time I cut a cake was in Urbana-Champaign when a friend visited us on June 7th with a cake, may be in 1993. In the last few years, my students get me a cake every year on June 7th. My family has been getting me some cake/present… I am thankful to all of them.

Luckily for me, I had a horoscope! When my parents were looking for a girl, they eventually found my wife’s family which also did not believe in horoscopes. In any case, they were more organized. Her grand father had a diary and had written down the date and time of birth. That’s all one needs to get a horoscope from a computer now. I have to be thankful to the stars that our horoscopes matched. When our first child was born in Urbana-Champaign, I was wondering if we should include the time (day light or standard), latitude, longitude and altitude to construct the horoscope. We did manage to get one, just in case!

Today is Tamil New Year’s day. I found facebook postings about whether it should be January 14th (beginning of the month Thai as chosen by the previous Government). Bharathidasan, a great poet and Dravidian idealogue had opined that January 14th is Tamil New Year. There is a proverb in Tamil ‘தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்’. When the month Thai begins, things will get cleared. January 14th is Pongal festival, a farmer’s festival and it is the time for harvest. Today I found one facebook user claiming January 14th is new year for the ‘Dravidian Telugus’ and not for pure Tamils! Wow! How do they come up with such a thought! Telugu New Year is Ugadi which comes towards end of March.

So, here I am. Not certain about my birthday or about new year for my people! However, I can confidently say this year is Thiruvalluvar year 2046 as he was born 31 years before Jesus Christ and so the westerners have a calendar with a smaller year 2015. I can prove it as I found it in the web ( https://venkadesh1987.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/tamil-new-year/ ) Our year is bigger than yours! Three cheers to my Tamil brothers and a very happy new year to all!

Some trivia before ending:

1) Here is a song I loved from Kandiraja drama in the movie Pudhayal. Kandi is a place in Sri Lanka which was part of the 56 kingdoms of India. If you know Tamil, you can listen to this song and find out how peace loving our kingdoms were: http://www.saregama.com/song/kandiraja-therukoothu-part-2_81797 The part 1 has the names of the 56 kingdoms/nations. Indeed difficult to memorize. Part 1 may be accessed by searching Kandiraja in this site)

2) Here is a map of the 56 kingdoms in ancient India. There are plenty of references. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/EpicIndiaCities.jpg (Note added on 6th April 2017. I could not access this wikipedia page but find another blog listing the 56 kingdoms of ancient India: http://theindian-eye.blogspot.in/2012/01/56-kingdoms-of-ancient-india.html I hope it remains available)

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