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Saturday, January 01, 2011

When the new year got old

On this new year's day, it's difficult to feel too hopeful about anything. Yet we begin each year summoning up (or simulating?) a fresh stock of hope and enthusiasm, somehow believing (for the moment at least) that the passage of time will change things, and change them in some dramatically positive way. In addition, we have collectively bought into the myth that it is necessary to celebrate this particular turning of time, one more routine passage of day into night, one more rotation of the earth around its axis. We suspend reason for a while, we throw ourselves into frenzied celebrations, and if we happen to find ourselves without plans (OMG as my daughters might say) we feel somehow cheated and deprived, quite out of the social loop.

So where do we find ourselves--as individuals, as members of family groups, as parts of an organization or other collective, as citizens of a country--this year? Even if we can count ourselves as happy, fulfilled and at peace with ourselves and with those immediately around us, most of us cannot deny moments of disquiet that hit us, quite hard at times, when we think of circles even slightly outside the immediate ones of self and family. In Hyderabad, we are on edge waiting to see what the fallout from the SriKrishna report will be; students wonder whether they will have a full and productive academic year, while the rest of us wonder whether there will be madness on the streets. The outrage against Binayak Sen's incarceration and the imposition of a life sentence grows among significant sections of the public but we do not know whether this will have any effect on the powers that be. Vegetable prices continue to soar, farmers continue to die, compromises and corrupt pacts continue to be made in the bureaucracy, judiciary and in parliament, traffic continues to be chaotic,....and the list continues, a depressing litany.

Oh yes, there's still a lot of beauty around us, there is much to be joyful about. But what I find difficult to understand is this swelling of hope at this time each year, as if the past and all its hurt and sorrow will be wiped out the moment the clock strikes twelve, and Cinderella-like, we will all move into a magic kingdom of happiness and prosperity. While hope is innate, isn't it also an underlying constant? Why do we give up on it as we advance into the year and pull it out of our hats at the end, dust it off and pretend it is new at this midnight hour?

I don't mean to be a Scrooge about New Year celebrations. I have nothing against those who want to set off fireworks and light up the sky with their hope, or those who prefer to drink themselves into oblivion and hope to wake up the next morning having forgotten past excesses and looking forward to new ones...nor do I have anything against those who couch their hope and pack away their hopelessness in quieter ways. Perhaps it is a necessary ritual, and one that would leave a vacuum if not observed.

But for the first time, this year I did not feel compelled to join in the celebrations, preferring instead to acknowledge the change in the last two digits of the dateline quietly, in my sleep, only woken up by the happy wishes of those who stayed up to witness the shifting of the second hand. And it was fine. 2010 quietly slipped into the next day, which happened to be the next year, and when I woke up it was just another morning....

The nice thing about it was that there were lots of phone calls and messages reminding me that I had friends and family around the world who cared enough to take a moment to call or write.

And maybe that's what New Year (and every holiday) is about. Just keeping in touch. With ourselves. With the world. And with those who matter to us.