Shobhaa De | 2024 is almost here Are you ready for it?

What happens in April-May will set the country on a course which some believe may mark a journey of no return for the next 50 years.

Wonder why we can’t resist what are called “year-enders’’? Mercifully, 2023 is nearly over -- just two more days to go, and the world can sigh, “Thank God it’s over!” No question about it -- 2023 qualifies as the “annus horribilis” (a year of disaster or misfortune). I am not going to subject you to my personal list. Let me just make a few wild, reckless and totally irresponsible observations on the ghastly “Year of Wars” during which the earth almost self-destructed. Blink! And it could have ended -- just like that -- with a bang, not a whimper. To think that two major wars were staged and are still being waged in 2023, just as humanity was pulling out of a pandemic, is a cruel act of twisted politics. The dreaded Covid-19 eliminated millions! The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza continue to claim precious lives, with no respite or resolution in sight, as the countdown for 2024 begins.

For us, here in India, 2024 is likely to be the single most significant year in the nation’s history. What happens in April-May will set the country on a course which some believe may mark a journey of no return for the next 50 years. Are you ready for the road ahead? The outcome of the general election sounds like a done deal, a closed story. But who knows? Fate, history has shown us convincingly and often enough, has a way of throwing a googly when we least expect it. At this stage, it’s nothing more than wishful thinking… gut feeling. But hey -- who would have believed that Donald Trump could occupy the White House once again, given his monumental baggage? But it certainly looks like a distinct possibility right now. MatlabYahan bhi, kuch bhi ho sakta hai! Take heart, folks. Those who are dreading the inevitable, can do one of two things -- reconcile themselves to the poll results or start praying fervently.

I have decided to dedicate 2024 to frivolity and good cheer. Better than daily tequila shots, na? Being seriously committed to irony has its advantages. Nothing can shake the cynics. Not even the prospect of what is staring us in the face -- it’s time to enjoy a good giggle over a tipple, and let those in charge of our lives -- the minders of the national conscience -- do their worst. I’m prepared for any and every absurd dispensation, including a new moral code for citizens. Dress codes for women are being rigorously enforced in certain states. Behaviour codes for minority communities are already in place. Women, being the most visible minority, are living with the fear of being further targeted and marginalised. The plight of our female wrestlers (along with the male wrestlers who supported them) is beyond pathetic. It ought to shock and shame those in authority who claim to represent the rights of women. When men in power get away scot-free after serious allegations are made against them, encourages other men to go ahead and harass defenceless women at will. With very poor representation in Parliament (just 78 female members out of 542 in the Lok Sabha, and 24 in the Rajya Sabha out of 224), there is no real lobby batting for a better deal for India’s 698,192,092 million mahilas, who constitute a hefty 48.4 per cent of the total population. 2024 may see a further deterioration.

So, dear readers, before we chorus Jai Ho! at the likely outcome of the general election, it might be a good idea to re-examine what exactly it is that civil society desires from the political leadership at this point. In one word, it is freedom. Right now, we are a mute, emasculated nation. And to those who constantly roll out impressive statistics and numbers (the Sensex hit 72K this week), is there no concern for the stepped-up multiple compromises we will be forced to make next year? Are boasts about India becoming the third largest economy in the world enough consolation to those who suffer daily indignities and discrimination? Is anyone even talking about fair play? A less hate-filled approach to vital issues that exclude millions from the national narrative? The “M” word (Muslim) will assume far greater significance in 2024. The BJP does not have a single Muslim Member of Parliament… isn’t that significant and scary signalling?

Not every scenario is as dismal or depressing. Over a giddy X’mas weekend, I met a lot of incredibly wealthy and well-connected young people, who gave their vote of confidence to the BJP being in power, come 2024. These entrepreneurs are tomorrow’s billionaire babalog… with impeccable academic credentials. They have spent the past two decades chasing the good life in New York, London, Dubai, Hong Kong, Munich, and travelling frequently to China, cutting mean deals across the world. I watched them emerge from their Bentleys and Aston Martins, dressed impeccably, throwing back their heads and laughing carelessly -- the world is indeed their oyster. But, dig deeper, and you sense the narrative has changed dramatically during the past 12 months. Most are rethinking their decisions to live an international, almost nomadic life, jetting between financial hubs and dreaming the best dreams. With most European economies in tatters, America in a mess, a broke England, the choice is between Dubai and India. But hey -- Dubai is far, far more expensive to live in, especially if you have school-going kids. Why not opt for apna desh? That’s exactly what’s happening with the 40-somethings banking on India’s sound financial health in the years to come.

On a lighter and totally silly note, there were two big reveals as 2023 reached the finishing line. Both “reveals” received hysterical coverage on the social media. The world of entertainment stood still as Aaradhya Bachchan’s forehead was seen for the very first time since she made it as a legit mini-celeb on domestic and international red carpets. The attention to Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai’s teenage daughter’s exposed brow, unveiled at a school function, was finally surpassed by the pap-debut on X’mas day of a cherubic one-year-old -- Baby Raha -- the blue-eyed daughter of Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. What could possibly be cuter???

Have an incredibly OTT 2024, readers. Let’s hope that 2024 turns out to be an “Annus Mirabilis” -- a remarkable or auspicious year. Don’t lose your sense of humour -- you are going to need lots of it after the elections in April-May. A dizzying, rollicking rollercoaster ride is guaranteed. Happy New Year, all…

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