One step at a time

Dear 2017,

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health, perhaps just settling into your cushioned armchair for yet another day in office. I am, I realise well, by no means the first person to send you this letter, and I certainly won’t be the last. We know for a certainty that twelve months from now, you’ll have a barrage of letters either thanking you for all you’ve done during your term or chiding you for the things you got wrong.

By today, I hope, you are done with your celebrations. It seems like you got ahead of yourself a little there during your victory gala, what with Istanbul and Bangalore, but that was before you were officially sworn in, so I guess we can let that slide. Maybe you even made some rather hasty decisions in your first two days here, but, again, we can get past that. After today, though, I hope you have gotten serious. You have had plenty of time to learn the ropes, and I hope you have gotten the hang of it.

On your desk sits a red folder labelled “Catastrophe”, which chronicles the events which occurred during the reign of your predecessor, 2016. The folder also contains a list of deaths which came too soon, or too suddenly, or just at a wrong time. You will notice that towards the end of 2016’s term, things got violently out of hand. Perhaps due to the constant berating that it had gotten throughout the year, or because it was eager to leave office with a bang, or maybe it just wasn’t ready to leave yet, 2016 lost control of what was happening. I hope, and trust, that the same will not be the case with you.

We all learn from our mistakes. Some things, of course, are beyond your control. Anyone who has ever held an office of any sort will realise that tough decisions need to be made. We will try to not begrudge you your hard, and seemingly cruel, decisions, but we are creatures of hope after all. The good thing is that your predecessor set a very low standard of how a year should progress, so there is a lot of room for you to shine. My only advice to you, and I realise that I may be overstepping my welcome here, is that you take it one step at a time.

Your office, at this moment, is probably cluttered with documents detailing the events that took place in 2016, both good and bad, large and small. All I ask of you is to not be alarmed. Glance periodically at the “Catastrophe” folder and remember that most of those events haven’t gone down in history as the best of times. Do not feel the need to catch up to 2016. Remember, fires that burn bright usually burn for a short time. Be the steadily flame that we need; give us light when we need it, and warmth when we want it. You do not need to follow in the footsteps of 2016. You are your own entity, and it is up to you to create a name for yourself.

Though, this may just be the same advice that 2016 was given when it took office. Maybe everything that 2016 has done has been its way of making a name for itself. If that is the case, then you have to be careful. It is better to go down in history as careful than fiery. Making a name for yourself doesn’t mean that you outrage against the people, for we are the reason you exist. We have defined you and brought you into existence and have chosen you to carry us through the next trip around the sun. Do not ever forget that. Do not bite the hand that feeds you.

A hundred years ago, your predecessors decided that they would like to make a name for themselves, too. 1914-1918 were bad examples of how this office should be run. Learn from them, as 1918 eventually did, but do not get inspired by them, as 1939 probably did. Do not worry about oblivion, though. Just because you haven’t been exploding all over the place doesn’t mean we won’t remember you. Yours will be the term when hundreds of people are born, close ones die, great things are invented, and many discoveries made. And even if it were not so, you become a part of a chronology when you swear yourself in, and chronologies don’t exclude one of their own. You will not fade out, I promise you.

Knowing how much you have seen, you would already know this, but I feel it is my duty to remind you nonetheless: there is no such thing as universal popularity. There has not been a single year which has been liked by everyone, and, conversely, no one year has been completely hated. The best example of that is 2016. Amongst the hate mail which was sent towards 2016, a large part of it was my own, I saw a lot of fan letters. I was astounded at how many people held 2016 in a positive regard. One of 2016’s earliest judgements was the death of Alan Rickman, so my affection for it had never picked up to start with, but for millions, it was a year of self-discovery.

So you see? You can do everything right, and still be hated for it, and you can mess up on colossal scales and still have people who love you. Remember, though, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Do not let the affection of the few deter you from the path of what is right and, what is infinitely more important, what is sensible. There is no rush to prove yourself. You have been given a fixed time and no one can take this time away from you. Use it well. It just so happens that you have taken office when we have to give you one less day than we did 2016. Please don’t take that personally; it’s just the way things are done around here.

We have faith in you, 2017, please do not let us down. One step at a time, my dear, and you should be just fine. The world is caught in a maddening race, and you need to be the one who provides us with the stillness of surety. Do not get roped into the race yourself. Do not try to outrun your people, because we will keep going on even if we lose, but this is your only shot at it, and you cannot waste it running races.

One step at a time, my love, and you should be just fine.

