Vol. 5 Num 574 Fri. January 06, 2006  

Cross Talk
New Year's resolution

We are six days into the New Year, another round of beginning and end, another slice of eternity to count our days all over again. In the purely time-keeping sense, it will repeat the old and nothing will change. It will be the same number of hours in the day, same seven days in the week, same thirty or thirty-one days in a month and then the same twelve months in the year. We shall call the same name of the days, the same name of the months, repeating our daily chores, body functions, habits and mannerisms. We shall still get hurt, get overjoyed, smile and weep, fight, curse, scream, shout and draw each other's blood. A new year is just another year, putting the eternity in motion like frames of photographic images are spliced to produce a movie.

Still the advent of a new year brings excitement. It's like turning the page of a spellbinding book, pulling the reader to find out about the characters, the plot, the turns and twists which throw the mind into surmises and surprises. We look forward to the New Year because of our fascination for the new, the new which brings change, and the change which brings hope.

Is that all there is to the New Year's Day? Valentine's Day celebrates romance; Twenty-First February celebrates language; Twenty-Sixth March independence; and Sixteenth December victory. Then we have religious days like Budha Purnima, Pujas, Christmas, Shabe-e-Barat, Shab-e-Qadar, Eid-e-Miladunnabi, and the two Eids. What exactly do we celebrate on the New Year's Day? What do we signify with fireworks, champagne, singing and dancing? Is the New Year just another excuse for getting drunk?

On average each American takes 1.8 New Year's resolutions. I don't know about the average number of resolutions taken by people in other countries. But people take resolutions all over the world, which should add up to hundreds of millions. Many people take vows to quit smoking or drinking in the New Year. Others resolve to plan their lives better, to avoid the mistakes of the past and look forward to healing their wounds in time.

In essence, the New Year's Day is the time for optimism, hope against hope in mankind's fierce struggle against the futility of fate. It's a symbol of renewal, revival and revision, a celebration of the fresh start to correct past mistakes and capture future opportunities. We toast, we boast, our minds rejuvenated, our hopes revived, we indulge in the expectation that life gives a second chance like amnesty offers clean slate.

We have welcomed the New Year already, despite the bomb threats, despite tight security, despite political confrontation, terrorism, economic and financial hardships hanging over us like mushroom clouds. Nothing stopped us from the celebration of one night, from wishing each other a Happy New Year, our mobile phones bleating with SMS to exchange goodwill.

We all know it lasts for one day only, our resolutions mostly forgotten by the time we get done with our hangover, by the time the sun goes down on the first day of the New Year. By that time the flower shops, mobile phone companies, liquor stores, hotels and restaurants have done brisk business. Some people buy new dress, new shoes and then cook rich food. Many people are superstitious. They believe that how they live on the first day will determine how they also live for the rest of the year. There are those who don't incur any spending, because they believe they would squander throughout the year unless they start saving from day one.

In a way, the New Year's resolution is a selfish business. Everyone wishes what is best for him, may be also for his family, but the larger interests don't count. People don't think of the country, their community, neighbours or friends. Perhaps it's a time for reflection, but that reflection is confined to parochial interests, each for his own, and none for all.

It is this selfishness, which made it possible to welcome the New Year in the midst of so many tragedies. Our nation was still quivering in the impact of suicide bombs like the body of a slain beast in its last spasms. Thousands of pilgrims were stranded in the airport, waiting for their flights to the holy place. We welcomed the New Year while hundreds of thousands of farmers were waiting to get the supply of fertilizers for their winter crops. We welcomed the New Year while primary school teachers were freezing in the cold, fasting to death in the hope that the government was going to pay attention to their pitiful plight.

Yet we danced and sang in drunken frenzy, flesh pressing flesh, limbs going up and down, bodies twisted in the senseless reflex of primal instincts. The liquor brewed storms in our head, our blood boiling in the heat of ecstasy, our minds howling like raging beasts. There was unprecedented security in the capital. God knows how much it cost the taxpayers to keep some people in their drunken stupor!

Six days later it's life as usual. If you look at it, the New Year celebration was nothing more than a drinking binge. It was abidingly empty, a resounding ululation of a nation where the rich and famous were desperate to collectively rejoice one day what they enjoyed every day privately. At the philosophical level, nothing was wrong with it. Nothing was wrong with having an extra day of party. We need to have more fun to sublimate the pain and anxiety that are wasting away the vitality of our nation.

The question is whether we have resolved anything. Have we had the time to think of the common good as we got incrementally drunk, and the music got louder with our hysteric bodies? Did we take the time to talk about our woebegone country and its fraying future? Or did we behave like the village idiot who sawed off the same branch of a tree on which he was sitting astride? If we rejoiced on the New Year's Day, did it occur to us that we were immersed in the sea of sorrow, our past depleted, our present diminished, our future threatened?

What faith is to ritual resolution is to the New Year. No relief without belief. A conversation without a concept is nothing but an empty prattle. When men and women are inebriated, their minds fermented with inordinate ecstasy, it shows nothing more than their own hollowness. Glasses clink, people drink and minds sink. It goes through the night, left and right, dark and light, dim and bright, idle talks and drunken walks. Then the countdown at midnight comes as if we can't wait to drop the old and pick up the new.

Now, if the old is gone, what is new? What is new that we have resolved before walking into the dense cloud where our minds plunged into false pretense? What have we got to celebrate in the throes of sufferings when it's no longer safe to leave your home, when the farmers are worried, the pilgrims are harried, and the teachers are parried? What have we got to celebrate when the parliament doesn't protect, the government doesn't rule, and the people don't have power? What have we got to celebrate when the faithful are ferocious and the devout are deluded? What have we got to celebrate when education doesn't give knowledge, wisdom doesn't give foresight, and character doesn't give courage?

Janis Joplin sang in Me and Bobby McGee that: "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." If we celebrated anything, that is what we did. We celebrated our freedom to lose nothing because we have nothing left to lose. In the drunken spree between the last night of one year and the first morning of another, did we get to think of it? Probably yes? Probably no? Let us have this one resolution for next time. When we wake up in the morning, we shall at least remember if we thought of it.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker.