New Year is nothing but another morning, but it is the opportunity to start anew that we really cherish. The Year-end, in contrast, is quite under-rated - the crowds on New Years Eve seem to want to let it go as soon as they can - but this allows the time to pause and reflect, a luxuriant activity unaffordable for most of the year. But, without this pause, there is no new start in the New Year, no opportunity to do anything new, no breaking free - since we won't discover what kept us back.
So, this is to 2012: The year that is on its way to history. At this point, this year is like any other: Fading rather than exiting, not with a bang but a whimper. But, may be, this will have a special place, as events in 2012 may change things in many places, which may have broader impact. When recounting the year, one may talk about less about celebrities who appeared and disappeared, or politicians who made it (Obama, Hollande, Xi Jinping, Mohd Morsi) and those who didn't (most spectacularly, Bo Xilai) or simply disappeared (Sarkozy, Romney): Rather, it would be more about children killed in Newtown, Cincinnati, which may change America forever, or an unnamed student gang-raped and tortured (eventually killed) in a bus in Delhi which brought out the pent-up anger among ordinary Indians which may finally change India's polity.
Apart from those moments of shame, when the society we built seemed to be falling apart, the year may be remembered as one of living dangerously: The Euro-zone stood on the brink for most of the year, and financial Armageddon was always in sight. As we end the year, America stands on the brink, with its politicians freezing into inaction and inviting upon themselves, and the world, another financial disaster. And, indeed, the world may change for worse in 2013: The Americans may not be able to extract themselves out of the mess in the next 48 hours, and even thereafter, because, in a connected world, the result of falling off a fiscal cliff may be to able to never recover again. Europeans are not out of the woods yet: In a strange replay of what ails America, European politicians like Angela Markel and David Cameron will continue to play to their domestic audiences and endanger the broader union, allowing demagogues like Silvio Berlusconi to return from the dead (just as, in another generation, admittedly in a different context, politicians playing to domestic priorities allowed Mussolini and Hitler to emerge).
Indeed, we are now quite used to economic bad news, having lived with it, 24-by-7, for almost five years now. But, the bright spots are also vanishing. The great hope in 2008, after the Western Economies came to a screeching halt, was that the emerging economies, and its millions of new consumers, will drive the growth engine. However, that hope has mostly been dashed: BRICs is broken, as the latest Foreign Affairs cover declared. And, indeed, the big news of 2012 was about China's growth slowing, and the incompetence of India's government, and its total incoherence of its politics, was forever in the front pages. Even the Brazilians, the bright spot in governance, earned their reversals, showing off the weakening grasp of the government on crime and even economic management. The biggest news coming from Russia was about Putin's re-election, his intransigence on issues such as Syria and the travails of a Pop group which offended the Church, and South Africa, the new-found 'S' in BRICS, made news with its various miner unrests, brutal police shooting and finally, electing one of its richest men, a key supporter of the police action, as Number 2 in the Cabinet, further alienating the society.
More bleakly, the march of freedom, if there was one, embodied in Arab Spring, morphed into tension and unreason in 2012. The Egyptians elected a government which seemed to have a hidden design. The Syrians continued to bombard their own citizens. Israelis, with their ability to manipulate American public opinion, further bombarded Gaza and killed their annual quota of innocent people and children, all with impunity and swagger that will embolden tyrants worldwide. Iranians, perhaps following the example, continued developing their nuclear capability, preparing for a war which will surely come one day. The breaking down of Pakistan seemed to have thawed, but only in comparison to the breakdown elsewhere. And, if Sri Lanka's boots of brutality against its own people needed to be filled this year, the new entrants, the Burmese, stepped in, flaring up another campaign of mass murder, which will, with time, become another Islamic cause to contend with.
This grim account above is not to deny that there were indeed bright spots, news of scientific progress, new breakthroughs in medicine, in understanding the nature of the universe, in space science. There were exciting new businesses that created products that solve old problems. And, most important of all, human creativity ebbed and flowed all along, and resulted in great literature, music, art and Cinema. We should not be oblivious to the irreversible ability of human beings to rejoice, to create and to make a difference. But, these bright spots, the progress, are fragile, and must be nurtured and protected. We entered into a new territory in 2012, when we got used to living with a recession, and seemed intent on turning this into a long term depression by political action (or inaction). At the same time, our societies came to a breaking point: Shameful human activities trumped progress, hypocritical politicians stood exposed, the world seemed dangerously intolerant and on the brink. The snake oil of continued prosperity lost, inevitably as it should, its magic: Suddenly, promises of middle class life seemed further than ever.
Signing off, then, the crowd may be right in wishing 2012 to go. However, they should also be fearful in what they invite in the form of 2013. We should indeed look forward to the New Year, as we have to. But, simply believing that human ingenuity will see us through crisis automatically may not be good enough. It may be time to do something about the world around us.
In summary, then, this is a New Year like no other: We shouldn't just simply cheer. This pause to reflect should become a call to action, for each of us. This year, let this be a new start one person at a time.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.