Yours,

Anirudh

Beware the wrath of words, dear

As is the case with almost all of my posts, the inspiration for this particular piece came from a conversation I recently had with a friend (if a romantic interest with no foreseeable future can be so called). Before I can delve into the finer details of the conversation, however, I must apologise to whoever does me the great courtesy of following this blog for my rather long absence. The world seems to have taken a strange dislike to me, and nothing I do seems to set things right. More on that later, though. For now, I am back, presumably to vanish for another three months, but we should take what we can get, no?

The conversation which serves as the theme for this post is the very definition of escalation. Those who are familiar with me will know the tales of my eloquence, of the extent to which I take the expression of simple emotions. The friend whom I spoke of, as it happens, did not fully comprehend that about me at the time. In a display of endearment, I happened to use words which, by some arbitrary ruling, carry great weight. I was chided for “throwing such words so offhandedly”, with the assertion that “when you say it, you should mean it, otherwise when you actually mean it, what will you say?”

As things in this world are wont to do, this got me thinking about something which I’d already been pondering for quite a while now. I reflected back upon all the squabbles and quarrels I’d been a part of in my recent past (recall the tale of me getting a present from a friend, which I spoke of in “You can’t call people fat!”) and saw a pattern emerge: almost every fight I’ve had for a long time has been due to words being taken wildly out of context, just by virtue of their existence.

Too much importance is attached to the words that people use; not the meaning of the words, but the words themselves. It is true what they say: the pen is mightier than the sword. Words, simple in their crafting and majestic in their construction, are consuming in the hands of someone who knows how to wield them. There is overwhelming evidence of this today: poets and writers carry the capacity to reach places within you that you yourself didn’t know existed, making you question the fact of your own existence.

It has become so easy to be manipulated by people who know just what to say and when to say it, just because we put too much importance in the words that have been used. No one seems to care about the intent behind the words, or who they’re coming from, or the context in which they’re used, or anything, really. Words that have arbitrarily been assigned greater value than others are now off limits unless the situation warrants them because they can somehow lead to cataclysmic effects. Based on what, though? Who decides that certain words will hold this destructive power? As far as I am concerned, the culprit is the archaic notion of correctness. I have been trying, for a long time now, to get people to be comfortable with using whatever words they wish to use, whenever they wish to use them. Imagine if we weren’t burdened by the need to be linguistically appropriate all the time: we could explore not just language, but the human psyche itself to great extents.

The example that comes to mind is the word “love”. “Love” is possibly one of the most weighted words in the English language. Glorified by Hollywood and the like, it has become apocalyptic in its power, and all but a taboo in terms of usage, especially in interpersonal conversation. Saying that you love a person (Plato’s notions of love are being generously disregarded here) is tantamount to asking them to take a chainsaw to their families and drown in a sea of their own filth, irrespective of the intensity of the emotion expressed. “Love” is a beautiful word, and I’d like to be able to use it as and when I please, without worrying about the repercussions.

I believe that meaning comes from your knowledge of the person, not from random sounds that they make with their tongues. When time comes for me to actually mean the words that I previously used, apparently callously, I’ll do it by honest expression of emotion, not words which have been used a thousand times over. I don’t want to express my love for a person using the same words that a rapist uses to express their love for sexual abuse or even any other way that is considered conventionally correct.

I do not deny that there are times when the word itself carries the power to cause harm, but those instances are rare. Callously throwing around the words “nuclear holocaust” at a Japanese peace gathering is unacceptable, no matter what the intent, but to extend the same limitations to daily conversation, to words which form a part of our regular speech, seems to me a rather silly venture. The converse of what I say also holds true: just by virtue of using words which don’t carry as much weight as others, people cannot fully express the intensity of their emotions.

That words are a human enterprise seems lost upon people. We created words for effective communication, and it is shameful that we have become slaves to them today. Lifeless scrawls of manmade ink on manmade paper seem to control our thoughts, feelings, and eventually actions, all three of which are greater than anything anyone might have to say. I like to think that I have learned enough and seen enough to know how to express myself fully when the time comes to do so. Continuing along the same lines as the example above, I am confident that whenever, and if ever, I reach a stage where I want to translate my feelings of affection into words, I’ll have the right tools in my arsenal for the job, not because I claim to be some sort of wordsmith, but because there will be an understanding between us at that stage which will facilitate communication.

If it so happens that my particular way of expression does not translate as such to the other person, I’ll learn their way of expressing, and they’ll learn mine, and a stronger community will take existence.