Well, it's been a couple of days since we've rung in 2012 and now that we have emerged intact from all the yearend celebrations, I'm looking forward to some peace and quiet and to the promise of another crisp, fresh set of 365 days.
Isn't there something simply lovely about new beginnings?
I know there are many out there who would reply, "bah, no!" Like a dear friend of mine who says she doesn't understand why people are always "happy" around the end/beginning of the Gregorian calendar year when nothing really changes from one day to the next.
Perhaps what she's protesting is using clocks and calendars to separate, measure, and organize our lives even though life, like time, is really one continuous, connected flow. It's true that we no longer live by the rhythms of
natural cycles - starting our days at the break of birdsong and winding down when the cows come home, or changing our work patterns with the turn of seasons - but well, that's modern urban life for you. And, though I wish we could live our lives at a slower and more thoughtful pace, I'm all for making the best with what we have. And if that means celebrating by the clock and by days marked on a manmade calendar, so be it.
Frankly, I find something deeply melancholy and moving about the nearly universal ritual of acknowledging and celebrating the passage of time, and with it our lives, every 12 months. (Though I have to admit that at as I grow older, all the boisterous partying and dancing the night away on New Year's Eve seems really a cover up for the fuzzy fear the consciousness of time passing produces in us - a desperate attempt to grab at each moment as it inexorably slips through our fingers.)
The idea of a new year to work with allows us to hope for a fresh start. It gives us the space to pause and reflect on what's been and look ahead at what can be.
I've been in Kolkata for the past month, visiting my parents on a part-work, part-vacation trip. The 31 days of December just went by in a whirl of obligatory visits to ageing relatives, medical issues I won't bore you with,
and a rather depressing reporting trip to Jharkhand. In other words, I've been so caught up in trying to catch up with everything and everyone, that I haven't had the time for any yearend reflecting. But my friend's comment that nothing really changes from one day to the next finally got me to stop, take a breath and look back at the year that's been.
Because if anything, 2011 had been filled with chaotic events across the world that have shown us how drastically things can change from day to day.
Starting with the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand that cost 181 lives, followed soon by the March 11 quake and tsunami in Japan, the nation's worst natural disaster ever that killed over 15,000 people and set off a nuclear meltdown, the July 22 massacre of 77 people, mostly unarmed adolescents, in Norway by an anti-Islamic lunatic, and ending, over here in Kolkata, with the tragic and unnecessary death of 93 people, mostly immobile patients, in a fire at AMRI Hospital on December 9 - each of these tragedies wiped out and irrevocably changed lives of hundreds of thousands across the world in a few moments and reminded us how fragile our lives really are.
But then, so much more happened last year that also showed us the resilience of human spirit and the strength of a people united. Needless to say, the Arab Spring has by far been the most important event of not just 2011, but of the decade that has passed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. While some changes occur in the flash of a moment, others, as we can see, require long-term, sustained effort.
The months of protests that swept across the Middle East, unseating dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and shaking the thrones of despots in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, inspired further uprisings against social and economic injustice across the world, including Greece, Russia and all the way over in the US where the Occupy Wall Street movement is challenging established notions of what a democracy should look like. In India, Anna Hazare initiated his anti-graft satyagraha that drew millions of supporters across the country. However, the Lok Pal Bill is still mired in controversy.
Small surprise that Time magazine anointed "The Protestor" as the person of the year 2011. I'm hoping this spirit of informed dissent that has been spreading across the world will continue to burn bright through 2012 too.
The list of powerful heads (of state and otherwise) that rolled, literally and figuratively, in 2011 is impressive. Osama bin Laden assassinated in an early morning attack in a Pakistani suburb, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak forced to step down after clinging on to power for three decades, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi pressured into ending his 17-year tumultuous reign, and Libya's Mad Dog Gaddafi pulled out of a drain and shot by rebel forces. And just before the year ended, death claimed another dictator, North Korea's Kim Jong-il. Sadly, with all this talk of his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un taking over, there is little hope that Jong-il's passing will improve the lot of the North Koreans.
No question, we've just bid adieu to one of the most eventful years in recent history that will inform the course of world events in years to come (I'm saying "years to come" because I don't put any weight on all those 2012
On a more personal note, 2011 has been a year where I have struggled with, and begun to come to terms with the fact that despite my deep roots in India, I am an expat and will probably be one for many, many years to come. My husband and I have just bought a lovely old house in Berkeley and I suppose that means I'm finally sprouting new roots in a foreign land and that will inform the course of my own life in years to come.
This is my last day in Kolkata. My bags are packed and my flight leaves in a few hours. My parents are hovering anxiously around, trying to get out of my way and let me write in peace, while I'm trying my darnest not to focus on how I'm not going to see them again through all of 2012.
Isn't there something simply lovely about new beginnings? I'd asked earlier in this column. Obviously, I believe there is. But there's also always something sad. Because new beginnings so often require us to leave people and places behind.
Obama doctrine: Sometimes, 'Leading from Behind' Works
Can the Indian media show a little respect for the dead?
An Indian-American couple's yearlong flightless adventures
Have a boy! How US clinics are courting Indians
Justice? Not for those I saw plunge to their deaths
Maureen Nandini Mitra is managing editor of Earth Island Journal, an award-winning US environmental quarterly based in Berkeley, California. In addition to her work at the Journal, she writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India.