It was a cold and foggy night in Delhi when we happily watched the Doordarshan New Year programme. Penaz Masani sang ghazals and things got quite jolly with vadais, kababs, masala peanuts, hot toddies and ginger chai in our freezing sarkari flat in the Lutyens zone.
I went to cosy parties in other years and some years to grand parties and some years on holiday to places like Goa, Bangalore, Chennai and Coonoor. There were silly hats and paper streamers at a hotel one time in my teens, for New Year at Jalandhar Cantt. We danced to Abba and Bread and snuck into the shrubbery for a stealthy puff at a cigarette, my girl cousin and I, with soldier boys not much older than us. We felt killingly grown up and full of swag as we’d say now.
This year, as a New Year pro, I know what I’m not going to do, which includes sneaking into the shrubbery on a winter night in Delhi. I’m not going to make New Year resolutions. I never did anyway. Like American writer Max Ehrman said in ‘Desiderata’ nearly 90 years ago, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself”. It’s being gentle with yourself to not make any New Year resolutions you can’t keep. Think of the guilt and stress saved later. You’re spared the hand-wringing and having to think or hear, “It’s not even Lohri and you’re…”
Ehrman also hands out some advice that seems written just for New Year’s Eve in the city: “Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.” Especially when they’re on the go a bit with, you know, drink, because that’s what many people do on New Year’s Eve.
The charitable view of this is that perhaps it’s not actually about getting pickled and being a menace to society. Perhaps it shows deep intellectual disdain for an artificial calendar construct like New Year and is in fact a philosophical raspberry at the meaninglessness of ‘time’. I cannot report much on this matter, being paranoid about ‘losing control’ in the company of strangers.
My friends and I had so much social freedom growing up that, funnily, it made us want to be ‘responsible’, though we did get plastered at nineteen at the disco down the road. Our liberal elders clearly played us with deep guile for we didn’t care if anybody thought we were goody-goody, we preferred being safe. Luckily, the boys we knew in our teens were fairly goody-goody themselves. Everyone knew ‘the rules’ even when breaking them and grew up to be law-abiding citizens as far as I know although the years have taken their toll.
As to which, ‘Desiderata’ ends: “Whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
A prayer, then, for us all; especially for our girls, soldiers and farmers. May our people be well-fed, safe and kind. May the New Year bring you health, wealth and much happiness, dear reader.