And so it has happened. It’s supposedly another year. I woke up not feeling any different. Raucous music from a club nearby kept me awake till midnight, and then fireworks kept me awake for another half an hour. I could hear the screeching. The hooting. Screams as I lay in my dark room with the light from a weak street lamp for company. And I can’t help but think of ‘new years’ in the old past gone by.
The first New Year I spent abroad was in China. I remember me, a Scottish friend of mine; Sherry, the Chinese international office director of the school I worked for, and William, the driver sitting around on a freezing night in Lianyungang. The heating was not on. A policy of the school to switch it off when you need it the most. We huddled close to a small portable heater, watching programs on T.V. The Chinese were palpably bored. This was not their New Year. We made some desultory conversation, and it was obvious that the Scot was missing home – the West where we borrow this concept of New Year from the most. The clock ticked over. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. We wished each other. Hugs. And it was over. I stepped outside, and the draft from an open skylight hit me. The wind howled. I went back to my room, and looked over at the mountains that graced Liangyungang. It was bitterly cold. And somehow, I felt everything was really new. It was to be a New Year. In my life. Not just a day on a calendar that someone devised centuries ago.
Then, there was the New Year in Thailand. Having reached Thailand on the day the tsunami struck, my friend and I just slept through the night in the country’s north – Chiang Mai. I had slept deep, tired from a long day’s journey into Asia’s own triangle of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. I remember feeling a bit disappointed, although I wasn’t the party person, I didn’t want to sleep through a new year either. But then, with calamity around you, there wasn’t much to celebrate. It was a strange time.
Two years later, I was once again in China. This time, I was determined not to spend it staring at the T.V. There were 3 of us – me, an Indian friend, and an American. There were fireworks promised by the Bund. Stuck in a small provincial town in China, the American was craving for a wild night of partying. We weren’t quite so sure – that is me and my Indian friend, but it was Shanghai – that seething seductive mistress of chaotic lights and unabashed richness. We were game. The Chinese were curiously excited this time – the government was celebrating a date that means nothing to the Chinese, but it was doing so to show its willingness to open up to the world, as it has so famously done in its economy. We got a few beers, and already the Bund was full. It wasn’t a raucous crowd. It was obvious that the Chinese still didn’t get it. But they were willing to try anyway. We sat by the Bund, staring out at the spectacular promenade that has never failed to move me. After a while though, we turned around, NOT facing the river but the street where traffic swirled slowly by. We talked about life. We abandoned plans to go to any nightclub. The American got some street kebabs. I was hungry, but I knew I couldn’t afford to buy anything. The countdown began. Rather muted. The police stood nervously. The Chinese government hates gatherings of any kind. We turned around, stood on the parapet. And the fireworks began. It was a small drop compared to the massive display I have seen during the Spring Festival. We watched for sometime. And that’s it. Another year slipped into the past, and 365 days stretched out.
And there was the New Year against the Petronas. I was in mixed company – friend, strangers, and my Dad. I don’t remember much of it. The fireworks must have been great, but from my point, I could barely see it. I was thinking what am I doing, crammed in this sweaty space with masses of strange bodies for company…and I think that my thoughts weren’t on the year ahead, but the year gone by. And as always, a lump rises in my throat, and my eyes sting with all that is dead and buried in the past. Memories. People. Moments. So much a year holds. So much it gives away.
I wonder now if the promise of a New Year was something that was a cherished gift from naive youth. Yesterday, I was just irritated with the noise, wanting to sleep. I know that there is no difference in today from yesterday. I wonder if I have become less of a romantic and more of a realist. I wonder if I have lost that spark in the magic of a New Year. But I know that of lesser stuff are dreams made. Each time, the year falls back, I know that I stand again at the threshold, like an eager child wanting to know just what chocolates Life will hand me. As long as I have that curiosity to dream then I know that I am alive.