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Four and Twenty Blackbirds: The Hidden Meaning of April 20th

Studying in the States has offered me many worthwhile experiences. I have learned a great deal both inside and outside the classroom, and have made numerous life-long friends.

There have been certain negative aspects of life here as a student, though. They are learning experiences too, but, at the same time, even after more than three years here, I find it difficult to digest some practices among some of my fellow-students. The commemoration of April 20th as a celebration of marijuana is one of those practices.

Yesterday was “4/20,” as Americans call it. In the U.S., the number of the month precedes the number of the day of the month when writing out dates, so the 20th of April this year is not 20.4.2011 as it would be in other parts of the world, but “4/20.”

The Americans have cute and creative ways of commemorating certain dates. For example, they designate the n-th Friday or Monday of a month as a public holiday, thereby guaranteeing a three-day weekend every year.

“3/14” (again, the 14th of March) is marked by students and mathematicians as “Pi Day,” which celebrating the geometrical constant π, as its decimal form begins “3.14…” I once heard an Australian, I believe it was, complain that “Pi Day” should really be the 22nd of July, as pi is often noted as “22/7” as a ratio.

Anyway, back to “4/20.” It is an unofficial celebration of cannabis in this country. I imagine this “holiday” is most widespread among youth, and so it is probably most prevalent on college campuses. The Huffington Post has a detailed explanation of how the number 420 came to be associated with marijuana – it essentially started with a group of high school kids and just spread.

To me, and to pretty much everyone else from the Indian sub-continent, the number has a different meaning. “420” was a light-hearted insult back in school: we would scribble it on each others’ clothes or classroom benches. It denoted cheating, as per the penal code of the country.

As for how I feel about the holiday of 4/20, I find the freedoms in the U.S. to be very encouraging and downright enviable. But the downside is that a lot of my fellow students don’t take things as seriously as they should, in my opinion, and having too much freedom only informs such an attitude. I feel like they sometimes cheat themselves out of the profound difference freedom can make in one’s life, with the right choices.

I can’t say that marijuana use is over-the-top where I am studying, but that culture certainly exists within a segment of the student body. So, in truth, “4/20” is more of an event for those particular people. They are a minority, and it’s definitely not like there is pressure to join in or anything unpleasant like that. All the same, I dislike how such conduct may reflect on the student body in general, or the institution.

It is true that marijuana is probably the least harmful form of narcotic, and there are movements to have it legalized or at least regulated, in the same manner as alcohol or cigarettes, or even coffee, some would say.

But legalization or not, the immoderate use of any substance bothers me. Drinking too much – whether it’s beer or coffee – is just not a good idea; neither for yourself, nor, in many cases, for those around you. In turn, lax approaches to marijuana can open the doors to not caring about other, much more harmful drugs.

This is my moralizing sermon for this week, then. I am very fond of my friends here. They are smart, we have brilliant discussions in class together. But when some of them – a minority, it is true – go ahead and do something just plain stupid or with the risk of turning into something dangerous, well, then I have to think twice about their judgments, even those that they make in the classroom.