My phone died just as the world ended in the film Don’t Look Up on Netflix. Touché?

This new doomsday flick shows Earth, already done in by human greed and prejudices, being destroyed for good by a gigantic comet sometime in the foreseeable future.

One takeaway from this reasonably gripping film was how humanity has lost the plot on the futility of evading pain, as in making painful but better choices. This when the year gone by has been a masterclass in experiencing pain.

Personally speaking, health crises (not just around COVID-19) and the departure of many loved ones, fused with reminders of romances that didn’t work out, created their own troubling mutations.

When I fell sick earlier this year with a ravaging fever, I’d imagine the Hooghly River as a blue-watered haven that could cool away all my pain. But I’d force myself to not think about broken relationships because I was scared of drowning in rivers of tears. And yet the memories would seep in, as jarring scenes in half-dreams, or jump cuts in a silent film. These were new revelations in exhaustion.

This is a daytime photograph of about half a dozen small fish in a glass bowl placed on a ledge near the wash basin in a roadside eatery that the author of this article stopped by during his travels in Odisha in 2021. The fish are all silver grey in colour. The bowl also has a pink anemone and multi-coloured pebbles at the bottom. The ledge is made of patterned tiles, while the wall behind the bowl is light blue in colour with a large patch of dampness to the right side of the photograph. The fish in the bowl have nowhere to go just as the author was unable to get out of his home city Kolkata for nearly 20 months because of the lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

Fish with nowhere to go – scene from a roadside eatery the author stopped by during his travels in Odisha in 2021. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

Later in the year, the restrictions on travel meant I couldn’t be with the new arrivals in the natal family, even if I had the means to travel. Not being able to travel beyond Greater Kolkata for work in nearly 20 months extracted its own price. When I finally did manage to do planes, trains and automobiles in Odisha, it was a huge relief. But if the circles under one’s feet were to be part of biometrics for identification during travels, I’m pretty sure mine would’ve withered away with non-use.

I’ve been fortunate on the work front in 2021. But much of this work has revealed more pain around people’s loss of livelihoods and dignity, how they never stood a chance against COVID-19 because of deprivations early on in life, or how they wanted to get somewhere but fell by the way side when they couldn’t run fast enough to remain where they were.

Mid-year, I took an online course on palliative care and it opened up fresh insight into the pains people endure – whether they’re care receivers or care givers.

There were new romantic flirtations too, but there was no escape from being stuck between a rock and a hard place, a mental slugfest between thoughts of what was or could’ve been and the fears of making new memories and wading into new pains.

Just when I thought there could possibly be no more pain, a dear friend fell grievously sick. The ache of not being able to have done anything for him was dulled only when I underwent an unexpectedly painful episode of dental treatment. But the soulful music playing in the taxi on my way home from the doctor’s chamber brought back memories of times spent with him over two decades.

To be fair, I did recover from some of the pains through the year. Each recovery was rejuvenating in some ways, often in spite of myself, and even if for a brief while. It seemed as if I’d become addicted to the cycle of pain. There’s no high if there’s no trough, is there?

With rejuvenation comes hope. Hope isn’t certainty, but it’s thrilling in ways big and small. What does 2022 have in store? I’m deeply uncertain but hopeful of a new beginning (or a new withering).

About the main photo: A shot from a visit to the Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary in Narendrapur, on the southern fringes of the Kolkata jungle. An occasional visit to this tiny but wonderous green spot is highly recommended for a dose of rejuvenation. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall