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Rajpal's Column

3rd January 1999

Oh no, it's that millennium thing again…

By Rajpal Abeynayake
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What's the millennial fever all about? If its about a change in the date of the calendar, then it happens everyday, so why the inordinate fuss? Or is the sun going to shine brighter on January 1st 2000? Probably not.

The Gregorian calendar that we use is not related to planetary movements or seasonal changes. All the more chance that January 1st 2000 will be just another day under these circumstances. But, millennial bash champions will have none of that. The year 1999, which we just rang in with suitable fanfare, has the dubious distinction of being the year in waiting. Its considered only a penultimate year; a mere stepping stone to the year the millennium turns. Never mind that there is considerable debate on whether the millennium really begins on January 1st 2000 or on January 1st 2001.

The grumps say it begins on January 1st 2001, since there was no year 0 to begin with. Mother nature on the other hand does not care a whit. There will be no special solar flares on January 1st 2000 or 2001, no special celestial fireworks, at least none that the astronomers have predicted. Apparently, the Pacific Island of Kiribati will be the first nation in which year 2000 dawns due to its proximity to the international dateline which is of course man-made. Now , as every tyro knows the international dateline is jagged, which means that some pacific territories miss the chance of being the first country to herald year 2000 due to the crookedness of this imaginary piece of topography . These countries which fall on the "wrong'' side of the dateline will therefore become the last territories on earth on which year 2000 dawns. 

Apparently, this has got the leaders of these countries into a state of deep worry and they are now carrying on an international campaign to redraw that international dateline so it will be suitably straightened. So much for millennial anxieties. 

If the turn of the millennium is not dependent on any natural factor and if it's a result of a purely human made calendar, what stops the dawn of the millennium from being just another day for us earthlings? What stops on the other hand any January 1st from being any other day it might be asked? The answer lies not in the stars but in human minds. Human beings invented the calendar, so they are entitled to think that the millennium is a great new event even though nature scrupulously has nothing to do with it.

There is frenzied millennium hype in the West now, even though in most parts of the world, the Chinese for instance , will not feel anything special about this millennium thing as they strictly follow the Chinese calendar. But yet, in Sri Lanka things will be different. We are inheritors of the Gregorian tradition that has been bequeathed to us by the departing British who among other things fixed court vacations (just to take one example) to coincide with Christmas holidays, ( and with the April season in which lawyers usually migrated to Nuwara Eliya to escape the burning Colombo heat.) We still follow the same holidays and the same calendar and definitely there is no going behind the fact that the Gregorian calendar is for all intents and purposes the calendar that is followed by the international commercial world for the mundane purposes of international trade etc., But equally important, there is no getting away from the fact that this is essentially a Christian calendar . It doesn't necessarily herald new year for a lot of Chinese and for that matter many Sri Lankans. The Muslims will be fasting, not feasting next year when the millenium dawns.

But Sri Lankans are a different breed. Anything bequeathed from the West has premium value here and this includes whisky, the English language and of course the New Year according to the Christian scheme of things. Incidentally also Sri Lankans will do anything for a big bash . Though the year 2000 hype here in Sri Lanka is nowhere as near as it is drummed up in the West you could bet that Sri Lanka will be in the throes of millennial "anxieties" ( real or invented ) as this penultimate year wears on to a weary end. Already, national newspapers have begun their millennial countdowns. Unlike the Chinese or the Singaporeans we essentially kick up a big ruckus at midnight on December 31st and that's because we live by the Christian calendar even though we celebrate separate Sinhala, Hindu and Muslim new years as ethnic events. 

But even the Singaporeans or the Chinese will not be able to entirely ignore the turn of the millennium due to the cosmopolitaness of the global village. 

Certainly we Sri Lankan's will like to compartmentalize time according to the Christian/Gregorian calendar and therefore the man of the millennium ( Sri Lanka's ) will be chosen perhaps, as the hype builds up. Who would this be? We do not know, but unlike the Chinese we would like to think that he is lurking around the corner as 1999 starts on its way to its ultimate ignominious burnout. 

Hulftsdorp Hill

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