And instead of New Year Resolutions, here's my wish list for 2016
Last year, for my first column of 2015, I had gone all contrary on you and compiled a wish list instead of listing my New Year resolutions. Re-reading that piece, before I sat down to write this one, was a rather depressing experience though. My wish list, in retrospect, read like a triumph of hope over experience. And like a beach bully who demolishes sand castles almost as a matter of principle, 2015 had done a marvellous job of quashing all my hopes and desires.
I had hoped that every child who set out for school would come back caked in the mud of the playground rather than his own blood. That women would feel safe in public spaces, that they could walk the streets without being groped or harassed. That we would realise that Swachh Bharat was about more than mere optics (and photo-opps with broom in hand). That harmony would prevail among religions, and peace would reign on earth.
Of course, not one of these things happened. Instead, we watched in horror as terror took over the streets of Paris, we wept as we saw refugees drowning off the beaches of Europe as they tried to reach a safe haven from war and mayhem, and we mourned the many lives lost to the marauding, murderous gang called Daesh.
Back home in India, the loonies continued to run amok. The rise of Hindu majoritarianism meant that anybody who raised a voice against growing intolerance was asked to go off to Pakistan. Such was the frenzy created around the issue of cow slaughter that baying mobs thought nothing of breaking into a man's home and beating him to death in front of his horrified family, simply because they thought he had beef in his fridge (it is another matter that it turned out to be mutton). And violence against women continued apace, with as many as six rapes and 14 molestations being reported every day in the city of Delhi alone.
So, I have learnt my lesson; and this time round, I am keeping my ambitions very limited, in the hope that this year's wish list has a better success rate than the last.
That said, what do I wish for 2016? Well, here's just a teeny-tiny sampler
* A woman in the White House: It is about time, wouldn't you say? It has been half a century since India had its first Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi and 37 years since Britain put Margaret Thatcher in 10 Downing Street. So it is time that the leading democracy of the world caught up and elected a female President. It helps that voting for Hillary Clinton is a no-brainer if (as looks increasingly likely) she is pitted against Donald Trump, the current front-runner in the Republican field. America surely deserves a President who promises results rather than one who simply delivers insults (and bizarrely finds bathroom breaks 'disgusting').
* More news, less noise: An entirely unscientific survey among my friends and colleagues shows that they are tiring of the current news television formula of prime-time programming, where anchors choose one issue to outrage about through the course of the day and then invite a phalanx of guests to 'debate' it. That is, if 'debate' means to shout at deafening sound levels at one another, even as the anchor ensures that nobody can complete an entire sentence, let alone a complete argument. My hope is that the rest of India will also begin to tire of this shouty format -- full of sound and fury, signifying nothing -- and vote with their remotes. Maybe then we can finally get some news -- rather than endless views -- from our news channels.
* A clean, green India: Actually, at this point, I am prepared to settle for a slightly cleaner, greener India. Even the smallest improvement in this area will leave me deliriously happy. Delhi has been the first to show some intent on this front. And no matter what your views on the odd-even formula that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is experimenting with (as of this writing, at least) during the first fortnight of the year, there is no denying that some sort of beginning has to be made before the air we breathe kills us all. Maybe 2016 will see more cities and states take similar initiatives; if not for our sake then for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
* Civility in our political discourse: Remember those innocent days when leaders across the political divide insisted that they were 'rivals' not 'enemies'. Well, they are only a fond memory now that the political discourse has been cheapened to the extent that political foes think nothing of spewing abuse at one another in public and on social media. I can't be alone in praying that better sense prevails in 2016, and a measure of decorum is restored to public life.
* On a more personal note, I fervently hope that I finally get the push to finish my book, that has been hanging fire for years now (don't ask), and see it on the stands -- and hopefully on your shelves -- before the end of 2016.
And on that note, a very Happy New Year to all!