The New Year’s eve Grinch and 2014 in Review

Well today is the 31st of December 2014, and I shall be continuing my glorious ‘New year’s eve’ tradition of sitting at home curled up in a blanket. Perhaps I will read, or maybe I will watch MAD Men. Speaking of which, what is UP with Megan? But I digress… You will wonder why I behave like a ‘new year’s Grinch’. Is it because I believe, like some of our adorable Hindu Nationalists, that the new year celebrations represent the beginning of the slippery slope of western hedonism? Not really.

(On a side note having lived for four and a half months in the west, I have to ask: how do they manage to take time out for hedonism? All I do when I am not studying or going for lectures, is clean. The laundry, the dishes, the vacuuming, the toilets. If a culture has time for vapid amoral hedonism after all of that, I salute it.)

Am I a Grinch because I see young people party with a manic fervor, despite the fact that for them every other weekend is an excuse to party? Well not really. (Those who want to be ahead on the hip curve, please don’t pronounce the word a ‘par-tea’ the way  most people do, its ‘par-tay’. Unless you are referring to the parties in parliament. There is nothing hip about that).

John Oliver provides you this detailed guide on how to get out of New Year’s plans, and to the more enterprising ones among my readers, I suggest that you use some of his advice. Being Grinch for new year pays off. For me it represents a soothing constant. Irrespective of how great or crappy my year has been, my blanket and TV/ book experience remains the same. Irrespective of whether I am in Lonvala or London, there is nothing different about the quality of my evening. It can’t be anti-climatic, or redemptive. It just is. Imagine going to a crowded party and suddenly having a dark deja-vu, or feeling a Sisyphus like despair creeping up over you in the middle of chomping on finger food (or whatever abomination you are served in discotheques).  That never happens under the soft warm world of the blanket. Or maybe I just don’t like company. But dear reader, don’t mistake this for social awkwardness as many people do. I must clarify that if I run into you outside a restaurant and am stand-offish, it is not because I  am socially awkward. I probably just don’t like you.

At any rate, this article is really about 2014. I know a bunch of newspapers will be doing the same thing, but I wanted to write about some important things that happened in 2014. The list of course reflects my biases, and if you don’t like that go write your own list. But here goes:

1) The Ebola Outbreak: The Ebola outbreak of 2014 was incredibly significant, not just because it was a grave humanitarian crisis. It was also significant because it threw light on another graver humanitarian crisis: ignorance. Take for example Jon Green being diagnosed with Ebola, (by the internet) ten days after his visit to Ethiopia (which is ‘as far from the outbreak as England is from Afghanistan’). The Ebola outbreak showed up the worst of the ‘Africa is a country’ mentality. This was compounded by the fact that the existence of the Ebola virus was known since 1976, and yet the efforts to develop vaccines and international attention only came after, surprise, there was a danger of an outbreak outside of Africa. Maybe it is time we consider what happens to other neglected diseases, for which pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to conduct research. Or, we could continue panicking about whether Ebola would happen to us, despite never having been near west Africa or exchanging body fluids with a person who shows symptoms. The choice is yours.

2) The 2014 Indian Elections: An event that gave NAMO fan-boys/ NRIs great joy (sorry I couldn’t help making that dig), the elections were very significant for India. While a defeat for the incumbent Indian National Congress was expected, the magnitude of the defeat was unforeseen. This is the first time in the history of India that a non-Congress party has come to power with such a large mandate.  It is also significant that regional parties did not do so well, and that the election was fought on national issues. There was also a strong feeling about corruption and decision paralysis that characterized the previous regime.This Lok Sabha, however, also has the richest MPs and the most MPs with criminal charges. Despite the fact that the election was mostly fought with a development in mind, it seems that there has been a spike in the communal discourse of some organizations like the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Bajrang Dal after the elections. Only time will tell what the long term impact of the elections will be.

