World in 1920

Where were we one hundred years ago?

Mankind was out of caves long ago and Asia was learning lessons from colonials about drawing boundaries. Colonialism was still an accepted way of life — it was twenty-five years before a nuclear bomb condemned fascist aspirations in history.

Historically, India was in the middle of the Non-cooperation and Khilafat movements. USA was under Woodrow Wilson and Sun Yat Sen was managing a conflict- ridden China. Singapore and parts of Malaysia were part of the Straits Settlement under the British Raj. The Europeans and Americans were just stumbling out of  Spanish flu which had started in April 1918. It affected 500 million of the world population and the total deaths came to estimates of 50 million or more. The world population was then less than two billion.

The League of Nations which lasted till the start of the next world war was founded in January 1920 with active participation from the thirty first American President Wilson, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1919. The First World War had ended in 1918. Indian soldiers manned the British army and the police force and shot their own countrymen and others too to defend colonial borders, though Gandhi ( who returned in 1914-15 from  South Africa, where he stayed  for more than two decades ) and many others that now lie on the other side of divides, pushed for independence. Borders were mobile even during colonial rule because the boundaries were reshaped by the imperialists needs, especially when they handed over part of their dominions to others from Europe  — all those who found it convenient to trade and rule in Africa or Asia for the market, raw materials and to ‘ civilise’ people to the victor’s way of life. The political map of the world looked different then.

Majority of women were not working, and the suffragette movement was just finding its footing in USA with enfranchisement of women, thanks again to President Wilson.

The reason I am going into these details is to figure out if the past has really carved out our present as TS Eliot claimed in Burnt Norton (1936).

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

TS Eliot has always fascinated me when it comes to cogitating along philosophical issues like time. History cannot be unwritten. And we cannot go back to the past or future except in fiction. Then, as Eliot said is all time really unredeemable — can we really go back to the pre- COVID era and have rallies and wars leaving the virus unattended, a virus that has already decimated mankind by more than half a million, despite our advances in medical technology?

As the economies open up, people are reeling under job losses and scarcity. Numbers are totted out on a regular basis by the media. And yet the virus lurks — persists in infecting people, though rumours are afoot that it is losing its virulence in some parts of the world. Meanwhile, we try our best to return and revive the pre COVID-19 times. If we look at world history and the way it has rolled itself out and shaped our lives, do we want to go back to the past? If we want to survive as a race what can we do? Are we acting in the right way?

Twenty first century guru Yuval Noah Harari said in March 2020 itself (and I keep repeating this because I have not yet read of a better solution):

“Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future. If we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.”

There are more than 140 organisations, including Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, that are trying to make a vaccine to immunise mankind from the newly evolved corona virus. But the issue is not only the willingness of the world population to accept this immunisation as Gates has clearly stated, but also one wonders if all of the world will have access to it? Will the political disputes and other artificial boundaries drawn by mankind get in the way of immunisation? Can more than seven billion people be immunised and how many years will this immunisation be effective?

We cannot even assure all 7.8 billion people food, sanitation, housing and education. Will every human across all borders have constant cheap access to the medicine which may or may not work? Meanwhile we will all need to earn and eat to live and afford our medical costs. Perhaps the time has come for a change. A change that will help evolve a new and more equitable or fairer way of life that will allow all mankind access to an existence where each human has access to food, home, sanitation, hygiene, education, medical facilities. We will have a world where poverty will not mean death due to starvation. Can we let go of our old lifestyles and evolve a new world?

Right now, one can only see the rifts and fissures highlighted by the media. Someone also highlighted Morgan Freeman saying: “The only way to end racism is to stop talking about it.” Perhaps, as a species, this can be extended to other artificial, manmade constructs that fragment humankind. Perhaps, some need to learn to live without bullying or flexing muscles with colonial dreams, in a world that has already suffered dictatorial regimes. Regimes which led to holocausts and mushroom clouds.

As I look at the clouds giving way to clearer skies, I see a rainbow and I wonder If we accept the colours of a rainbow and the myriad colours in nature, why can we not accept the different hues of mankind and the diversity in cultures and lifestyles? Why do we intrude on others’ spaces and grab more? A rainbow is vibrant and beautiful, but it stays as a bow within the horizons defined by Nature. There are laws in Nature, laws and rules made by the natural environment. When those laws are defied, there can be disasters which will threaten the survival of the Earth as a habitat for supporting life with homo sapiens being only one of the species on this vibrant blue planet.

Mankind needs to learn from history and not repeat its mistakes.

Mitali Chakravarty is a writer and the editor of Borderless Journal.


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