Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Note for Christmas

The last Sunday before Christmas - the year feels like over. It is brilliantly sunny and bitterly cold outside. So cold that the snow won't melt even in the full glare of the Sun. The road in front of us is unusually quiet, but I know that the traffic would build up soon, after Lunch, when everyone would head for shops one last time. The newspapers report that Britain had one of the biggest shopping days in history yesterday, when people finally got over the recession hangover and returned to the shops, even if for one last hurray. One can almost hear the collective sigh - thank God that the year is over - and the bristling to start a new year.



2009 has been a tough year, for most people. It is partly about the recession, but not just that. It is as if everyone's ambitions suddenly froze because of the economic climate, everyone suddenly started postponing their life's decisions and wanted to wait till we reach the end of the tunnel. This is a strange, awkward collective freeze, because everyone seemed to know that we are indeed heading towards the end of the tunnel and not to the abyss. [Because, if you are heading to abyss, you should not care to cautious. That's my thinking anyway.]



This big freeze, world over and in my own life, is worse than the tumble and flat-on-the-floor feeling, at least while it lasts. It is a daily handshake with despair, not being able to enjoy the sun, always weighing in the options and always talking about the future with fear, which turns life into an unbearable bore, and by its absence, the greatest missed opportunity. The funny thing is - it disconnects. I actually love this one thing about distress: It connects. I notice with glee how everyone talks to everyone when the transport system in England breaks down for bad weather. I know societies come together when an external enemy, or a natural disaster, is in sight. People go out of their normal ways and seek out other people who, they think, will understand their plight.



Unfortunately, none of that happens when one is waiting for the end of the tunnel. It is a very private wait. No one wants to tell anyone that they are waiting, because, if possible, they want to get there first. We know it is not a zero-sum game, we know we shall reach there together, but while one waits, it is hard to avoid our Lobster syndrome - that one always pulls down the other - from reigning over our senses. We end up looking at the world by the corner of our eyes, all the time.



But times like these free us from ourselves. One knows nothing practically changes by the stroke of the midnight hour on the 31st of December, but we all expect it will. And, possibly it will - because the world we know is far more a construct of our imagination than we care to admit. I can do very little to change the practical fact that it is very cold outside, but I can choose to feel the cold differently: inactive and frozen inside the relative warmth inside my house, or out in the market square, warm in the mingling with the crowd and alive despite the piercing wind and biting cold. In fact, this is a human world and the economy is human economy. We have seen two colossal failures of modelling ourselves down to data: First, in the soviet economy, where detailed statistical models failed to anticipate the human motivation; and next, when Wall Street's detailed derivatives made the same mistake and failed miserably to measure the human emotions and subjectivity. This Christmas, in a way, may turn out to be the mankind's collective return to faith: Not the church kind, but faith unto itself, the deep belief that we can solve our problems if we put our hearts and minds together on this.



Having said that, I have indeed noticed that the churchyard next door is full of cars. This is pretty usual for today, but I almost feel that there are more cars this year than any of the five earlier years when I have seen this crowd. It may not be, I have never bothered to keep a count, but my thinking is faith itself, that the humankind is trying to redeem itself and make a fresh start.



In my own life, a fresh start must be made. I have commented earlier that 2009 was my most wasted year, which I spent pushing a wall, in the splendid loneliness of my own vanity. I chose not to accept failure, I chose to be responsible - all heroic emotions - but I failed the tests of practicality and enterprise. There is no point wasting a single day in the vain pursuit of something which is set up to go nowhere, I should have said myself. I should have realized that the Quixotic sense of responsibility is meaningless, a blast from past, a value not appreciated in a very unchivalrous world. In fact, one tends to get exploited when one tries to be heroic. Worse, one tends to lose faith, in his own values and own sense of mission, and consequently cynical, as I sound now. I need a fresh start and make an admission that it is my failure, more than anyone else's, to adjust to the practicalities of modern business, and to make a vow not to make the same mistakes ever again. There was never a better time than this Christmas to make such a pledge and start on rounding up the unfinished business.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
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