Where do we go from here?

Updated: 04 January, 2020 08:08 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

A look at the year that was offers a few clues on what we can expect from 2020.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who celebrated her 17th birthday on January 3, at the weekly ‘Fridays For Future’ climate strike outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm on Friday. Pic/AFP
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who celebrated her 17th birthday on January 3, at the weekly ‘Fridays For Future’ climate strike outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm on Friday. Pic/AFP

Lindsay PereiraJair Bolsonaro began his four-year term as President of Brazil in January 2019. When I look back at the year that gave way to 2020, that seemingly innocuous fact now begins to appear like a portent. Things that would have been laughed at a few years ago were welcomed, making for 12 strange months of anger and disquiet.

Margaret Atwood, doing what she has done effortlessly for decades, put it all into perspective for the rest of us. In September, while launching the biggest book of the year (her sequel to The Handmaid's Tale), she informed a journalist that she didn't make her stuff up; the human race did.

All kinds of things happened the world over, with repercussions and ripples that affected us equally. In January, for instance, same-sex marriage became legal in Austria, a few months after our own Supreme Court struck down the colonial-era Section 377 that outlawed same-sex relations. That milestone in Europe served as a reminder of howlong the road in India will be, for same-sex marriage to obtain legal protection.

February was a month of jingoism. The Indian Air Force launched airstrikes on purported militant camps in Balakot, and contradictory media reports from India and Pakistan soon followed. Over half a century after the Partition, it sometimes feels as if we may never be able to move on.

There were attacks of another kind in March when Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into US President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign was published, concluding that there was no collusion with Russia, but refusing to exonerate him either. There were memes and hot takes, but underlying them all was a feeling of uncertainty that has yet to fade away. That these memes featuring American politicians could easily be swapped with our own leaders was telling.

WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was arrested in April after seven years in Ecuador's embassy in London, while the circus we refer to as the general election began in India. Tying those two events together were questions about data: who owned it, was it being used and misused, and had social media platforms managed to destroy democracy? The answers may take decades to arrive, but this was a year that initiated questions, for which we ought to be grateful.

On May 6, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published a report about the unprecedented decline of the natural living world. Not long after, millions of young people stepped out in major cities to insist upon dramatic climate action. Governments may try and ignore climate change, but a generation aware of its impact may prevent them from sweeping it under another carpet.

Young people took to the streets in June too, in Hong Kong, turning protests against an anti-extradition bill into a larger struggle for freedom. They chose to reject what millions of us have accepted without question and may teach us a lot more before they put down their placards.

July was named the hottest month on record globally by the American scientific agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. India got hot under the collar too, in August and September, first revoking Jammu and Kashmir's special status, then watching Chandrayaan-2 crash into the surface of the moon. Both events revealed the deeply polarized land we now live in, where bigotry and violence are no longer shunned, and where insecurities rather than intelligence drive policy decisions.

This isn't to say it was a year of misery alone. We were saved by art and culture, by writers and filmmakers, artists and musicians who used shared crises to create works of magic. We were gifted films like Transit and Us, novels like The Testaments and The Nickel Boys, and albums like Father of The Bride and When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? We were witness to the rise of social movements like the Women's March and #MeToo, initiating conversations and advocating real change, setting the stage for further movements that promise to do what decades of dialogue have failed to pull off.

It is impossible to predict where the world seems to be heading. There are no clues, so we must turn to our prophets, and I choose Atwood again. When asked to sum up our times in one word, she picked 'vital', referring to the 'hinge moment' we seem to occupy, and alluding to the caskets in The Merchant of Venice that offer three possible outcomes. What will we choose? If she had the answer, she didn't say.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 04 January, 2020 05:52 IST

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