Let’s face it, 2016 has been the spittle that sizzles on a pavement. It has been the rat poison that lurks in a clump of cheddar. It has been all the unironic ironies described in that Alanis Morisette song and then some.
We saw death and devastation in conflict zones across the world, and governments reacting with that classic mix of brutal repression and apathy. We saw a misogynist, racist game show host being voted into power for being a misogynist, racist game show host. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and George Michael. We killed the fact.
And now nobody in India has any cash because the government has decided to reform the national character. So you can buy Louis Vuitton hand bags more easily than you can buy eggs. Unless you can’t afford Louis Vuitton hand bags. (Most of India can’t.)
We are compiling all the terrible things that happened in a volume entitled “Apocalyptica”. The list of happy things wouldn’t fill a chit. But then we looked hard and found that there might be reason for some bleak cheer. Five reasons, as a matter of fact (whatever that means anymore).
They exist. And we finally know it. The existence of these ripples in spacetime, caused by massive cosmic events that generate great gouts of energy, were predicted about a century ago in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Physicists have been trying to prove their existence ever since.
Last year, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory picked up distortions in spacetime generated by two colliding black holes about 1.3 billion light years away. The amount of space-time wobbling was thousands of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom. The LIGO findings were published early this year.
“It is our first direct view of a place in the universe where matter loses all its identity and time comes to an end,” writes David Blair. Not too shabby, as findings go.
India’s medal count was low, one bronze, one silver and no gold. But the country’s female athletes scripted stories of triumph that were better than medals. Dipa Karmakar made the journey from Tripura to Rio de Janeiro to become the first Indian female gymnast to compete in the Olympics. We watched transfixed as she performed a perfect Produnova, regarded as the most difficult vault in women’s gymnastics.
We saw PV Sindhu become the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver, ceding the badminton finals after a hard fight. We saw Sakshi Malik become the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics. Happy tears, anyone?
Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech
You might not agree with his politics but that was quite a speech. Weeks before that, Kumar, then president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, had been arrested and booked with sedition and criminal conspiracy. His alleged offence: chanting “anti-national” slogans at a campus event to mark the hanging of Afzal Guru, convicted for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack.
It led to turmoil on campus and much silliness in the national media, where some channels chose to air doctored videos of anti-national activity. On the night of March 3, Kumar returned to JNU after weeks in Tihar to make his midnight speech.
It was a warm and generous speech, steeped in a brand of wry Bihari humour that drew in audiences instantly. Kumar reclaimed the right to dissent and the idea of nationalism from the rhetoric that had been jangling for weeks on end. He laid claim to azadi on behalf of a coalition of the oppressed – Dalits, minorities, farmers, women. He politely told off the prime minister and then education minister Smriti Irani. It was, at the very least, an act of astonishing audacity.
In April, the World Wildlife Fund had some good news. After a century of decline, tiger numbers had gone up from 3,200 in 2010 to 3,890 in 2016. The 2010 pledge to double the tiger population by 2022 seemed within reach. What’s more, the growing numbers were attributed largely to successful conservation programmes in India, Nepal, Russia and Bhutan.
Of course, we could still mess this up. According to figures put out by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, 98 tigers died in India in 2016, a rise of 25% from the previous year. Poaching and poisoning were the chief culprits. Government initiatives such as the Ken-Betwa river linking project could further endanger habitats and populations. But at least we are beating China at this.
Look, you might, for various reasons, have trouble accepting Beyonce Knowles as a feminist icon and symbol of black pride. But this visual album “writes black women into national, regional and diasporic histories”, as one author put it. It is important because this was the year of #BlackLivesMatter, the year that brought us Trump’s America.
Lemonade is an anthem for rage, so vital and so difficult in our times. When the history of these years is written, someone will wave a fabulous electronic device emitting a hologram of Beyonce smashing cars and say, “This too”.