Social distancing & Khatti

By Charudutta Panigrahi

What are you saying? What social distance? ଆଜି ଖଟି ଯାଇ ହବନି ? କିଏ ମନା କରିଦେବ? ଆମକୁ ଅଟକେଇ ଦେବ? ଥାଉ ମ.

But when social media was fermenting in-person social distance, Corona accentuated it. For along time to come, there would be an inherent fear driving social bonding. That would be a terrifying impact of corona. Morbidity due to proximity is going to send communities around the world a different signal. Be careful of meeting people. I think that’s a much bigger malaise.

We are fast turning to zombies. No naturality, but all externally commanded. The social quarantining could spur reclusiveness among youngsters. More youngsters because that’s where the action has been and that’s where the action is going to end. A whole generation would withdraw into individual, little shells. Would that mean that there would less of intellectual sharing, probably not. But what is certain is that there would be even smaller cubicles of interactions – whether in office or home or social.

You would have noticed that in the last few decades, broad based, macro thinking has given more to fact based, micro thinking. That’s because we value everything in life in terms of investment. So if we are perennially driven by investments, we would always look for evidence for everything. And evidence would drive us to facts and figures. But the entire space of free thinking is gradually shrinking.

I have seen a lot of khati in places I had not expected – Greece, Spain, Estonia. Small group of men (mostly men) milling around a street corner and spending time aimlessly or leisurely, without any haste. Remarkable is the way people find out time and newness every time they meet the same set of people and in similar social and physical settings, day in and day out. This is an ode to the human spirit, which is always craving for intimacy despite close proximity. Maybe that intimacy can’t be saturated? Or it cannot overwhelm.

I think the closest to Khati in English language would be a commune. If Lagom in Sweden signifies balanced living or knowing limitations in our everyday life “Not too little. Not too much. Just right.”, then Hygge in Denmark philosophy denotes ‘coziness of the soul’, and Fika, the significance of taking regular breaks during work. But Khatti is a blend of all of the philosophies with it being more of a social construct, rather than an individual one. Khatti is more comprehensive as a philosophy and practice, much more than any. But as always, we don’t value what we have and pine for what is not.

So, in Khatti you have action and inaction. You have ‘social’ and ‘individual’ and you have no stress at all. It is a resort, round the corner in Odisha. It is our export to the world under severe stress, always. Khati is about no stress, never.

So, when the FM radio screams ‘hum corona ko harayengay’, we should say , zaroor harayengay, kyunki hamarey paas Khatti hai”.

Sociologists have discovered two distinct patterns in communes. Richard Sosis and Eric Bressler had studied 19th-Century communes in the U.S. The first feature was that more demanding communes lasted longer. Bigger sacrifices fostered greater emotional commitment to the group. In Cuttack, Berhampur, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur and in many other places in Odisha I know of persons who have during their working life and also in retirement run to Khati like a mongoose to morphin or maybe even more strongly. There is an unparallel commitment to Khati time. No other social cause or event can wean serious khati participants away. About 15% of the time there is silence in Khati till one of the members is picked up for “riling”. This ‘riling’ is fun and the binding factor. No value judgements, no holds barred, the riling or the teasing takes turns. About 80% time is spent on animated, excited opinions on politics, mostly current politics. If the khati has younger population then the discussions could get into the ‘romance’ space with even prescriptions thrown in generous doses for many ‘romance related complexities’. Many get handholding support in Khatis. Communes are supposed to build communities. Khatis build clusters of cohesive groups, not necessarily always homogeneous, ready to stand by the group members. Funds support, networking for business development, marriage liaisons, health care issues get sorted out in a khati and through a khati. Cuttack khatis are traditionally so strong that they are known to run almost parallel to households. So strong is the call of khati that members forget chores to come and join Khatis during evenings. Families complain of neglect owing to Khati exhilaration. Such is the magnetism of Khati. Khati is liberating. It allows one to dream and share the dream. There is no official space provided to hold khati sessions but the parliament of khati sitting under a tree or a makeshift arrangement which eventually never shifts anywhere is the charm of a khati. It is not a club. It is an informal assembly with highest attachment and loyalty of members. There is nothing official about a khati. But the free, non caveat, human touch is the glue.

But corona would minimise our world, make us indoors and even more self-centred. Introspection, rest, rejuvenating are all officially correct words, but the reality is more TV watching, more time bent on tablets, more wasteful time on absurd social media, more binge eating, more consumption of ready-to-eat packaged food, spike in food and obesity related morbidities and demise of social life.

It seems we are completing a cycle – from solo wanderers in the forest to associations to solo existence amidst machines. From one jungle to the other but alone.

But you are asking me not to go to Khatti, not to call my Khatti friends and if we meet at all, then sanitise the Khatti. This is a tall order and a reductionist one.

I can’t shrink. Let me go to Khatti and be with myself.

Corona, please save my Khatti. It is Odisha’s faith.

We are always one in our Khatti.

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