Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.
Believe it or not, I am missing 2020 already!! A love letter to a year we lived through.
Every year around this time in December, social media is full about reminiscing the year just gone by. This morning, a friend reminded me of an old Irish tradition to let the old year out and bring the new year in. My friend reminded that this is the year when all our windows, doors, garages should stay open at the strike of the midnight hour. Perhaps.
Is it too blasphemous and heretic to admit that I am almost already missing 2020? Plead guilty, your honor.
The first realization I have is that how wrong we could have been about ourselves. Even if I steadfastly maintained that the blimp hovering over the hallowed grounds of the People’s House was a blip, and nothing more, doubts did creep up; there have been days, weeks, months even, when my confidence did seem like a false prophet. In the end, America did choose to get rid of the personification of our inner contradictions. The Office of the President is supposed edify, uplift and inspire, not whine, slight and self-aggrandize the officeholder. This year we saw, one more time, that no matter of cajoling, slandering, abuse of power, and, transparent corruption of many, could make us do harm to the body of the Republic and everything the Flag stands for. Thank you, 2020!
The second realization is about the power of ourselves when everything is at stake. The discovery, and rollout, of vaccines for COVID-19, was akin to Normandy Beach landing in my book. Within 12 months of the discovery of novel Coronavirus, we have at least three vaccines approved, over three million vaccinated globally within three weeks of the first release of early results of trials. Not that we sacrificed efficacy, a 95%+ success rate is almost unheard of in public health. The first contenders were ready in 2 days after the release of the biomap, and purposeful collaboration between industry and the regulators whittled downtime to market to months therefrom. A shining success no matter how you look at it. Thank you 2020, a second time!
The third realization, not an epiphany but a reconfirmation, was that how much public health, healthcare even, is misunderstood in this country. Healthcare is generally perceived as treatment of the sick, not much about prevention of the illness in the first place. It takes a pandemic to highlight the alternative, that an equal emphasis must be about delaying, or preventing, the onset of the disease. The entire discussion last year was about how you can prevent others from getting it from you, and protect yourself from getting it from others. You could take sides as to how much of that was reasonable, or acceptable based on your value judgment, but nobody questioned that once you are hospitalized nobody could ignore costs to your life, the emotional and monetary toll on people around you, an imposition on already overworked health-workers and so on. It is a lesson we have to carry and thank you 2020 for putting it at the top of our to-do list.
Fourth, 2020 again proved, for some of us at least, the business of work is no work for the better part of our days. A large number of us are not working in the fields, factories, defense, hospitals, research, fire-houses, on police beats or in transport where a physical presence in the workplace is absolutely needed. Still, the overwhelming majority of “workspace” is consumed by the rest, hundreds of thousands of skyscrapers and lesser structures are dedicated to worker-bees who suddenly were forced to conduct their work from home. In a reminder of Y2K scare that was not, we were warned about the complete meltdown of businesses suddenly done in pajamas. And it was not so, at least in the US where, even with overnight build-up of any added bandwidth, we did just fine. Lessons are not uniformly clear when it comes to academic institutions where there is evidence that proximity does add to the experience that prepares you for the life ahead.
Let me unpack that a bit. We continue to fool ourselves about how much of our daily existence is taken up by work, that is anything but. Early on in my life, I made two conscious decisions. One, there is no boundary between work and family. It was a necessary requirement of being an entrepreneur where I chose to have very little control over what gets thrown at me. On the flip side, I chose to draw the line in sand whenever I was needed by my family and that goalpost never moved. Second decision, taken more because I needed it to make the first happen, was that I would do as much as I can from home – I could not afford to lose time in LA commute for the mundane expectation of being in office. In 2020, millions more were forced to take the same choices – sudden zoo bombing by your children and your dog became stuff to smile about, not to hold against somebody. As importantly, getting job done was enough – and you could choose to be in your birthday robes if that is what you chose. We suddenly realized that we could balance both, your toddler can coo in your lap while you finish that mega spreadsheet, you can sprinkle garnishes on your curry while on mute in an hour-long conference call, you can take video calls in pre-dawn hours even before brushing. None of us was worse off!! Thank you 2020 for forcing that choice on us.
Fifth, we had painful reminders of how we are still in search of a more perfect Union. This year, we could no longer ignore unequal treatment by law enforcement along racial lines, and Black Lives Matter movement began in response. Even if any reasonable person would accept that the overwhelming majority of men and women in blue are above reproach and that the “defund police” creed leaves more people of color cringing than not, America cannot breathe until we collectively decide on a path to justice that emphasizes rehabilitation and not punishment. Thank you 2020 for that realization.
2020 put all of us through the tests. Now that we are wrapping up, we cannot help but notice how much the year has given us. In family time. In learning, one more time, to conserve ourselves for the future. In conserving ourselves.
And, in coming out ahead in the end. For that, I am thankful, even nostalgic.
Happy New Year, one and all. Stay safe and stay healthy.