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Maradona and Balu mean people will value something in new year

By Siva Sankar | China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-15 07:58

Diego Maradona meets his Chinese fans at a game in Dongguan, Guangdong province, in November 2010.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Let me start with a confession. No, not that I never expected 2020 to be an annus horribilis. After the 9/11 tragedy of 2001, the killer tsunami of 2004, the global financial crisis of 2008-09, and the Fukushima nuclear power disaster of 2011, even Hollywoodish apocalyptic calamities, if they were to come to pass, may not shock these days.

My confession is, until I read China Daily of Nov 27, I wasn't aware Argentine-born global soccer legend Diego Maradona commanded a huge following in China as well.

In Argentina, thousands of Maradona fans defied social distancing norms and braved both clashes with riot police and contagion risk to attend his funeral. The outpouring of sorrow and tributes in China and elsewhere set me thinking.

Scores of countries have witnessed violation of pandemic regulations. Reasons vary, and offer tremendous insights into mankind. For instance, Argentinians hit the streets again last week to protest for and against a new law that allows abortions.

What do people really value or cherish? In September, legendary playback singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam (aka Balu), who sang a world record of more than 40,000 songs in multiple Indian languages in a four-decade career, passed on. Intense emotions and scenes comparable to Argentina's (but without the disorder) erupted in India as well as among the Indian diaspora across the world. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, a large number of people attended Balu's funeral in Chennai, which is not his hometown nor in his home state.

Across the world, wherever people could not attend funerals of the departed they hold dear, they took to social media, or participated in memorial services or remembrance meetings, to express grief, gratitude or solidarity. Wonder if blood is really thicker than water.

It's not just to protest for or against new laws or perceived injustice or inhumanity, or to pay last respects, that people gather despite social distancing norms.

When the situation improves and is safe, like in China now, people will likely continue to gather, just to bond together, share a laugh, or sigh collectively, while watching an old film on the big screen over samosa, popcorn and masala chai (sweet-and-spiced hot milk-tea).

That's what 100-odd diplomats and their spouses, led by Vikram Misri, Indian ambassador to China, and Vladamir Norov, secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, did on Saturday evening at the Indian embassy in Beijing.

In certain circumstances, something at the very core of people seems to get invoked or activated. That something also seems outside of oneself yet relatable, familiar, unifying, known at a deeper level.

Is that something shared humanity? Human dignity? Excellence? The realm of the spirit? I don't know.

That something was probably in evidence at an improbable Indian wedding last week, a video of which went viral. Indian weddings tend to be crowded, loud, colorful and festive. But, the bride this time had tested positive for COVID-19. Yet, the groom decided to go ahead with the wedding anyway, after obtaining health authorities' permission. The couple wore PPE suits for the traditional ceremony. "The (hymnand mantra-chanting) priest and the one guest who attended also wore PPE suits," reported BBC.

I'd like to theorize it's that something which people truly value, cherish and hold sacred. And nothing else seems to matter at the end of the day. The converse of this is also true: Anything that violates the spirit of that something could lead to the opposites of tributes, homage and celebrations.

Against a backdrop of every conceivable abnormality, as the world is dragged kicking and screaming into a "new normal "come the New Year 2021, it might be a good idea to remember and underline that something.

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