3) Ferguson- Having lived in the US since the August of 2014, it has been impossible to not be affected by protests at Ferguson and the choking of Eric Garner. Race is a problem in the United States, and it is patently obvious to even an outside observer. Hence, it was very painful to see that a significant part of the American population refused to acknowledge the problem of excessive use of force by the police on African Americans as a racial issue. Even more distressing has been the victim-blaming tendency that makes people want to pin responsibility on anyone and anything BUT the officers in question, including the weight of one of the victims. This leaves out the question of WHY certain people are perceived as threats merely because of how they look or dress, or why Mike Brown was shot at least SIX times (twice in the head), or why excessive force is applied on an unarmed man whose alleged crime was selling loose cigarettes, and who (before he died) kept repeating that he could not breathe. I may not have a very nuanced understanding of American society or politics, but these questions continue to  haunt me. It was not all dark though, there were thousands of people who took to the streets to protest against police use of force. These protests were not confined to Ferguson, but took place all over America. Incidentally, if some of you wish to read a good novel on race in America (inter alia), check out Americanah by Chimamada Nogzi Adiche.

4) The 2014 Iguala Mass Kidnapping: On 26th September 2014 more than 100 students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College at Ayotzinappa traveled to  a place called Iguala, Guerrero. They went to hold protests about the alleged discriminatory hiring and funding practices of the Government, which favored urban colleges over rural ones. They were going to protest at a conference organized by the wife of the Mayor of Iguala. There was a shootout in Iguala, after which the students were rounded up in police vehicles. Subsequently, they were handed over to a criminal organization known as the ‘United Warriors’, who killed some of them and incinerated their bodies. However, there is still ambiguity on exactly what happened to the missing students, and whether any of them survived. The year has seen widespread protests in Mexico over these forced disappearances, with civil society and parents of victims demanding justice.  You can read this timeline to know more.

5) The emergence of ISIS in public consciousness: Though the group had existed under different names since 1999, it grew stronger in 2014, finally proclaiming  a worldwide caliphate in 2014. This was followed by instances violent beheadings and mass murders, among other war crimes. The response of the USA was surprisingly (NOT) airstrikes, though the legality of these in Syria remain questionable under international law. Read this for more information.

6) Pope Francis’ general awesomeness: Okay, so I need to say this. Pope Francis is awesome. He just goes around trying to solve the world’s problems, denouncing inequality,  urging non-violence. He seems to have made the Catholic church an institution that welcomes differences and diversity. Though he suffered some setbacks in making the Catholic church more friendly to homosexuals, here is to the hope that he can do more in 2015.

7) Malala and Kailash Satyarthi get the Nobel peace prize: Honestly, I stopped caring much for the Nobel when Obama got the peace prize. But it feels good when an Indian gets one (oh ya, and Malala too). But in all seriousness I think that the issue of children’s rights and education has not received the attention it deserves. His work in the International Labour Organization led to the adoption of the Convention No 182 on the worst forms of Child Labour. His work in establishing Rugmark (which is now Goodweave international) has led to greater consumer awareness in the west regarding ethical trade. I hope the Nobel helps him continue with his great work in 2015.

8) The 2014 F I F A world cup: Germany won the world cup by beating Argentina, but what most people will remember will be the trouncing of Brazil. I remember that night very vividly. I happened to go out of the room where we were watching TV for a minute and the first goal was scored. I was annoyed because I missed it. I should not have been. After the fourth goal it was just painful to watch. I briefly thought of switching off the TV when people started crying, but schadenfreude prevailed I suppose. It must be said that match made the final seem very tame.

So it has been a mixed year, some good news for the world some bad. It has been an interesting year for me too, what with moving to another country and starting a masters. I saw snow for the first time, went to Chicago and was introduced to Sushi (which I did not like). I met people from 17 different countries, attended an American football match and attended an opera (which I was surprised to find I liked). I hope all of you had an interesting year too, and will stay with this blog. Hopefully, no matter how 2015 is, I will have the warm comfort of my blanket to take me through it.