THOUGHTS ON THE LAST DAY OF THE PASSING YEAR

We have come to yet another day reckoned as the last of a year on our calendars. Tonight, people will gather in groups or in crowds to bid adieu to the Old Year and herald the New, singing songs and opening bottles, with  embraces and best wishes, resolutions and reminiscences, wondering how 365 days have flown away in a hurry. Life seems like a march towards a precipice: it starts as a slow crawl on the street of time, picks up speed as we grow, and past sixty it seems as if we are running towards the last abrupt step.

As we look back on the year that is about to slip into history, each of us can recall happy moments and some not so happy, reasons for hope and for despondency too. The rage and rancor between races and nations haven't abated in various eruptive contexts. Never before in recent memory has a year come to a close with such a real possibility of a war in the next. We pray and protest in hopes that the tragedy may yet be averted.

We grieve for the innocents who have perished in 2002, not just by Nature's fury of disease and disaster, but willfully killed by men in rage and governments in retaliation. Terrorists continue to perpetrate their indiscriminate slaughter of tourists in resorts, of audiences in theaters, of children in school buses, of passengers in planes, and of the faithful in temples and churches. It is not just an irony, but a travesty and self-injury that this is often done by people who profess a religion whose very name stands for Peace.

Men in religious garb who have been violating for years the innocent young have now been exposed: they have grievously wounded the fair name of their church. Business leaders and manipulators of the public's finances have betrayed our trust, aggrandizing their coffers with illegal greed. Other criminals have preyed on other victims.

The pull of immediate gratification continues to be stronger than that of long-term considerations, ethnocentric indoctrination confines people to their tribal affiliations, intense attachment to parochial truths blinds people to universality, narrow interpretations of holy books blurs the vision to distinguish science from religion. Most seriously, our reckless intrusion into the biosphere has been causing more extinctions than Nature would normally allow, the sheer growth in our numbers sows seeds for massive suffering, and our continued assault on the environment sows the seeds for unimaginable catastrophes.

But we must remember that though such dismal events come center stage in news headlines, there are millions of people who have gone about their daily work this year too, nurturing families and friendships. Children attended school all over the world, ensuring the continuation of civilization, students absorbed knowledge and skills to contribute to society, people prayed in their varied ways, seeking solace and spiritual serenity. Scientists have not ceased exploring, artists have not stopped creating, musicians have not given up composing, and sportspeople have not forgotten practicing and competing. Though they might remind of Nero fiddling when Rome was burning,  their word served to keep the torch of culture and civilization alive. Most of all, we must be grateful to the countless farmers and fishermen, bakers and barbers, and other men and women who keep the throb of society hale and functioning.

As the flame of hope still keeps us warm at heart, I like to think that  human pain and suffering will be a little less in the coming year, that there will be greater social justice within and among nations, that leaders will emerge who can curb hate-mongers and strive for peace. My wish-list includes that your own life will be healthy and enriched during the year that begins tomorrow. So, dear Friend, wherever you are, I wish you a most interesting 2003.

  V. V. Raman