What a year. And if you think you displayed impeccable restraint because you didn’t throw up on the mother of all roller-coaster rides that was 2008, imagine what it must have been like for Ratan Tata. Yet, there he was looking calm and determined on television, as the year drew to a close. “We can be hurt but not knocked down,” he said as he reopened one wing of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai less than a month after terrorists attacked the hotel.
21 December: Ratan Tata at the reopening of the Taj. Shirish Shete / PTI
And Tata was hurt bad in 2008. This year, in addition to recovering from an audacious attack and rebuilding south Mumbai’s most luxurious hangout, he has had to figure out how he is going to find the millions of dollars required to bail out the lemon that is Jaguar (it now looks like the British government might finally help) and drive the Nano nearly 1,600km from West Bengal to Gujarat after a furious—and very public—land-rights battle.
Aside from thanking our stars that we lesser mortals are not in Tata’s shoes (and that our weekend homes are not located on the banks of the river Kosi and that we celebrate Christmas in Goa not Kandhamal), we should be kicking ourselves for our complacency.
We should have seen it coming. Or, to use M. Night Shyamalan’s logic: We should have seen the Signs. In his 2002 film, the director outlined two kinds of people who inhabit his universe: Those who believe everything happens for a reason and those who believe that life is pure chance. Of course, it wasn’t a good year for Shyamalan either. This was the year the world finally agreed that he was no Hitchcock.
Yet, we should have seen it coming because the year got off to a killer start. On the first day of the new year, terrorists armed with AK-47s and grenades attacked the recruitment centre of the paramilitary force in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. In February, the police of that state arrested six Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who were associated with the Rampur attack and were said to be planning an attack on Mumbai. Urban terror was one of the year’s most disturbing themes.
Actually, many of the issues and people in the news in January continued to dominate the headlines through the year.
Sachin Tendulkar scored the first two of his four centuries of 2008 in January. Later in the year, he crossed 12,000 runs and became the world’s leading scorer in Test cricket, beating Brian Lara’s record. January was also the month Tata was first in the spotlight, when he finally unveiled his dream four-year project at the Ninth Auto Expo. Raj Thackeray was already in the news in January and managed to stay put through the year.
The year began with bird flu in West Bengal and ended with bird flu in Assam. The beginning of the year saw petrol price hikes, the end of the year, price cuts.
Like most years, India got more than its share of everything in 2008. A horrific flood. Farmer suicides. Riots. Gruesome murders of young women (Arushi Talwar, Scarlet Keeling, Soumya Viswanathan). Communal clashes. An Indian Mujahideen. Naxal attacks. Tiger deaths. A moon mission. A nuclear face-off. New money-spinners (the Indian Premier League was born in 2008) and new billionaries. Sporting humiliation (our hockey team didn’t qualify for the Beijing Olympics for the first time in 80 years) and sporting victory (shooter Abhinav Bindra won this country its first ever individual gold in the Olympics).
It was the year Baba Amte died, Bilkis Bano got justice, Sister Alphonsa was anointed our first female saint and Sonia Gandhi became the longest serving Congress president. In 2008, inflation touched a new high and our investments plummeted to new lows. In short, it was another year of living in India.
As Joyce Carol Oates put it in her famous essay On Boxing: “Life is a metaphor for boxing—for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and you and your opponent so evenly matched it’s impossible not to see that your opponent is you.” This year proved once again that India loves to fight itself.
PS: I wonder what January holds.
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