On the Loose
It’s that time when you can’t open the newspaper without seeing a mention of ‘the year gone by’. It’s usually just a mundane rehash of significant events of the past 12 months but this year Tim Robbins’ quote on the news rings true more than ever: ‘And the world situation was desperate, as usual.’ There’s a deja vu to the disasters befalling humanity and a feeling that things couldn’t possibly get worse. When someone senselessly dies on a highway because a driver was blinded by the Delhi fog, you can’t help but wonder exactly how many times must this happen before it stops but it’s in the normal course of things. Nations go to war, people get murdered and tsunamis happen. The year was winding down in a perfectly ordinary fashion, till a staggering calamity confused even those among us inured to bad news — the Peshawar school attack.
The shocking massacre has horrified the world. It’s significant because it forces some soul searching, a timely reminder to keep our petty grievances in perspective with the real disasters people live through. Thinking about events we have no power to control may not serve any real purpose except to instill a sense of gratitude, albeit briefly. Even Facebook is encouraging reflection with their picture collage, an algorithm that highlights your important moments of 2014 with the update: ‘I’ve had a great year! Thanks for being part of it!’ Of all the other news that shaped 2014, the mystery of Malaysian flight MH370 has captured our imaginations, simply because it is so hard to disappear anymore.
Was the plane hijacked? Was it a suicide mission by the pilots? Someone with detailed knowledge of the plane’s navigation deliberately flew it off course and we may never know why. With no closure, speculation persists that the plane was flown to some obscure spot and somehow passengers might still be alive. That one of the remotest locations on earth, the South Indian Ocean is suspected to be its final resting place is strangely reminiscent of James Hilton’s superb book Lost Horizon set between the two world wars.
Lost Horizon begins with an aircraft that disappears in the east. The flight’s four passengers, residents of an Indian colonial town who thought (ironically enough) they were being evacuated to Peshawar find themselves in a crashed plane in the mountains of Tibet. While they’re preparing to freeze to death, local guides meet them with ripe succulent mangoes and guide them to a mountain utopia, Shangri La. In the book, Shangri La promises harmonious immortality and isolation, a dreamy escape from the daily grind. It also ends ambiguously, the ultimate fate of the characters unknown.