Friday, 30 December 2016

goodbye twenty-sixteen

clock tower park, caledonian road
the closing days of the year have you been revealing and concealing in equal measure. there has been glorious sunshine that has coloured london rose gold at sunset. and then there has been fog so thick it has consumed everything in its wake or made apparitions of architecture and moving figures alike. the weather echoes my sentiments on the year.

2016 has been uneven at best. it has revealed some very uncomfortable truths about humanity. many say that it is the worst year ever. but to say that is to repeat a phrase that has become common at the conclusion of each year. one observation that struck a chord with me deeply is how many of us reverted to parallels with history. we returned to familiar binaries, those of the haves and have-nots, of power and powerlessness and of the liberals against the conservatives to mention a few. i am not convinced by the readiness of these rehearsed debates. reality is complicated. life is untidy. experience and events rarely colour within the lines.

the word post-truth entered the oxford dictionary, capturing common sentiment not only on the unreliability of truth, but on the strength of emotional and personal belief. truth, it turns out is multifaceted and subjective. i have always been interested in the politics of truth. for instance, who is speaking the truth and whose name is the truth being spoken in. as a child who came of age in a country with a contested history, what i know of truth is that it is a variable and personal. its veracity (or lack thereof) is tied to who tells it. 

2016 to me is then is the year in which those who have less power or were seemingly powerless reached their apotheosis. they were no longer content with the version of truth being pedalled to them. instead, they chose a version that appealed to their experience. it matters not that those choices are inimical to them. it matters that they felt heard. ‘so long, 2016’ neatly captures the outcomes of these choices and voices. it is said that news is where the first draft history is written. if that is the case, it seems extraordinarily bleak. it was most certainly the reason why i gave up reading the news half way through the year. 

while the world was simmering, scalding and erupting, omair and i were busy with personal transitions. new opportunities came along and after much thought and deliberation he left barclays for julius baer. my professional experience has been in stark contrast to omair’s. up until 2012 i have always worked on temporary short-term contracts and the decision take up what comes my way has been governed by the need and necessity for work. omair’s transition showed me how hard it can be to move even when faced with new opportunities and growth. he was not leaving a job but a work family and even the knowledge and recognition of his growth and the fact that he was headhunted made the change bittersweet. meanwhile, i changed professional tracks moving firmly into a career in higher education. our travels took us to new and old places, many of them featuring friends that we had not seen in a while. our swiss job was nostalgia tourism as omair took me to his old school in leysin. we spent a few days in geneva with aditi and ouseph who we met in singapore.  a sweltering june found us in padova and venice with valeria and jesse. in october, we crossed the channel back into france, this time to normandy. the trip was more adventurous than we had desired on account of a flat tyre. we had to drive fifty-two miles to find a garage that was able to help us and missed our ferry. november found me marseille to see mathilde who i met at university. and then, in december sabeen flew in from seattle to celebrate christmas with us. we spent our days walking around london taking in the lights and eating at our favourite places. on christmas eve we roasted a chicken with a whole orange in its cavity and put my middle eastern cookbooks to good use by making persian rice, saffron labne and a fennel, pomegranate and blood orange salad. we ate much and moved only as much as would allow us to work up an appetite for the next round. 

i have enjoyed the somewhat slower pace and quieter moments of the last few days. a particularly foggy late morning found me walking past caledonian park. the clock tower was all but obscured, an intimation of itself. i paused to take it in and realised that it was a metaphor for many of the good things that happened this year, because the bad news seemed to conceal the good. pessimism is like neon signage. it commands and holds attention. but hope is equally persuasive. 

in carnaby street, it is suspended in light boxes in red lettering, along with cut outs of doves. in krista tippett’s words –  ‘it references reality at every turn and reveres truth. it lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably into the light of life and sometimes to overcome it… it’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be’. the guardian’s half full is an inchoate catalogue of how things keep moving forward, as is maria popova’s brain picking’s

if there is one binary that holds true, it is that of good and evil as theirs is a constant dance. steinbeck sees this as a characteristic of the history of civilisation - “all the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. it isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.”

in 2017, i would like good to rise again and again. what this means for me is to be oriented to hope, to be alive to it in the everyday stories of our lives. there are so many of these; personal ones like a young loved one facing cancer with fortitude to the many women in my life who have mentored and inspired me, to bigger public ones like sadiq khan becoming mayor of london and misogyny being officially recognised as a hate crime. i have discovered that there is immense power in thinking small and individual and in ‘doing’. it is a sentiment being expressed in the closing opinion pieces of the year, reminding people that there is ‘evidence all around that we know how to do this, and can indeed summon the will.’

for omair a simpler familiar tagline holds sway. in 2017 he intends to ‘keep calm and carry on’.  

whatever you choose, we hope that 2017 brings you the best of everything and more! 

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