Happy New Year!

2020 has been an intensely turbulent year, to say the least. It has been a period of upheaval all over the world, and possibly, the gateway to a decade of possibilities. We may think we’ve seen it all this year—a pandemic, quarantine, protests—but how much have we really seen? What does this decade hold for us?

Throughout history, there is one interesting pattern that can be noticed. In each century—at least the previous two—the decades of the ‘20s have always been times of momentous changes. The 1820s were a time of cultural change: the more materialistic and voluptuous world of the 18th century was turning into a stiff Victorian world of morality, rules and etiquette. Food, culture and clothing became restrictive and rule-based, and colonialism had started to take hold of the world on an unprecedented scale. African and Asian countries and people slowly started adopting Western ideals, norms and customs. The 1820s was also a decade of disease: a cholera epidemic started in Calcutta, India, and quickly escalated into a pandemic, spreading to Eastern and Western Asia, and coastal Africa, and went on to kill around one or two million people (exact figures are unknown).

The 1920s were also a time of upheaval. Alternatively known as the “Jazz Age” and the “Roaring Twenties”, these years marked the dramatic changes that overturned the world from a rigid, Victorian era, to a new, modern era. The foundations were laid for the modern ideals and values that are still revered today: equality and freedom. Women all over the world—but especially in Europe and America—reaped the benefits of this post-war world, gaining voting rights and representation, grasping their new-found independence tightly, venturing out of their homes to roam the streets, dance, go to bars and parties, and work. The end of the World War I brought about—at least for the rich and middle-classes—a collapse of traditional, Victorian Era gender norms and conventions. A new class of women emerged, called “flappers”, who indulged in liberties that had been denied to them as late as the 1910s: they wore short skirts, and sometimes even trousers; they smoked openly, and they partied and danced Jazz, pursuits that were once considered undignified for respectable women. Women began to find their voices as writers, politicians and movie-stars.

It was also the age of crumbling racial structures. While racism remained prevalent, its foundations were deeply shaken in the 1920s. In America, African-Americans used their new-found voices to usher in a new age. Black Americans became pioneers of Jazz music and dance, and emerged as influential writers and musicians. Meanwhile, in the Eastern world, the fight against the repressions of colonialism was steadily reaching its pinnacle.

Surprisingly, the 1920’s too started with a pandemic: the Spanish flu, which started after the First World War, in 1918, and lasted till April 1920, killing at least 50 million people worldwide.

2020 has been a similar, landmark year, starting out with the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual workplaces and schools. Tensions reached its peak in May, June and July 2020, when the brutal murder of an African-American man, George Floyd, gave rise to global outrage against continuing racial injustices and police brutality. In the meantime, other incidents have continued to shake the world, from the ongoing Hong-Kong protests, to the cataclysmic explosion in Beirut in August, the Farmers’ Protests in India, and of course, since its implications are global, the US Presidential Elections.

What will this decade bring? For one thing, it will bring—I truly hope—a decisive attack on racism from all fronts. Perhaps we may see more movements like the Black Lives Matter movement, possibly movements with indigenous people such as Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, and other tribal societies around the world, at their helm. Another thing it will bring is a virtual, online world: the “New Normal”. This digital world will be both more connected, and more disconnected, than ever before. Workplaces will connect online at a global scale: workers from India, Malaysia and so on can work and collaborate with people from Germany, the UK and the US without moving from their desks. But at the same time, there will inevitably be a disintegration of human connections built on physical interaction and face-to-face conversations. The increasingly online means of expression will allow many to express their opinions without fear; but the anonymity of the means can also encourage antisocial elements such as trolling, rumour-mongering and conspiracies.

But one thing is clear, and has been realised many times throughout history: there is no use of bemoaning change. The only option is to change with time. Societies are inexplicably complex, and the changes that affect them cannot easily be said to be good or bad. The best we can do is to accept these changes, and change with them as far as we can, without compromising on our core values.

On this note, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and a fruitful year ahead.

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