Birth of HOPE

Be it natural calamities or man-made tragedies, human beings reveal tremendous reserves of resilience and strength. The buoyant spirit of renewal helps us bounce back even in the face of destruction. We pick up our enduring threads and dream on, writes Antara Dev Sen

A year on, many babies were born to Tsunami victims. The cycle of life goes on.
A year on, many babies were born to Tsunami victims. The cycle of life goes on.

WAIT. Don’t make those New Year’s promises just yet. The day is young, the year has barely begun. You’ll have enough time for virtuous vows later. Before you plunge into personal promises, let’s check out the likely international trends this year. Better to be prepared than be caught unawares mid-year and feel like a fool.

So what is the world likely to be pitching for this year? The war against evil, led by Uncle Sam? No, that must be pass`E9 by now. The fight for democracy, maybe – a democracy that flows from the barrel of the gun – again led from the front by the good old uncle? The fight against hunger and disease? The empowerment of women, minorities and other undervalued underdogs? The eradication of poverty? The pursuit of happiness? Actually, the last seems most reasonable, at least from our personal point of view. Especially since this year we have been given insights into happiness that no new-age guru could match. We have been told that happiness leads to success.

Yes, indeed. It’s not that successful people are likely to be happy – which no doubt may be the case for some (don’t complain, life is unfair) – but happy people are most likely to be successful. So, as the wise say, don’t worry, be happy. And you will get that increment, that new car, the house you have been too modest to aspire for, maybe even the love of your life. Honest, that’s what researchers have found out. The American Psychological Association has come up with this study, published in the current issue of Psychological Bulletin, that declares that chronically happy people are more likely to be successful in various fields of life than less happy people. So go ahead and smile. Smile chronically. It might just unnerve people around you enough to make way for you.

But it may not be easy to be chronically happy. Life is demanding. And happiness tends to be one of its more effervescent traits. So here we need the second piece of good news. Your weight helps. No, this isn’t about toiling away at a gym. Science says that fatties are happier than skinnies. So don’t be shy, go ahead, eat that chocolate bar. Apart from fattening you a little – and thus possibly making you a little happier – it also has something to do with endorphins, which make you happy, and helps the body fight disease as a result. See? Life’s not so bad. You need to update your data before you make this year’s resolutions.

Let us then seek the path of happiness. Inner happiness is especially good, as all sacred texts and flower power gurus tell us, but we aren’t choosy. Just desperate. After a year of jostling with the tsunami and earthquakes and bomb blasts, train accidents and floods and heat waves, cold waves and droughts, and spiralling market prices and money-grabbing politicians and corrupt officials. At this point, any kind of happiness—inner, outer or subcutaneous—would do.

So let’s take a good look at ourselves. That, we are assured, is the starting point of true happiness seekers. How are we doing? Okay? The head hurts, you say? The brain is on strike, the eyes blurred, the hands quiver, the feet not quite steady, the throat parched, the body reluctant to obey simple orders of the soul? Ah. A tad too much enjoyment maybe, ringing in the new year last night? Well, that’s not your fault. Blame it on the scientists. They should be ashamed of themselves – giving you a hangover like this.

For unbeknownst to you, they got together and extended the happy hours last night. They stretched time. At the stroke of the midnight hour, they stuck an extra second into atomic clocks worldwide. Apparently this is necessary to keep up with the changes in the earth’s rotation. They do it every few years, as the earth gets older and ravaged by nature and slows down a bit. You know the feeling. So the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service decided to add this ‘leap second’ and extend the night. And got you drunk. Not your fault at all.

Besides, all that enjoyment – the ear-splitting music, the desperate dancing, the goofy good cheer and frank sharing of confidences with perfect strangers – is for a good cause: the pursuit of happiness. It’s a frantic attempt to shake off the year that was, the year the earth slipped from under our feet, when the ocean reared and attacked with unmatched ferocity, the year of death and devastation, of natural and man-made disasters, of losing faith in fellow human beings, of shock at unnecessary mass murders and at the impotence of billions of people around the world as they watched in horror but could not stop an unjust war that raged in the name of justice.

