December 2013: It’s time for New Year resolutions. Let’s make this a year of action.
Hey, Happy New Year. Symbolically, a new year ushers in a renewal, and it is in the belief that you can reinvent yourself and aspire to be the person you want to be at the start of every year that we all embark on our respective resolutions. Me too, though my 2014 resolutions are—and I’m ashamed to admit this—exactly the same as last year’s. When I shared my ambitious list on Facebook last year, I did it because I read somewhere that you are most likely to stick to your resolutions if you share them, and I had concluded with “And maybe, just maybe, when Facebook says 'See Your 2013 Year in Review' next January, I'll have achieved some, if not all, of these goals...”
Epic fail. This year too, I have to lose weight; stop nail biting; reduce smoking; learn cooking; finish the two massive writing projects I've started; be a strict pescetarian; learn to use my Mac, iPhone, Word and Excel optimally; do accounts regularly, and save, save, save; have more sex; and (maybe) learn InDesign.
Perhaps you too look at your resolutions’ list from last year and feel this sense of failure. But we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves—unless we’ve wiled this year away, we’ve been busy doing other things that have kept us from our resolutions. My year, for one, has flown by. I haven’t lost weight or been a strict pescetarian, but I started playing badminton. No progress on the nail biting or the smoking, but I have cooked about 40 times (up from last year’s zero). I haven’t finished my writing projects—instead, I’ve been writing almost two columns a week while also art directing to pay the bills. I have learnt my technology better than last year (though no InDesign). Our accounts and finances are in much better control, but far from ideal (of course). The sex—well, what’s enough sex, right?!
So here’s what I propose. Let this be The Year of Do. Let us each action our resolutions, especially the ones that have been deferred from one year to the next, to be happy and whoever we want to be. And then, let’s Do Some More.
The Time is Now
During history at school and college, we’d read about all these radical student revolutionaries—Bhagat Singh and his friends participated in the freedom struggle when they were in college, Che Guevara was radicalised while in med school, there are heaps of examples. Sitting in a girls’ college in New Delhi ensconced in middle-class ennui, disinterested in politics and governance, writing love letters in the backs of our books, knowing most of us were destined to be married soon, I remember a moment. I was in class, daydreaming out of the window as usual, when a feeling, best (but not entirely accurately) described as despair, washed over me. From where I was standing at that moment, in Independent India where women were in college and bombs weren’t exploding in the near vicinity, a lot of the real revolutionising seemed to have been done already. How could one have a large, game-changing life?
This is far from true. Everywhere around us, beyond our personal and interpersonal lives, is scope for change. In our buildings, in our neighbourhoods, in our cities, in our countries, in the world, there are enough wrongs and injustices that grate our sensibilities, if we let them. And I really think it’s time we should be stirred out of our apathy.
Pick something that matters to you, anything at all. No cause is too trivial—when I mention my interest in animal rights (among other things), I’ve been told on occasion that there is enough human suffering to address. To this I say: there are enough causes to go around, it’s important to pick the ones that matter to you. So it could be garbage or honking, starving children or education, community or governance.
All I’m recommending is that we take one more step, get just a little more involved than we currently are… like this diet I was once on that prescribed half an hour more exercise than you already did, whatever that was to begin with. So if you’ve thought about something, start talking about it.
A few weeks ago, I had said that social media has reduced us to being armchair activists with ADHD and goldfish memories. As much as there is latent criticism in that statement, I believe strongly in the power of words—I would, I’m a writer. Very often and for various reasons, we lament that, in this country, those we refer to as the ‘vote bank’ vastly outnumber us anglicised liberals seeking a new order. We have small numbers but big voices, and on the internet and social media, our opinions are heard, ideas are circulated, dialogues are ignited, networks are formed and, yes, we cause and participate in the ripple effect. Let’s break our culture of silence, and talk.
Those who’ve been talking, let actions speak louder than words. Recently, my friend Divya from Chennai shared the cat-kicking video-gone-viral on my wall. Jordyn shared it as an update; and soon we had a barrage of information from various animal rights activists in our friends’ circle—the psychopath is Pratik Hota, he lives in Versova. An FIR was filed; the media was stirred. Jordyn, along with Ankush and Zahra organised permissions for a peaceful march… and we did. A bunch of us carried signs and sloganeered, distributed pamphlets and shared ideas. Ditto with the protests after the recent Supreme Court’s verdict on the draconian 377—if I weren’t drowning in work, I’d have been there. Next time I will, and hope you will too.
For those so inclined and able, a long-term commitment, like teaching underprivileged children or fighting things to their conclusion, is beyond awesome. Philanthropy is a great way to go as well. Studies have shown that Indians are notoriously disinclined to give up our money for causes. We hold it close to our hearts, pile it away for generations to fatten on and exist in a flashy nouveau riche collective consciousness. It took a foreigner to point out the “obscenity” of Antilla to me. “How can they live in the world’s most expensive home in a country so impoverished, with beggars outside their windows?” he said. Each to his own, of course, but it’s time we reconsidered our priorities.
Maybe you’ve opted for the ‘None of the Above’ option for my The Year of Do to-do list. Fair enough, I can be preachy and overwhelming. But there is one thing I implore… insist on, if you will.
We let Jyoti Pandey lie naked in the middle of a busy locality in the Delhi cold with her entrails hanging out a year ago. We let a biker slashed in a road-rage scrap bleed to death on a Mumbai street a few weeks ago. We are a country with heaps of curiosity, and no concern. Ask anyone who rescues animals, or the girl who eventually helped the bleeding slashing victim—she screamed and begged for help, and had to smash a rickshaw’s windscreen to get the driver to stop. There will be a huge tamasha, crowds will come to watch. But no one will help. Many years ago, a friend was gang raped and left in a gutter in rural Noida, bleeding, unconscious, barely clothed and, of course, without any possessions. When she came to, she tried for hours to get a lift. No one stopped.
So if we do nothing more this year, let us at least decide to stop and help, to intervene. To bajao a ghanti, call the cops, take someone to a hospital. An opportunity to help doesn’t come along very often, and in the grander scheme of things: come on, you can be late for work, stain your car seats and deal with the bureaucracy just this once!
If you do nothing else revolutionary and for greater good this year, promise at least that you’ll stop the next time you see an incident.
And, on that note, have a great New Year! Spread the cheer.
An edited version of this column appeared in Governance Now in December 2013.