2020, 2021 and onwards…
We don’t need Einstein to tell us that ‘time is an illusion’. On one hand we relentlessly follow the ticking of the clock, and on the other we are helplessly entangled in the strange elasticity of time. It is slow for those who wait, and too long for those with broken hearts, and sometimes stops altogether, when we are locked down for weeks, terrified of a virus and alone with a cat.
2020 has been marked forever.
There was a time thousands of years ago, when we lived with beasts, and the flow of time was gentle. The slow and magnificent rise of the sun nudged us awake. Seasons came in waves. Stars crawled through the slow skies. When it grew dark, we slept. Slowly we began to notice patterns around us – tides, eclipse, stars, shadows and floods, followed each other in predictable ways. And then we learnt to count.
There must have been an inherent need to understand and quantify time. From massive sundials carved on the face of rocks, to the very precise atomic clock, all keeping track of the passing days. Around this time of the year, it gets particularly intense. It is almost as though all of us are collectively chanting the countdown to the end of 2020.
This year has been strange. It has come to signify loss, longing and vulnerability. And as it ends, our phones beep with a frenzy of memes, forwards and good wishes all pointing towards 2021, with hope. As though magically on the first day of the new year, things will change. What is so significant about the end of a calendar year, in the larger context of time.
The concept of time is elusive. Does it lie trapped between a beginning and an end. Does it only march forward, or can it perhaps go back. Through ancient books of wisdom, to complicated mathematical formulae and theories of physics, we have been trying to grasp its true nature. The Vedas talk about several units of time, the sweeping cosmic cycles spanning millions of years, to what is a blink of an eye. It slyly races past us, and sometimes slows down. It bends and contorts, and in its many dimensions, shatters our preconceived simplistic notions of time. And yet we go back to counting linear minutes, days.
We don’t need Einstein to tell us that ‘time is an illusion’. Even as we relentlessly follow the ticking of the clock, we are also helplessly entangled in the strange elasticity of time. It is slow for those who wait, and too long for those with broken hearts, and sometimes it stops altogether, when we are locked down for weeks, terrified of a virus and alone with a cat.
2020 has been marked forever. A lost year. We measure and quantify our lives obsessively. But time is fluid, and inconsistent. It is far too complex to understand, and so much easier for us to box it in a calendar. A standard, predictable arithmetic of the past, present and the future. Enclosed within dates and days, the rigid structure then becomes the chart for our lives.
Roman philosopher Seneca observed that ‘nothing is ours, except time’. My life is divided neatly into the past and the future, but it is only the fleeting present that is truly mine. And yet that too slips away, even as I pause to notice it.
Given the upheavals and the unpredictability of life, the calendar is strangely reassuring. It is firm and predictable. The future is uncertain, but the first day of the year marks a new beginning, even if it is only in my head. And so, in my head, the countdown continues – 2020, 2021…and onwards, even though it really doesn’t matter.