2021: The year of grit and grin

2021: The year of grit and grin

It was the year when everything happened and nothing happened

Grin and bear it? Credit: iStock Photo

The year 2020 messed up with our collective heads so much that even the most practical and logical amongst us were hoping and expecting 2021 to be the year of deliverance. But the first year of the new decade was more delinquent than messianic.

For many of us, it was often touch-and-go; for others, it was neither here nor there. There was a distinct sense of having lived through several years in one year while at the same time, experiencing a sort of perpetual loop — as if we were all caught in a limbo, waiting, hoping, wringing, and ennui-ing. Rinse, repeat. 

At the end of March, when there was still ignorance and disbelief about a possible second wave, the optimistically named 'Ever Given', a large container ship, got jammed in the Suez canal. A prophetic symbol, if ever there was one, for a year that would pretty much give out the same vibes — stuck with nowhere to go.

It started out well enough. Cases were on the wane, people had gingerly begun travelling again, gyms and malls were said to open and I was daydreaming of a full four-course meal at my favourite restaurant. January began with Trump being shown the door and Biden sworn in, a symbol of democratic hope amidst rising global autocracy (though an excessively-mittened and grumpy Bernie Sanders stole the limelight and the memes). In India, there was a general air of 'what virus who virus' and this ruinous cheer lasted all of two months. Then strode in the Delta variant and 2021 began unravelling.

Mired in quicksand?

A dreadful second wave was upon us without as much a by your leave. There will be several other articles that will talk in length about how India's healthcare system collapsed, how crematoria burnt bodies day and night, how patients suffocated on their way to hospitals that had neither beds nor oxygen for them, and how aerial shots of decomposed bodies floating in the Ganga were a dismal but a near-perfect depiction of a country rotting from within.

We won't talk about them. We will recall how the rest of us felt — the ones whose lives were mired in a quicksand of bleak news, bleaker statistics, and work that continued in makeshift corners and on uncomfortable mattresses with our family dynamics thrown into sharp, bickering relief because, you see dearies, everyone was at home and no one likes dying. Many of us were done with the sourdough and banana bread experiments by this time and just wanted our life back. 

At the height of the wave in April and May, the daily count of new infections went beyond 400,000 — the point where numbers became meaningless and Covid trackers a thing of curling anxiety.

And then, the vaccines started trickling in. For those of us who had survived the second wave, there was a feeling that we might just have scraped through the worst of it. We were alive!

So we were waiting again. For our second doses, for the great return to work, and sometimes, we awaited the return of our own selves. As September rolled in, seemingly unconcerned about the summer devastation, 2021 began to feel like a whole new year and the nightmarish second wave like an extended 2020. We trudged on with masks fast becoming neck and wrist accessories and the careful being sniggered at and made to feel silly.

Today, the new and the old normal have fused haphazardly and it feels like we are all suspended in a fluid of hybrid normality. Omicron is on the horizon as is 2022. But we chug along, as we are programmed to, reining in both our fears and hopes. Practice makes panic pheeka? Maybe.

The Potterheads amongst us are starting the new year with a 'magical' celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter movie. Let's hope some of that magic dust gets sprinkled on the year as well. 

And the word of the year is...

While the Oxford dictionary went a little Gen Z and declared the extra-shortened 'Vax' as the word of the year, for the experts at Collins, the winner is the grimace-inducing and clunky 'NFTs'. The expansion 'Non-Fungible Tokens', of course, sounds like something your cat dragged in. Be that as it may, according to Alex Beecroft, managing director of Collins Learning, there was an 11,000% rise in the use of the term in 2021.

Other unsurprising runners-up include 'crypto', 'hybrid-working' and 'double-vaxxed'. Oh, 'metaverse' too. Our favourite though happens to be 'Regencycore', a style of clothing inspired by the uber-grand Regency Period (1811-20). One suspects Netflix's hit series 'Bridgerton' is largely responsible for this word's entry into the lexicon. There's also 'Cottagecore' (essentially, a fashion aesthetic that celebrates an idealised rural life). Well, at the least, these coinages have a feel-good factor to them and do not sound like, well, fungus.

5 unusual (but happy) things that happened this year

There was a lot of gloom and doom but there were also scattered nuggets crusted with cheer and hope. Here's our selection of some of the lesser-known (we think) things that made this year bearable.

* Saurabh Kirpal may become the country's first openly gay judge if the Union government approves the move. The Supreme Court collegium recommended Kirpal, a senior advocate's elevation as a judge in the Delhi High Court, rejecting the central government's preliminary objections. You are allowed to cross your fingers.

* Globally, renewable energy had a fantastic year, whether anyone else did or not. The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that 2021 was a landmark year for renewables with around 290 GW of renewable energy generation installed worldwide — despite the pandemic and the rising cost of raw materials used to make solar panels and wind turbines. More power to those windy lovelies.

