Choosing One's Stories and Battles

The last few days of December always feel peculiar and familiar. It is freezing in my hometown in North India. Our family gatherings are marked by conversations about the weather and the current year being the coldest ever in the history of mankind. The 24X7 news channels add to these discussions by mis(quoting) data in record-breaking news. There are many familiar and warm smells in the air - masala chai, tomato soup, jaggery, peanuts, radish and turnip pickle, and the evergreen Sarson ka saag and Makki ki roti. On the one hand, there is excitement with the onset of winter vacations and the festivities of Christmas and new year. On the other, there is melancholy and anxiety as another year completes in a jiffy and a new one knocks on the door.

Why does the year-end feel so overwhelming? It seems natural. All goodbyes, closing ceremonies, and endings bring closures. What comes next, better or worse, denotes transition and venturing into the unknown. With year-endings, it may be a little more complicated.

When I was growing up, we used to watch Jalandhar Doordarshan on new year's eve (popularly known as kati disambar, i.e. 31 December in Punjabi circles). It broadcasted stand-up comedy or skits between stage performances by Punjabi singers, including Gurdas Mann, Malkit Singh, Sardool Sikander, Hans Raj Hans, Sukhwinder Singh and Jaspinder Narula. Culturally, Punjab always had a fantastic sense of humour and music. By the time I was in college, we started hosting house parties with friends and family members.

Weirdly, I feel our generation is under severe pressure to party. If others have plans, your life sucks. If you had a party last year but not this year, you feel your life is deteriorating. Nostalgia can be a very tricky emotion; it plays the few, chosen moments repeatedly in your head to convince you that bygones were the best days of your life. I see almost everyone around me feeling the pressure. Either one parties hard and or hardly parties and ends up justifying on social media how reading a book with hot chocolate is cool. The competition to appear the happiest is amusing!

Then, there are new year's resolutions. The fitness routine one had been delaying for weeks is put under wraps as January 1 would be the most auspicious day to begin. As a result, one overeats throughout December to beat the cold and prep for shedding the flab, only to find out about the mandatory office party on January 1. So, the fresh beginning goes down the drain with booze and food.

Besides these pressures, there is also anxiety. Most of us have been conditioned to be productive. Working late, being constantly busy, and slogging during weekends and holidays are glorified. So, as the year ends, one looks back at what one intended to achieve; it always feels little, it always feels guilty. In school, all stories had similar morals - try until you succeed, work hard and tread the difficult path. The hare in the hare and tortoise story was demonized for life because she chose to rest. Probably, she wanted to slow down.

I began writing during the pandemic, and this is my fiftieth blog. This form of writing neither contributes much to my conventional academic career nor brings me substantial monetary benefit (although I do get teeny-tiny amounts off and on). I have been told to focus on academic writing and been asked about how I find time to write. But how do I explain that this is not a part of the race? I don't have to find time; I have to stop myself. It is my place where no one tells me what to do. It brings me joy, which I hardly feel in anything except see our daughter grow up.

So, through this one, I earnestly thank all of you who subscribed to this blog, liked, shared or commented on my posts and sent me texts and emails. Over the last two years, it has connected me to so many of you, and to myself.

I shout aloud that I look back at 2022 without regret and remorse. It is okay, if it is the coldest ever; it is fine if there is a plan for new year's eve or as Phoebe says - not even a pla; it does not really matter if I make a resolution or not or if I am too slow in the race. The hare can choose to nap. The existing stories could have new morals and there could be new stories. As I close, I send you the warmest vibes this universe holds to choose your own stories because, ultimately, our stories define the battles we fight and the way we feel about our choices and battles.

Happy Holidays and A Happy New Year!

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Assistant Professor, Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur. PhD, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.