There’s a very early memory I have, of looking at a picture-book as a child, of a gorgeous, red squirrel collecting chestnuts and stocking its hole in the tree. The sensible creature was preparing for spending winter tucked inside this cosy little space that it had carved out for itself. It went about its work with purpose and I’m sure reaped justified rewards when it retired for the winter. I’d imagined being that squirrel, tucked inside with a blanket and a good book, a lamp and tasty chestnuts to keep me warm and satisfied. We all need to look to the happy rodent for lessons in effective hibernation.
It could’ve just been a yearning for cold weather (having moved from Delhi where there was a definite winter to Chennai where it was hot throughout the year), or every child’s desire to return to the comfort of a womb-like space to be cocooned from the rest of the world and still looked after (the idea of not having to trouble oneself with preparing food – arriving as it does via the umbilical cord – definitely faster than ordering through Deliveroo). The Danish idea of “hygge” (creating the perfect idea of cosiness) was all the rage in 2016 – there was something disingenuous about what appeared to be gentle candles, sweet treats and warm woollen jumpers – all adding to that idea of serene comfort when the elements outside were keeping us indoors.
As the time for official hibernating for another year draws closer, I’m pulled in two conflicting directions. The first one of course is to rebel against it – embrace the idea of adventure, of travel, fast-forward to being rejuvenated – check out the pages in this blog and you’ll find ample evidence of how attractive I find this path. Essentially it is one of escape, I’m all too aware. My current craving is somewhere that is mellow and warm (not hot) like southern Spain. One Christmas spent in El Puerto de Santa Maria (somewhere between Tarifa and Cadiz) is preying on my mind. More than the actual holiday, the idea of travel is so much more romantic in the anticipation and also in the recall of it. I can still see the glamorous sights – the sea, the white-washed villages, the winding streets up sweeping mountains, enjoying leisurely Spanish tapas, strolling down quiet streets. I prefer not to dwell on the reality-type stuff that intrudes into this perfect fantasy – the arguments we inevitably have, the queues at the airport, the cramped aircrafts and the actual return to the boring, banal and mundane.
Choosing the other path however could be a more rewarding one – of staying put, of knuckling down, chained to the desk and working with fewer distractions. See, the images I conjure have a stern, authoritarian edge – clearly, not at all helpful at the outset. We could even try to cut out the clanging sounds of jingling bells, monotonic re-plays of Last Christmas and all the other mind-numbing ‘festive’ music you hear everywhere – on the radio, every cafe, shop and toilet. Maybe Mindfulness is the answer. If you are still awake after blanking out the tsunami of random noises – visual, aural and those embedded in your mind, and through that virtual cable from your hand holding the smartphone/tablet to your brain. The trouble is once you put in the effort and do a clear-out, abstain from tea, coffee and social media, you’re left with a gaping hole of exhaustion and filling it with good stuff is an effort. So, it’s the idea of hibernation that is proving to be more elusive than I’d first thought.
As 2017 comes to a screaming halt, more than anything, I can hear women’s voices – of mature, thoughtful, professional women who have finally managed to speak up about years of being undermined, abused and violated by powerful men. Of young people, whose anxiety levels are rocketing, due to a zillion reasons – reflecting how precarious and stressful the world feels for growing up. And these are the articulate ones, who have people to worry about them – even they seem to find it hard to grasp that thing called hope. Imagine the refugee children who have been orphaned, the growing numbers of homeless people in this bitter cold on the streets…the victims of Grenfell who mourned their loved ones who died in the fire that turned a block of flats into an incinerator back in June.
All of this feeds into the state of perpetual anxiety we find ourselves in – in this planet now ruled by apes (starting with Trump, Modi, Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Duterte, and the band of clowns orchestrating Brexit) – each one providing ample opportunities to illustrate their negative impact on society and our ever increasing fragility. It is navigating through all the sludge and still coming out alive and sane, and reacquainting with hope, that is the challenge for the new year.