* In some really gooey news, a large-scale research that tracked the health and eating habits of 120,877 US adults over several decades has strongly indicated that *drumrolls* cheese is not a fattening, heart-impairing food. At worst, it is neutral and at best, it is possibly even good for you. According to a long-read essay in wired.com, there's almost no evidence that cheese causes weight gain and no evidence again of any link to cardiovascular disease. This does not mean, however, that you can polish off that camembert box in one session, but yeah, you can say cheese.

* The world's first 3D-printed school opened its 3D doors in Malawi and what's more astonishing is the fact that it was built in flat 15 hours. According to Reuters, the school is made of concrete placed layer upon layer through a computer-controlled nozzle and can seat up to 50 students. It is hoped efforts such as these will help tackle the severe school shortage in Malawi and other parts of Africa. Who knew good-old 3D would do such wonders!

* Even as we are in the midst of the largest mass vaccination drive in history, there's been loads of good news on the malaria front in 2021. In October, WHO recommended the use of 'Mosquirix', the first and only vaccine shown to have the capability of significantly reducing malaria, especially in children. It is sobering to remember here that more than 260,000 children in Africa die every year from malaria. Also, China and El Salvador have been declared malaria-free this year. Mosquitoes have had it coming, I say!

5 weird trends of the year

* Flaxseed: According to Meta's year-end review, Flaxseed was one of the things Indians searched for a lot this year. A fallout perhaps of the implosion in the hunt for immunity-boosting foods.

* How to make oxygen at home: Yeah, according to Google's year-ender listicle, this was on number 5 closely followed by 'how to make banana bread'. Well, well.

* What is the factorial of hundred: Nerd rules, folks. This was apparently also what Indians searched for this year. Go, figure. We could not.

* Doomscrolling and Affirmations: The search for these two activities, at the opposite ends of the spectrum, were at an all-time high worldwide this year according to Google trends. A year of contrasts, did you say!

* Which colour dress to wear in Navratri: Pandemics come and pandemics go, the exasperated 'What do I wear' stays. Apparently, the number of people who asked this highly vexing question to Google aunty doubled in 2021 compared to 2020.

The Big Picture Year-end Awards

We believe in the ignoble more than the noble like we believe in tasteless punning. That should be disclaimer enough but still, let us make it clear that these awards are for fun only and if they happen to offend trolls, we will consider that as a pat on our ample backs.

The Say-It-As-It-Is Award: As much as Kangna Ranaut would like to get her hands on this one, this goes to Virat Kohli for his spirited slamming of those who targetted Mohammed Shami after India lost their opening match against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup.

The Please-Don't-Say-Anything-At-All Award: Yes, yes to the aforementioned Kangna Ranaut. We won't say anything else too.

The Err-What-Did-You-Actually-Say Award: This to Mark Zuckerberg for his 'live video' announcing the Facebook name change to Meta and his ideas for drowning the world in some sort of a futuristic borg where you can conjure up waterfalls when you daydream in your office cabin. Tweeters and meme-makers had a field day mocking everything in the video from Mark's extra-pale (read alien-like) demeanour to the new logo that many compared to an exhausted rubber band to a perplexing ketchup bottle that served as a book-ender behind him (Okay, go see the video again). Also, there was large-scale suspicion that this was Zuckerberg stuffing Facebook's many woes under the metaverse carpet.

The Worst-Kept-Secret Award: To the never-ending, utterly unexciting, extremely predictable VicKat shaadi with its many PR machinations, programmed leaks, the utterly annoying secrecy (till you heard of the contract with a streaming platform), the same-old reverence to Sabyasachi... wake me up when Ranbir and Alia begin behaving strangely.

The Best-Zoom-Call Award: Don't you often suspect that the internet is actually, secretly ruled by cats? More proof was provided by a Texas county attorney who earnestly argued a civil forfeiture case on Zoom as a cat. Rod Ponton could not figure out how to turn off his cat filter on his Zoom call during an online hearing. As much as his colleagues and the judge tried to keep a stony face, it was hard to ignore Ponton the cat's forlorn mew, 'Can you hear me, Judge?' We heard you, Ponton.

And finally,

The Schwarzenegger-I-Will-Be-Back Award: To the coronavirus, who else. We might yet run out of the Greek letters of the alphabet in our lifetime. If it doesn't get us before that, of course.


How did the year go for you? What did you learn? What did you unlearn? Do you have your own list of the best and the worst? Tell us in no more than 100 words. Mail your responses to dhonsunday@deccanherald.co.in. The five wittiest responses will receive prizes. The last date for receiving entries is Jan 2, 2022. Winners will be announced on January 9.

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