The lists are attacking - top ten, worst ten, medium ten, now and ten. A parade of highlights in which reality is childlike and shiny, neat as straitjackets are, disguising the upheaval inside. No guessing or wondering or ruminating over the messy story that has been most people's year, as we just about make the finishing line exhausted, ambivalent and relieved, although with the nicest feathers and chiffon roses we can find to match our glitter eye shadow.
Illustration/ Satish Acharya
It's as if Time Present will not be allowed to leave until it has been made over into a Golden Past completely collapsible into point form.Life, the Montage. If it's not a list, it's a pronouncement. Glowing and backlit at the battlefield of current affairs, people counting the iconic dead. With an almost personal sense of accomplishment, they are declaring daily that "an era has passed."
I frequently bite back the remark that surely its normal for an era to pass every 100 years or so. But, ok, even a curmudgeon and gloom-pot like might concede that an era might kind of have passed with so many defining figures of the 20th century passing on in 2011.
Immediately one could name- Shammi Kapoor, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bhimsen Joshi, Christopher Hitchens, Dev Anand, Cesaria Evora, Sultan Khan, Amy Winehouse, Kim Jong il, Vaclav Havel, Mani Kaul, Steve Jobs, Heavy D, Gil Scot-Heron, Osama Bin-laden, Liz Taylor, MF Hussain, Partap Sharma, Koteswara Rao, Sri Lal Shukla, Jagjit Singh, Ram Dayal Munda, Gautam Rajadhyaksha, Harishchandra Birajdar, Jag Mundhra, Jehangir Sabavala, Badal Sarcar, Sathya Sai Baba, Goga Kapoor, Anant Pai, Binodini, Muammar Gaddafi. There were many more such.
Through our engagement with these figures, we feel less lost and neglected in the big script of history. But the rosy obits seldom narrate these lives with all their mess and charge. They become resumes of romance and adventure (unless its unmitigated villainy) with little room for the overshadowed children, the shadowy wives, the wounded friends, the betrayed colleagues and comrades.
With little room, too, for a story that could teach us something about life, and how a grand existence has some parts grace and some parts rationalised selfishness or unkindness. I suppose it's easier to buy something if its 'market-friendly.'
That must be why the list of the year's dead doesn't include, for instance the number of custodial deaths, which crossed 14, 231 in 2011, counting from 2000 (when too apparently an era passed). If it's a list you want, UP tops this one, with Bihar and Maharashtra following.
45,000 children died of malnutrition. Farmer suicides, crossed the quarter million mark, starting in 1995. And 6,800 women's lives ended in dowry death, at least officially.
As of 2011, 13 Dalits are murdered every week. And when Manish Kumar, third year BTech, IIT Roorkee, killed himself on February 13, 2011, he became the 18th documented Dalit student to choose suicide as a response to caste persecution in an elite professional institution.
That's a different student suicide than others noticeable in these institutes since 2008, precipitated by the unbearable pressure of numerical achievement. These touched 26 in 2011.
Other deaths evade enumeration -- the death of the convivial relationship between Mumbai commuters and auto-rickshaw drivers, those small magazines and small movie projects and community arts endeavours which folded with a sigh this year.
Maybe an era hasn't passed? Or maybe it has. Let's wait for the epic movie that will confirm this rumour (I don't mean 2012). Life will continue like an endless TV serial meanwhile. May the new year bring stories that resemble it a bit more.
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.