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Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

The slogan “Eat, drink, and be merry” is very appealing, but often, people here face the problem that while they do eat and drink, they do not truly experience the joy of “being merry.” Or if they do indulge, it feels more like swatting flies than having fun. They have to think and feel deeply to determine if they actually enjoyed themselves or rely on others’ affirmations to assure them that they had a good time. In other words, spontaneous and natural enjoyment often eludes them. But why is this the case?

There are many reasons for this. Indeed, the slogan “Eat, drink, and be merry!” is very attractive, and we are rapidly drawn to it. Sometimes, it even seems quite philosophical. However, this concept is still new to us. In fact, calling it a slogan is incorrect; it is a way of life that, like many other things, has come to us from the modern West. Our problem is that while we are greatly influenced by this concept, we are not yet familiar with it. The reason for this is that the concept of life we have categorizes the idea of “Eat, drink, and be merry!” at a very low level, so low that it reduces humans to the level of animals.

Indeed, we have strayed far from our lofty and profound conception of life, and sometimes it seems that we have no connection to this concept of life at all. However, on an ideological and conceptual level, we are still attached to this concept of life. As long as we remain attached to this concept, the idea of “Eat, drink, and be merry!” cannot become so ingrained in us that we can truly enjoy it. Life experiences and observations show that we stray far from our life concept, even to the point of completely forgetting it. But then, suddenly, for some reason, at some stage, we remember that we have strayed too far and need to return to our origins. Most of us fail to return to our life concept, but the memory and awareness of it continually disrupts the pleasure associated with the idea of “Eat, drink, and be merry!” This is one issue.

Another issue is that “Eat, drink, and be merry!” is merely a part of life, yet it gives the impression of encompassing the whole of life. In the Western world, most people have harmonized their life concepts and experiences, accepting their limited needs as a final and real concept. Consequently, they manage to convince themselves, to some extent, that eating, drinking, and being merry constitutes not only their entire life but also provides complete joy. However, our problem is that we cannot be fully satisfied with just a part of life, whether consciously or unconsciously. Our spiritual, psychological, and emotional demands continue to disturb us in various ways.

In this regard, our social and economic structure also poses a problem for us. Although the Western world also faces the issue of inequality of resources, the system of economic and social stratification we have is no longer an experience of the West. Despite becoming quite insensitive and hard-hearted, we do not live in an isolated island that is separated from the rest of the world. Whether we like it or not, the manifestations of poverty and deprivation keep appearing before us, reminding us that the philosophy of “Eat, drink, and be merry!” is not right. There are others around us living such lives that contradict the very notion of life. This experience, observation, and awareness certainly diminish the enjoyment derived from this philosophy.

In this context, Oswald Spengler raised many issues. He stated that one civilization cannot adopt the artistic expressions of another civilization. This is a complex idea, so let us use an example to explain it: it is established that poetry and humor of any language cannot be translated into another language. If they are, the essence and pleasure of poetry and humor will remain outside the translation. What will be transferred from one language to another will be merely the meaning, and even that will not be completely transferred. This is the issue of language limitations and differences between civilizations and cultures. Now, if we take the phrase “Eat, drink, and be merry!” literally, the question arises: can those of us accustomed to the flavors of zarda pulao, murgh musallam, and shami kebab truly find pleasure in burgers and pizzas? Many say that it is a matter of taste, and taste can be trained like horses and donkeys, and we can broaden our taste spectrum. This is true to some extent, but when we dine at a five-star hotel, the pleasure is more about going to the five-star hotel than the food itself. This is something few people acknowledge or realize. In such a case, if people do not have fun like swatting flies, what else would they do?

For the past hundred or so years, we have been trying to benefit from Western things. Western education, Western science, Western technology, Western democracy, Western economy, Western rationality, and now, the realm has extended to Western cuisine. However, just as Western education and Western democracy did not suit us, neither will the slogan “Eat, drink, and be merry!” nor the flavors of Western food suit us. Suitability does not mean that we will not use or consume them, but it means that we will not be able to derive genuine pleasure from them, in both literal and symbolic senses. Accepting Spengler’s argument, one can say that whether an individual or a nation, people deteriorate in their own way and improve in their own way, and it should be so. If a person becomes like someone else and deteriorates like someone else, there will be no true pleasure in either improving or deteriorating. As the saying goes, “The crow tried to walk like the swan and forgot its own way.” ( ’’کوّا چلا ہنس کی چال، اپنی بھی بھول گیا‘‘)

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