Prof. T K Thomas

Prof. T K Thomas

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring happy bells, across the snow,

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true”.

It is Alfred Tennyson who wrote the above immortal lines in his poem, ”In Memoriam”. The first stanza has become part of English idiom and is almost a cliché while referring to a new year, though philosophically, first of January or first of any other month in other calendars is like first of any other first month of the year. People around the world however look forward to the first of January every year with great expectations and enthusiasm. It may probably be more relevant to individuals, but for every nation too, great significance is attached to the New Year. Perhaps, it is at the individual level that people’s anxieties, hopes and aspirations about what will be in store for them in the New Year assumes importance. Will it be a better and happier year than the one gone by? Anticipation of fear or otherwise is almost a universal emotion characterized by somatic complaints, rumination or an ecstatic feeling of optimism.

Such feelings also result in superstitions. A large number of people tend to believe that the experience or who they encountered on the morning of the first day of the year would have a bearing on the whole year. It is not the intention here to deride or condemn personal beliefs or faith of anyone which is an individual’s right and a matter of privacy. Such personal beliefs which others who do not believe may be considered superstitions. The world over, people have such beliefs. There was an uncle of mine who believed that while going out on work or for some auspicious occasion, if a cat crossed his path, he would return home, cancelling the journey; it was considered inauspicious or a bad omen. The number 13 is considered unlucky, even in developed countries and there are examples of airlines or cinema houses without seat no:13!

As far as new year days are concerned there are plenty of examples from across the world. Some people believe that if you do laundry on New Year’s Day, a member of the family will be washed away[die] during the coming year. In Southern United States having certain food items like black-eyed peas or cabbage will attract a financial windfall ; on the other hand eating chicken or lobster on New Year’s eve would mean bad luck in the year ahead! People wear new clothes on New Year day in the expectation of receiving more new garments during the year. There are people who do not pay back loans or lend money fearing that you will be paying out all through the year!

There are lots of people who start the New Year with prayers. It is common that they go to their respective worshipping houses either on the eve or on the day of the New Year. They pray for a happy and prosperous year ahead, one better than the year gone by in which they had difficulties, problems or bereavements. Most people re-evaluate or examine their lives in the light of problems in their interpersonal relations or conduct that led to problems and strained relations. Unless they suffer from hubris, they decide that in the new year they need a course correction. While introspecting and examining their lives during the year gone by they may resolve to change their habits or attitudes that were undesirable. So, they decide to take decisions that would help them overcome such infirmities.

Such decisions are popularly known as New Year resolutions. There are people who resolve to be more loving and caring to their family members at home in the New Year - not to lose temper, not to get angry and shout at children, siblings and spouses. Or decide to be more religious/ spiritual, not to tell lies or use abusive language or swear. Students think that they should concentrate and study more. There are others who decide to eat more healthy diet, reduce intake of white poisons like sugar, sweets, salt and be more frugal at the dining table. Others wish to be regular in their daily exercises or practice yoga or meditation. Most people who are habitual excessive users of tobacco or alcohol decide to reduce their frequency or quantity or for total abstinence. Gamblers want to quit as they realize that it results in financial losses and family discord but once they become compulsive they find it difficult to quit. Smokers, alcoholics and drug addicts too face the same predicament.

A chain smoker once said that it is very easy to quit smoking; I have done it umpteen times! There is another, an alcoholic, who said that he had taken a New Year resolution not to drink everyday; so now he drinks on two days in the year – days on which it rains to celebrate the rains and days on which it doesn’t rain to drown the sorrow of a dry day! Jokes apart, it is really difficult to follow resolutions taken for the New Year. Most of us do not follow them after starting the first day with great enthusiasm. To give a statistical evidence for this, here are findings from Forbes. “The statistics on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year’s resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25%of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them. Don’t be part of that statistics.” Forbes further urges people to set goals instead of resolutions. Goals, it is explained, are specific, whereas resolutions tend to be broad and vague. Goals are much more attainable, which is what makes them more effective.

So this year instead of resolutions, set goals. We decide to go for New Year resolutions after much introspection and self examination. And most of us are indeed keen on being committed to them for personal growth development. So we ought to be serious about converting the resolutions into goals and then attaining them.

So far we have looked at New Year resolutions at an individual level. Do countries have New Year Resolution? Countries need to have goal setting and that was the spirit behind planned development through Five Year Plans abandoned by our government a few years ago. One may not go into the merits and demerits of the Five Year Plans but every government needs to set goals in a time bound manner.

Like individuals, countries and governments too are keen to know what the future holds for them. Those who believe in astrology do get the horoscopes of themselves and their families. There are astrologers who predict about the year ahead for the nation on every New Year. There are people who refer to the predictions of the French astrologer Michael de Nostredame, known in the Latin version of the name, Nostradamus. His book “Les Propheties” published in 1555 is still much sought after for the over 900 pages of predictions about the future events that are likely to occur in the world. While considerable number of historians and experts tend to dismiss his predictions as hocus pocus, there are people the world over who consider his predictions as correct and point out certain events predicted by him that have actually happened. These include the devastating three day fire that burnt down the city of London in September 1666, the French Revolution in 1789, conquests of Napoleon, discoveries of Louis Pasteur, Hitler’s rise and First World War, dropping of atom bomb in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 etc. For 2020 there are Nostradamus predictions about destructive earthquakes, economic crisis, re-election of President Trump, rise in sea levels and storms.

There incidentally are no authenticated predictions about India. Of course there were blogs by Francois Gautier a French journalist published in the Times of India on purported political developments in India which were later taken out. Gautier, from 2012 onwards reportedly discovered old trunks containing more predictions of Nostradamus!

Resolutions for the New Year, astrological and other predictions notwithstanding, we can only wish that we as a nation will have a happy and prosperous 2020. That would mean, India without violence, true to what the Father of the Nation often quoted from our ancient Sanskrit texts, “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma”- which may loosely be translated into English as non-violence is the ultimate or supreme duty. Unfortunately today, there seems to be unprecedented violence in different parts of the country. Isn’t it therefore the supreme duty of every Indian to wish in this New Year a violence free Republic that upholds our Constitutional values? Our New Year wish for the country could be, to quote Gurudev Tagore:-

“Where the mind is without fear and the head held high,

Where knowledge is free,

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls,

Where words come from the depths of truth………”

Wishing everyone a new dawn in 2020!