Many, many moons ago, when I was studying journalism, it was a diktat from the head of department to read several newspapers on a daily basis; on which would be impromptu quizzes that would count towards the final grades. After all, if I was to be a journalist, having to read newspapers was an almost foregone conclusion – one absolutely had to do it.
I was not happy at all. I affirmed that it was the imposition of having to read all the news, whether on subjects of interest or not that bothered me. Then one day, my grandmother saw me sulking away behind a pile of newspapers and asked me what was bothering me. I immediately replied that I did not like reading all the news. She pried and probed and asked why not? Irritated, I answered, “It is depressing – it’s all about crime, terrorism, death, war and unhappiness. Nothing good seems to be happening in the world.” She took a long pause and replied – “In the midst of all the terrible things, you should look for the angels and the silver linings. Look for them. They are always there. Even in the news”.
I nodded to end the conversation and get on with the torturous chore. But over time, I realised that the words kind of stuck and small pieces of news that would offset the large tragedies – either to prevent ones from repeating or to bring relief to the sufferings from those that had happened, kept popping up in my field of reference. The few inches of them, even in small print, would strike out to me like headlines in bold and italic.
Suddenly, the newspapers didn’t seem that depressing.
Neatly tied and categorised?
It is now the last month of the year, and every organisation, especially of the media will devote inches and hours to doing a recap of the year – trying to tie things up, trying to categorise them into files and systems of administration in a manner, that for a couple of months one will think that the new year is actually the beginning of a new life. Some will remind us of the major events that happened in a sort of a countdown presentation, while others will warn us of things that have passed and should be forgotten. Others will leave trails of how bad the year was and we are glad for it to be over and we should move forward with new vigour. It happened last year, and the year before, and will happen again next year. We will experience the same emotions with similar events, year on year with only names and other specifics changing.
So, instead of being subject to ludicrous compilations of a system that treats time in a linear manner as opposed to its true cyclical nature, let’s look for some of the silver linings and angels that shone through the year – not as an attempt to end a year, but to understand that events will happen – horrible and tragic ones – ones we cannot eliminate. However, instead of vilifying them, we can choose to find the angels and light, which without those large looming shadows of forlorn scenarios and bleak outcomes, would perhaps never have been discovered.
Today we are living in a country where a democratically elected government which won a globally resonating victory by a margin that has no parallel in our history – is facing unprecedented scrutiny amidst almost unreasonable expectations. Perhaps it is retribution to impossible promises made to a frustrated electorate. There are sycophants and naysayers in the fray. There are those convinced of a golden sparrow scenario and others who worry that the country is being auctioned away. Some believe that a tea vendor as the prime minister is the epitome of democracy, and others who have heralded the beginning of the end of democracy and free speech.
The silver linings
What is good in this polarised, divisive world, you ask? In all the history of an independent India, never has politics been discussed as passionately at tea stalls of the labourers and the dining halls of the new age nobles. Never have politics and politicians been asked to perform, expected to yield fruit, held accountable for their decisions and had to face responsibility for their actions simultaneously on the streets, in the Parliament, across media and in fact, within seconds on the social media. The country has in the last year swung from being one that cursorily went about its bare minimum requirements to qualify as the world’s largest democracy, to be one that discusses its needs, its outcomes and its ingredients with a forgotten passion.
Yes, it could be said that it is all haphazard and opportunistic, unidimensional in approach and lacking focus. It is even on the shoulders of a brute force and crude language. That will evolve with time. But 2015 will be the year when over a billion puppets of a complex system were for the first time in the modern nation’s young history, infused with the passion to understand and take part in the affairs of their land.
The International Yoga Day was another move that had everything from Hindutva to propitiation of superstition and religious agenda attached to it. In the hullabaloo that it was consumed in, most overlooked that it was declared so by the United Nations General Assembly and was a global celebration of a way of life and discipline that was invented in India and is still integral to Indian lifestyle, and nudges every practitioner towards a holistic approach towards life. Amidst all the ‘days’ that are celebrated every year – a conscious effort towards improving health and quality of living – is by far the most sensible declaration by the United Nations in a long, long time.
Our western border with Pakistan and relationship with the country has always been on tenterhooks and in the news almost daily. With Pakistan in the West, China in the North and East and a constant power battle between India and China with regard to Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the situation with our neighbours is not one that often gives reason to smile. In such a scenario, it was a pleasure to see that the confusion with a neighbour that is surrounded by India on all sides – Bangladesh – was considerably reduced by the swapping of 162 enclaves, giving citizenship to 51,000 people who have been living in limbo since Partition.
Continuing on the neighbourly front, the geographic and political borders of India never quite allowed for overland connectivity to the rest of the world – not with any degree of bureaucratic and political ease, at least. Putting such difficulty behind, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway (also known as the Asian Highway 1) has suddenly made driving to South East Asia a reality and a very encouraging step for citizens to rekindle ties with neighbouring countries that have shared history and culture for several thousands of years.
The rewards and trials of the blitzkrieg global handshakes that the current government seems to have as an integral policy, will be realised only in time. However, in that spirit, the overwhelming response to the Third India Africa Forum Summit held in the Indian capital where a continent congregated on Indian soil was indeed heartwarming, and in mere days a capital of trust and goodwill built that no business or diplomatic mission could have achieved.
Within India, countering various health and sanitation woes that have plagued the country, the findings of a study conducted by the UN agency for children, UNICEF and the Indian government, Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), have been heartening with some national trends indicating that the proportion of underweight children has fallen from 42.5% a decade ago, to just under 30% now. There have been similar improvements on stunting, wasting and other measures of malnutrition. The national immunisation rate has risen and the rate of open defecation is down from 55% of households to 45%.
Also, on the domestic front, the partition of Andhra Pradesh and the carving out of Telangana had some serious support and opposition. The situation was tense and there was uncertainty in the air. However, the laying of the foundation stone of the capital of Amaravathi – named after the historic site – at Uddandarayunipalem village of Guntur district, saw the peaceful attendance of chief ministers of both states in an atmosphere that looked to the future, instead of squabbling over the past.
Also, quietly in the midst of many muddles, the DRDO (Defense Research and Developmental Organisation) conducted the third successful testing of the Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile, further successful testing of the air-to-air Astra missiles and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the fifth in a series of seven planned satellites, as part of an autonomous regional satellite navigation system.
Concluding, as one must, with sports, it was the year of the Cricket World Cup and though India dropped out of the race at the semi-final stage, it was indeed heartening to see the fans of the then reigning world champions behave like it and instead of throwing brick-bats, applauding their young team’s spirit and perseverance. It is indeed a far cry from breaking their homes and protesting outside their houses.
Perhaps this spirit of sportsmanship will find its way into other arenas of life – both private and professional?
I never did become a journalist, but my grandma’s advice still echoes as I read newspapers, it allows me watch TV news and still smile. The angels and the silver linings convince me that there can be a future better than what we blinded by fear, are too afraid to create for ourselves.
This list may stand concluded. But it is not the end. As the numerals change, know that it is just for some bureaucratic respite. Things will be much the same come January 1, 2016. There is no reset button for life. So for what it’s worth, may this moment be the beginning of a new world-view where amidst the din of demonising forces, may you still hear the whispers of angels.