Aditya Sinha: Ring in new hope with the new year
Good morning, 2018. It wasn't a great ending to 2017, what with the tragic deaths of the kids, etc, at 1 Above in Kamala Mills Compound late Thursday night.
A group of youngsters wishes passers-by a happy new year in Thane on Saturday. Pic/PTI
Good morning, 2018. It wasn't a great ending to 2017, what with the tragic deaths of the kids, etc, at 1 Above in Kamala Mills Compound late Thursday night. Hema Malini's senile babblings aside, it was like the Elphinstone stairwell stampede, a depressing reminder that going out in the big city is fraught with unpredictable danger. I spent a few days in Mumbai last week, in the Versova-Seven Bungalows area, and since my host doesn't cook, we even went out for our breakfast. In Mumbai, you can't avoid going out. You can't avoid the low-level corruption in licensing. You can't avoid cutting corners in any cramped quarter of this crowded city. Indeed, these are what give Mumbai its energy. Landing in the city after four-and-a-half years, the thing I most readily recognised from the back of my kaali-peeli cab was that its roads swelled and ebbed with breath.
Among the cities I visited this year are Guwahati (twice), Bangkok (twice), Varanasi, San Diego, New York, Shillong and Kathmandu. (Hence, I can't really complain about my 2017.) Also, I visited Delhi every so often from my leafy suburb in Gurgaon. The fact is, Mumbaikars, none of the cities I visit are anything like Mumbai. Not even New York City, which has priced dreaming out of its own market. Mumbai is dirty, it stinks, there is not a single centimetre of space left free — all ingredients of the occasional tragedy — but it is alive. Energy seems to course the roads, like blood in the body's veins and arteries.
Perhaps I was overly impressed because for three-and-a-half months I was sealed in my room, hermit-like, writing a book you may see on bookshelves in mid-2018 (another reason I feel optimistic about the coming year). When your activity is restricted to waking up in the morning and focusing on the pages in front of you (only occasionally taking a break to write the weekly mid-day column), you tend to become immune to the rhythms of the world outside — not the rhythms of nature, to which you are more attuned, but the rhythms of people and cars and roads and the not-too-distant big city. The writing life is a joy for me, though; and though Bollywood might beckon in a minor way, I have several projects to complete in 2018, including a memoir of my teenaged years in New York City with a high school friend who died of cancer in April. I prefer the solitude of the writing life to the thrill of managing a newsroom (though you never know where the new year will take you). If someone had given me, a year ago, the list of cities I visited in 2017, I would have sent them for a medical check-up.
So I feel optimistic about 2018. I'm confident that after nearly four years of a bunch of bullies spoiling our national public life, the Opposition (though it admittedly does not comprise saints) will begin to get its act together after Holi (on March 2), and will rack up a few impressive wins during the course of 2018. Our political life will be marked by a year of semi-finals, as thrilling as the recent battle in Gujarat. GST will likely smoothen out and demonetisation will eventually become a vaguely annoying dream (the poor will also forget their Schadenfreude), so 2018 will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I feel optimistic at a personal level as well. Perhaps I will shift to Mumbai. Perhaps I will move abroad. Perhaps my book will be best-selling, and perhaps I'll get a film script to work on. The only downside that a lot of other people must also fear is the lurking inevitability of endings. My parents are elderly: My mother never recovered from her stroke and my father's Alzheimer's isn't getting better. I am at peace with them, since we make a WhatsApp video call every other day. But the inevitable is inevitable; and I will be sad whenever it happens. For me, 2017 is forever marked by the deaths of my darling doggie Cuddles, and my adolescence pal Richard.
Those were endings that had been in the making for a while. More scary are the sudden, unpredictable endings, as happened at 1 Above last week, or at Elphinstone railway station in September. Fortunately, we're not wired for anxiety about things we can't see in the fog of time. Mumbai comprises many ticking time bombs, but the ticking is what makes us aware of its life. This megapolis personifies the duality of life and death. It may hurt less to remember that along with the awfulness, many wonderful things will happen this year. Thus I say: "Ring out the false, ring in the true". And have a happy 2018.
Chinese New Year celebrations in Mumbai