And there were the less dramatic tragedies at home. Like the killing of baby girls in the womb, as evidenced by the further fall in the female to male ratio in India. This year we learnt that more than the poor and illiterate, it was the affluent and educated who continued this sick practice of murdering their unborn daughters. For the first time in India, the gender ratio fell to less than 800 females per 1000 males, when in the natural course there are likely to be more females than males. And four states – Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Gujarat – shared the shame of this horrific statistic. Sustained female foeticide has so skewed the gender ratio for a whole generation that the shortage of women is palpable, and reportedly young men from Punjab and Haryana now very often need to look elsewhere for brides. Unfortunately, the attempt to stop such criminal acts carried out with the help of ultrasonograms and greedy doctors, has frequently led to the arrest of the mothers who are forced to abort their babies, while other members of the family, the doctors and the ultrasound chaps walk free. Strange how even in attempting to stop a social evil, we end up further victimising the victim.

But life is cheap in India. The strife in the Northeast goes on, and innocents continue to die. Terrorism in Kashmir is unabated, and residents of all faiths pay with their lives as the West suddenly recognises that some terrorists are not freedom fighters. There have been several bomb blasts in other parts of India as well. The most prominent of these were the serial bombings in Delhi in October, which turned the Ramzan and Divali festivities into a nightmare.

And while we were killing each other, Mother Nature joined in the carnage. The October 8 earthquake in Pakistan and India killed more than 73,000. Reportedly, more than 2,000 were killed in Indian Kashmir, and about 7,00,000 rendered homeless. Now these survivors of the earthquake are dying of cold and hunger in one of the most freezing winters Kashmir has seen. But even this pales when compared to the macabre dance of death a year ago, when the tsunami swept away more than 2,00,000 lives in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives and displaced almost 28,00,000. About 12,500 people died in India alone. For those who survived – having lost their closest family and loved ones – life seemed to have come to a standstill.

One year later, it is different. The broken hearts may never heal, but the survivors have picked themselves up, stepped carefully over their shattered past and begun building a new life. New homes have come up, women nurture what is left of their household, children are back in school, the fishermen have bought new boats and are back in the sea earning their living the only way they know. And young mothers who have lost their children to the tidal waters are pregnant again, hoping to rebuild their lives. Several of these women had been sterilised before the disaster, and have now got the procedure reversed. Agnes Raj, 26, of Tamil Nadu who lost all her four children to the ocean’s fury, underwent the surgery early this year, and gave birth to a baby girl in late December. She has called her Prateeksha – after one of the daughters she lost. Like Agnes, scores of young parents are determined to start a new family, and nurture it with memories of the children they still grieve for.

About the same time that little Prateeksha was born in Kanyakumari, little Deepak was born in Delhi. His father Kuldeep Singh was a hero of the Delhi serial bomb blasts. The young bus driver, along with conductor Budh Prakash, had spotted a bomb in their bus, and had risked their lives to save the passengers and throw the bomb out. It blew up in mid-air, seriously injuring Kuldeep, who is still in hospital, as doctors fight to save his severely damaged eyes, ears and an arm. And Deepak, like Prateeksha, embodies their parents’ hopes and prayers for a better future.

The human spirit is wonderfully resilient. We can rise from ashes and shake off every violence inflicted on us to shape a tender, caring future. As long as we have fire in our belly and a dream in our heart, no devastation can stop us. As the celebrated poet Amrita Pritam, who passed away in October, wrote in defiance of the finality of death: "The threads of memory are woven of enduring atoms/ I will pick up these particles/ weave the threads/ and I will meet you yet again."

And every new year is a new beginning, where the threads of memory are woven together to create a fresh new world sparkling with hope, offering warmth and happiness. The possibilities are endless. All we have to do is pick up our own threads of enduring atoms and weave our own dream. Happy New Year.

— The writer is Editor of The Little Magazine