Of dull paradoxes & arid oxymorons

Donald Trump showed that a repressed democracy comes up with caricatures, with exaggerations of its repressed self.

The year 2016 is without endings or beginnings; a year sans inaugurations and closures. It was a period where you were caught between events that you wanted to forget and the events the world has conveniently forgotten. One senses that a voice that lends itself to cricket commentaries and election results is too bland for year endings. One needs the language of orality, the resonant voice of a town crier and a drum that matches the drama of his voice, where the scale of his intonations literally choreograph the event. This year was full of humourless paradoxes and arid oxymorons.

2016 was not quite 1942, 1947, 1977 or 2002. It was the year when power and the powerless performed a duet which democracies are still trying to grasp. It was the year Russian President Vladimir Putin’s men and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bombed rebel Syria while South African President Jacob Zuma rendered African National Congress comatose, destroying the dream of South Africa.
It was the year when Jayalalithaa died and Sasikala succeeded her. It was like a ventriloquist’s dummy taking over from a master performer.

In 2016, the lyrics of Bob Dylan confronted the emptiness of his voice, when Nobel peace committee restored him to history when he was just a piece of nostalgia.

2016 was the year of the “nowhere man” who knows not where he is going but definitely had a point of view.

2016 was the year of silences, the era of forgetting where conscience died in Kuwait, Syria and Somalia, where Pope Francis became the John, the Baptist of Peace, a voice crying in the wilderness.

2016 was the year of the refugee, when hospitality became rare and when Europe debated whether the enlightenment would be threatened by 20,000 refugees. It was the time when Europe decided that humanity was literally coterminous with EU membership. It was also a year when climate change added to the surrealism of sustainable development.

In 2016, Bollywood rang empty as sequels failed to click and films lacked the sense of magic. 2016 belonged to Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar, a warning that media could sanitise the best into a spectacle and JNU conducted courses on nationalism for the RSS. It was also the year of Akhlaq.

Kashmir, Manipur and Bastar remained metaphors for pain, when dissenters were harassed like witches, where a nation-state carried out an inquisition on environmentalists. Nandini Sundar and Bela Bhatia turned sociology into an act of conscience and conscientisation.

It was the year when vigilantes became a lynchpin of patriotism and fundamentalists murdered with impunity.

It was the year of a “Modi-esque” India where democracy turned surreal. Swachchh Bharat ran into a standstill as the BJP claimed that Narendra Modi was as pure as the Ganga. Magsaysay winner Bezwada Wilson told the the Modi government that “Swachchh Bharat” makes no sense if it still ends in a septic tank that the dalit is compelled to clean.

So how do you read a year which is so senseless and yet so desperate for meaning? It was a year where Kashmir broke its silence with stones and Delhi replied with pellets.

This year, Irom Sharmila decided that being a woman was the first step to peace and broke her fast, claiming that love and elections would decide the fate of democracy in Manipur. AFSPA was once again questioned this year.

2016 was a year when the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel dominated the land and Shivaji threatened to overwhelm the sea, while India wondered which of the two the BJP would make more meaningless. Shivaji and Patel live more in folklore than in history. All folklore needs is the modesty of storytelling not the monumentality of state and statue.

It was the year when demonetisation competed with deinstitutionalisation of India, as the Nehru museum and Hyderabad University turned into empty shelves and the Institute of Advanced Studies began sounding less advanced than before, where the Army discovered it pays to cultivate the political.

Democracy took a new twist as Brexit became the shorthand for the return of the people.

People discovered the strange gap between elections and democracy. Elections had become the domain of the professional politician and the expert psephologist. Politicians acted as if they were indifferent to people, more at home in statistical trends and interest group aggregation. Politicians who needed a hearing aid like Hillary Clinton and David Cameron, politicians who felt a party was like a club rather than a community of diverse people. Mr Cameron and Ms Clinton were voted out because their politics felt dated. Global politics discovered the truth of the local, the old claim that a dog fight in Brooklyn was more important than a revolution in China unless the revolution created refugees. Politicians discovered that EU is an abstraction while a village and a neighbourhood were lived entities.

2016 was a year when America came up trumps and democracy appeared surprised with a joker it had created. Donald Trump showed that a repressed democracy comes up with caricatures, with exaggerations of its repressed self. The nightmare begins when the caricatures voted to power becomes real.

2016 was a year when demonetisation became a strange metaphor for a new kind of politics and its silences that a Modi government proved middle class and found the middle class that supported it.

2016 a year when policy patriotism and vigilantism became the upcoming forms of citizenship and dissent was crushed as anti-national. 2016 was a year when digitalisation created a millennial ceiling — a sense of a future that obscured the realities of the present.

2016 was a year when Indian cricket was supreme yet cricket lacked character and eccentricity. R. Ashwin and Virat Kohli discovered that you need more than statistics to become a Dravid or a Tendulkar. It was also a year of women in sport, when P.V. Sindhu, Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal became legends.

In 2016, beef became the food for thoughtlessness. This year, “post truth” and “chikungunya” competed as the more cited words of the year.

The silence of T.M. Krishna proved more musical than the song of the music academy. Old age and agricultural suicide competed as the non-events of the year.

This year, courts decided that films were incomplete without national anthems, giving a different meaning to citizenship. The myth of the Tatas as the copybook firm broke and Ratan Tata reasserted his leadership by becoming a Mughal dynast. Literary festivals went their inane way. Cyclones hurled their “doosras” across the south emasculating the landscape of trees.

India still waited for Rahul Gandhi to assume leadership and make a surgical strike at Mr Modi. Meanwhile, the BJP found resonance in the Northeast while the AAP made police stations its home. Thus, 2016 was a quilt-patch year, a jigsaw of the year where events created no tapestry of patterns.

It was a year full of inanity, a year of denial, a year of death and destruction where democracy became crotchety and the nation-state remained brutal, a year of sadness that no literary text could capture, a year of effete ethics which even storytellers abandoned as empty. A year which was too afraid to take its own selfie. A year desperate for a Kafka or Alexievich. A year which ends as a waste land. A draught waiting for fresh beginnings. An emptiness fading into time.

 

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