The bright side of dark things

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on December 29, 2017

It’s been a bad year for good news. Or a good year for bad news. Whichever way we try to spin it, there’s been very little silver in this year’s lining. Still. It’s the end of the year and we’ve got to try, right? So here’s a look at some of the worst news of the year, with the aim of squeezing something — anything! — positive and hopeful out of the gloom

California burnin’

The wildfires that began in October in California, US, have destroyed over 500,000 acres. More than 40 people have died so far. Some predictions estimate the damage at over $180 billion. And, of course, thousands of trees and wild creatures have gone up in flames.

Can there be any positive takeaway from all this devastation? Only this: it was the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that fanned the flames, plus years of drought. Hmmm... For all our technological advances, maybe a little humility is in order.

Maybe the Earth is fighting back against us, after all. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Cow vigilantes

Vigilante groups aimed at protecting cows in India have executed fellow citizens suspected of slaughtering the animals, eating them or transporting them across the border to abattoirs. Since April this year, some 26 incidents have occurred involving cow saviours. There’s no positive spin that can wipe away the stain of such crimes. However, they do force us to acknowledge that tolerance and pacifism are no longer national traits. Those who think it’s acceptable to hack fellow citizens to death must surely lose the right to call themselves peace-loving vegetarians. It’s nothing to celebrate, but at least we can no longer be accused of hypocrisy.

Kim Jong Ugh

A young man who waves nuclear weapons around as if they were toy guns is NOT someone we want to share the planet with. But alas, there he is.

Whichever country he targets, all of us get hit. So that’s the tiny shred of hope to cling to: in today’s world, no country can afford to think, “Oh, look! Someone’s pulled the plug out of their life-raft! They’re all gonna drown!”

Nope: WE’RE all gonna drown. And yes: that’s what hope looks like these days! We’re all in the same life-raft together. Let’s keep it afloat.

Starving polar bear

This bear was the subject of a recent “viral video”. I couldn’t bear (no pun intended!) to watch it, but the image stayed with me anyway. So that’s the upside to this painful story of a once-fearsome predator that starved to death because of global warming: he got noticed, he’s been immortalised on film and therefore maybe, just MAYBE, a few more of us will believe that the polar ice-caps really are melting. This bear is one of many wake-up calls. Whether or not it’s our fault, we need to be part of the solution. Don’t we?


An ID card that requires fingerprints and retinal scans from the owners would be a bad idea in any country. But in our country, best known for a kind of mystical approach to truth and efficiency, this is a frankly cruel idea. Already, we’ve heard of older citizens finding it impossible to confirm their identities at banks, because their fingerprints are no longer machine-readable. How easy would it be to abuse the system and to scam ordinary people by stealing their personal data? Too easy. On the other hand, perhaps as we all gradually lose our fingerprints, our identities and our bank accounts, we will all be wafted towards a higher state of consciousness. We will be released from attachment to our petty personalities and our possessions, leave Delhi’s polluted air behind and merge ourselves with the Infinite. Amen.

Breathless in New Delhi

In November this year, air quality in the Capital deteriorated to the point where the children of diplomats were being sent to school wearing gas-masks. That’s what it takes to catch the attention of the authorities: foreigners are being inconvenienced! Oh, goodness gracious me.

It’s never enough for mere Indians living in slums to report that they can’t breathe or that their children are succumbing to lung diseases. But if tourists are running away and it’s on the BBC... well then, things must be bad! If this is the only way Delhi’s air quality can be addressed — then our best hope is that it remains bad enough for long enough to inspire real change.

All the other awful things that have happened this year are too sad to find even faux-positive ways of referring to them. The multiple terror attacks — in London, Manchester, Barcelona, Mogadishu to name just a few; the mass-shootings in the US; the disastrous hurricanes — Harvey, Maria and Irma; the persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar; the ISIS-related atrocities in West Asia. Then there are those news items which are too tawdry to be placed alongside the others — such as the roll-call of sexual predators that began with Harvey Weinstein. And the news about grim and grimy political leaders such as ex-President Robert Mugabe and President Donald Trump: their misdeeds are too many and too depressing to be worth dredging up for special mention. In India, the rail accidents, the Gorakhpur child deaths tragedy, the never-ending crisis in Kashmir, the farmers’ woes, the censorship of woman-centric movies such as Lipstick Under My Burkha, Padmavati and Sexy Durga... the list goes on and on. And on.

But a new year’s about to begin. We’ve got to be hopeful. Got to shine up our smiles and keep our spirits flying. Because that’s how we fight the bad guys. Not with weapons, not with draconian laws and tear gas but with good humour. And some chocolate. Happy 2018, everyone! Make it so.

Manjula Padmanabhan is a writer, artist and playwright

Published on December 29, 2017
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