And the world moves on…

Alas, the world will always be a mixture of light and darkness. And so we have had our quota of all manner of upheavals throughout the past year — By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

As yet another – tumultuous – year comes to an end, it is time to look back and introspect a little on what has gone by, as also to reflect a bit on what the future may hold for us, and perhaps take a resolution or two for those inclined to do so. Not a bad idea, especially for younger people so that they maintain or gain focus and a sense of direction in their lives – although the sub-header of an article on the subject of New Year resolutions notes that 50% of them are not kept. Still, better to have tried than not, isn’t it. As for us senior citizens, there’s only one resolution that is now of importance and relevance: do everything to keep in good health. All the rest is secondary.

In his ‘The Summing Up’ the British writer Somerset Maugham expressed regret that the sad thing about old age is that one can only look back to the past, not forward to the future. When I read that many years ago I took this statement for granted, since it came from someone so reputed and a great observer of human nature. And of course at that time I didn’t give a second thought to it, since old age seemed to be far away and until it arrives kind of one doesn’t really bother.

Man has always tried to remain youthful, and stories abound about the quest for a formula for rejuvenation, possibly an élixir de jouvence. Scientists and medical men have pitched in at various stages with recommendations of various therapies, and tall claims from some practitioners of dubious if not weird concoctions of hormones and vitamins, but all to no avail. However, there is now some serious research being done on the phenomenon of aging, and sound advice is available for ‘healthy aging’. The fundamental one is that one must prepare from early on, the focus being on preventive measures and those that promote good health, amongst which prudent eating, regular exercise, keeping an active mind, and socializing with the right kind of people are key ingredients.

My own preferred way of keeping my mind busy is through reading and writing, which forcibly makes one think. And the age of the reading material doesn’t matter; why, the older it is the more curious one gets, for not only ‘old is gold’, but in all fields of human knowledge material from times past means both stores of wisdom and insights into the development and evolution of ideas about our existence from all perspectives. I am always excited about publications that belong to the past, and a few days ago I got yet another opportunity to delve into a precious lot of them.

Treasures from the recent past

And so looking back to the past need not necessarily be a matter of regret, for it can be moments of recollection in tranquility and of shared memories, as has not infrequently happened to me. The latest occasion was sorting out the bookcase of my late chacha by his son. He had started the triage already, and asked me if there was any possibility of donation of books on science and maths that my chacha had used when he was at the RCC in the late 1930s/early ’40s. Unfortunately no, I said, but if there were any others of a general interest, then we could have a look, since I knew that like me my Chacha was fond of books and reading too. In fact I was influenced by him and my father in the matter. He kept adding to his collection by buying locally and when he travelled, mainly in English, for example Penguin paperbacks.

And so it is that I and my cousin spent a good amount of time on the job as it were, and I came back home with three carton boxes full of books and magazines, a number of them ‘cariatés’! But never mind, that’ll be taken care of. I have already identified several that will find their way to the book nest at Trou-0-Cerfs. The Penguin paperbacks cover a variety of subjects, from history to English letters of centuries past, astronomy, the world wars, etc. Other books include Gandhiji’s autobiography which I will give away as I already possess a copy, and a few on law as also Harold Laski’s classic ‘A Grammar of Politics’ which will find their way to my friends already identified. There’s also a well used copy of Romain Rolland’s ‘La vie de Vivekananda et l’Evangile universel’, which will complement the English version that I have.

And then there were copies of ‘Science Today’ of the 1970s, an Indian magazine which has ceased publication and which I used to read when I was in India, and I have many cuttings from my own copies. I have already begun going through them, and found articles of much scientific and as well historical interest – for example, the issue of March 1972 has on the cover the title of a lead article about genetic engineering, ‘Must we manipulate man?’ Yes or no, we already have been at it in many ways!

And then there’s a whole load of English Digest, World Digest, which date back to the time of the Second World War and carry a number of articles about it, about Hitler, Churchill, about war and peace and so on. The Reader’s Digest copies belong to the 1970s. As secondary school students, we were always encouraged to read this magazine which was found in our college library as well as at the Carnegie Library. I read about the centenary of the Carnegie Library being celebrated recently, and that there is a project to restore the old books that belong there, and I am glad that at last they are being taken care of.

And when I got back home, in the afternoon I received a nice New Year gift: ‘Sapiens: Une brève histoire de l’humanité’ by Yuval Noah Harari. What better way to end the year?

* * *

Will there be a world war?

Alas, the world will always be a mixture of light and darkness. And so we have had our quota of all manner of upheavals throughout the past year, both manmade and natural. The former were in theory preventable, but in practice there is a dynamic of forces that go beyond control by either a single individual or the multitude once the ball has been set rolling, and we are faced with situations and realities that are a reflection more often of our weaknesses, foibles, whims rather than anything better.

Populism is blamed for having brought US President Donald Trump to power, and an American general has warned that there is a genuine possibility of war erupting. The Middle East is already a war zone, and trump has gleefully armed his new friends – the Saudis – by selling military equipment worth tens of billions of dollars so that, presumably, they can pound Yemen even more efficiently. North Korea is raring to go, and the confrontation with the US and Japan has an ominous foreboding. If anything, 2018 doesn’t look like it’s going to be such a peaceful year from these signs. Nobody can guarantee that a nuclear war will not break out. Crazy humans that we are.

#MeToo rolled into a movement that unveiled sexual harassment on an unprecedented scale in Hollywood to start with, then all across America in all sectors, followed by similar reports from all over the world. The wave is likely to grow bigger.

Locally No.18 constituency gave a lesson, and indicated a possible trend. But we have to wait and see.

Fake news: more dangerous than Ebola

‘Fake news’ became a reality in the sense that people believed in it and made decisions based on accepting it as being true to fact, with consequences that caused a social churning, especially in America where it all began. As president Obama has said, it was social media spreading misinformation and corroding social discourse in public.

In a light vein, but pithily, someone has captured its portent under a post ‘Beware of these viruses’: ‘Isnebola, usnebola, kyabola, kyunbola, kaisebola, kahanbola, kabbola, tubola, wohbola, yebola – they are more dangerous than Ebola!’ (‘S/he said, that one said, what did s/he say, why did s/he say, how did s/he say, where did s/he say, when did s/he say, you said, they said – they are more dangerous…’) – but sorry, as you can see, the masala is lost in the translation !

To all readers, I wish you a Happy New Year that will bring more good news than fake news! And be good to yourselves by resolving to begin that healthful journey towards aging gracefully and healthily…

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