The last three years in Calcutta, my few woollen garments have languished incan an old iron trunk that once belonged to one of my paternal aunts. I haven’t used them because it never felt so cold that I needed them. Not that this phenomenon hasn’t struck me in the years before but I wasn’t convinced of the permanent departure of winter. Now I am. Winter has left this city.
It isn’t that Calcutta ever experienced the severest of winters. Moreover, I am not one of those who are apprehensive of wintry weather. I remember that in my young days I once spent a few days in a snowing Manali with only a shirt on. That doesn’t mean that I can err in my judgement of how cool it is and winter can escape me. So, I presume that Calcutta will never feel even moderately cold again. Winter has deserted Calcutta for good and for ever.
I recall reading one of Tagore’s essays in which he spoke of what he considered the ‘real end of life’. He said that it is in ‘to be’ and not in ‘to do’, in being and not in doing. With so much doing, are we forgetting how ‘to be’? In the context of rapid mechanization of the world, Tagore speaks of too much materialism where all aspects of the human life are to be justified at the altar of material progress. He predicted that this trend can be disastrous for life on earth. He worried that materialism and instrumentalism can unleash the worst in us and make us forget the virtues of a higher civilisation — contentment, restraint, tranquility, forgiveness….
Is it man’s domination of the earth that caused winter to leave Calcutta? Scientists can tell. Are we committing ‘planeticide’ because of our greed to have more and still more? Are we running after that dream of a consumerist, capitalist society without realising that we will need the resources of another four planets like ours to make that dream a reality? A period of all-pervading crisis in the history of this nation gave birth to a leader who was also a seer. Mahatma Gandhi was prophetic when he said that the earth has enough to meet everyone’s need but it would never have enough to satisfy man’s greed.
Today, my mailbox will be invaded by ‘Happy New Year’ wishes and messages. What is a ‘year’ but the time taken by the earth to rotate once around the sun? The earth should have been the protagonist, the centre-piece of these annual end-of-the-year revelry. It should have been the objective of such festivities to take a resolution and stop any further damage to this planet. It should have been their aim to make us aware of that higher realism both with respect to the environment and ourselves, a realism that helps us to move away from collective narcissism and endless greed.
The Hindi poet Amrita Pritam’s Saal Mubarak (Happy New Year) never fails to touch our hearts:
Jaise dharti ne aasman ke ek bada udaas sa khat pada
Naya saal kuchh aisa aaya
[As if the earth read a sad message from the sky/And thus the new year arrived]
Homo sapiens are distinct from all other species on this planet. We are capable of thinking; we can take decisions and change ourselves. No other species do it as consciously as we do. Let that be where we put our faith on the first day of this year. Happy New Year!