TWTYTW: Our own (very subjective) list of best and worst of 2009…

All journalism is subjective; it’s just that some of us are better at disguising it! As we head for the end of 2009, we at Moving Images blog take one last fleeting, impressionistic, judgemental and, yes, darn too opinionated look at the past 365 days. That Was The Year That Was…and here’s our list of superlatives!

Best news and biggest relief (national): Sri Lanka’s nearly three decades long and brutal civil war finally ended in mid May 2009 – and not a moment too soon. It rightly created headlines around the world, and also made it to TIME’s top 10 news of the year. Within 24 hours of that much-awaited news, I wrote and published one of my most emotionally charged essays ever, Memories of War, Dreams of Peace. I probably spoke for a whole generation of Lankans: “As we stand on the threshold of peace, I am overwhelmed with memories of our collective tragedy. I hope we can once again resume our long suspended dreams for a better today and tomorrow.” With the hindsight of seven months, I still want to believe every word…although it’s become increasingly hard to cling on to such ideals.

Biggest disappointment (national): Ending the Lankan war entailed tremendous effort, cost and sacrifice, and we all knew that consolidating peace and restoring normalcy were going to be even harder – delivering peace dividends is no mean task. As weeks became months, our cautious optimism slowly turned into disappointment and dismay: it became clear that the triumphalist government was treating the historic ‘open moment’ simply as as blank cheque to do pretty much what it wanted. My May 19 essay on Dreams of Peace had ended with a question that resonated with millions: “Would our leaders now choose the Mandela Road or the Mugabe Road for the journey ahead?” Can we please ask that question again…? Hello, anybody listening?

Most evocative piece of writing: Without competition, that distinction goes to The Last Editorial by Lasantha Wickrematunga, the courageous investigative journalist (and de facto leader of the political opposition) in Sri Lanka, who was brutally slain on January 8 while on his way to work. That editorial, which appeared post-humously in his newspaper The Sunday Leader on 11 January 2009, embodies the best of Lasantha’s liberal, secular and democratic views. Nearly a year after the dastardly daylight crime, his killers have not been caught and independent media remains under siege even in post-war Sri Lanka.

Most memorable quote: While people like Lasantha articulated our cherished dreams for a truly pluralistic society, our billion+ neighbours in India have been building it for over six decades. It’s still a work in progress, and the ideals need occasional reiteration. This is precisely what classical dancer Mallika Sarabhai did when she ran as an independent candidate when India conducted the world’s largest democratic election in April-May. She lost, but wrote one of the most insightful pieces on what it means to live amidst the huge cultural, social and political diversity in India: “We are a salad-like melange of cultures and not a soup where all variations get reduced to a homogeneous pulp—this, to me, is our greatest strength.” (She inspired my own essay: Sri Lanka – Spice Island or Bland Nation?)

Biggest disappointment (global):
The UN climate conference in Copenhagen, held in December and officially dubbed COP15, ended up in what many activists felt was a cop-out. Greenpeace echoed the frustration of many when they said at the end of what was, at its start, billed as the ’14 days to seal seal history’s judgment on this generation‘: “Don’t believe the hype, there is nothing fair, ambitious or legally binding about this deal. The job of world leaders is not done. Today they shamefully failed to save us all from the effects of catastrophic climate change.” I was glad I wasn’t part of the mega event — I’ve burnt enough aviation fuel this year, but almost all events I participated in on three continents were more productive than the Danish debacle…

Biggest Under-achiever: If the world laboured a mountain and delivered a mouse in Copenhagen, the mid-wife of that process must surely have been the current UN chief Ban Ki Moon. More secretary than general, Ban is, in his own admission, the UN’s Invisible Man. All the top speech writers and PR agents in the world can’t animate this the perennially dull and dour diplomat. Not ideal change-maker when the world is racing against catastrophe. Kofi Annan, we miss you!

Most moving work of moving images: The world’s rich are having a party, and millions living in poverty are the ones footing the bill. This is the premise of Indian journalist and activist Pradip Saha’s latest film, MEAN Sea Level, which looks at the impact of climate change on the inhabitants of Ghoramara and Sagar islands in the the Sundarban delta region in the Bay of Bengal. I found it both deeply moving and very ironic. With minimal narration, he allows the local people to tell their own story. As it turned out, these testimonies were lost on the bickering politicians in Copenhagen…

Best media stunts: We are a bit divided here. At a time of ever-shrinking attention spans, it takes much creativity and guts to grab the cacophonous media’s attention, especially for a good cause. Two very different men succeeded where many have failed. In February Bill Gates, the world’s top geek now working for its meek, released some mosquitoes at the TED 2009 conference to highlight the continuing grip that malaria has on the developing world, especially Africa. In October, climate crusader President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives held the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting to remind everyone of the watery future that awaits low lying island nations like his when climate change rises sea levels.

Biggest Irony: NASA announced in November that an unmanned space probe that was intentionally crashed on the Moon had discovered the presence of ‘significant amounts’ of water there. That bit of scientific evidence cost US$79 million to obtain…and was not the most comforting news for a planet that rapidly running short of usable freshwater. In the wake of the Apollo Moon landings in the late 1960s, misguided voters in Sri Lanka elected a government that promised ‘to bring rice even from the Moon’. When might we hear politicians promise us water from the Moon?

Well, that’s it folks — the highs and lows of 2009 according to the Blogger-in-Chief and his team of elves here at the Moving Images Media Empire. We’ve waded through our several dozen blog posts to come up with the above, and make no claims for being fair, balanced or comprehensive…

Indeed, we hope you don’t agree with all our picks, and invite you to express alternative – even dissenting – views. All comments that are not outright libellous or blatantly self-promotional will be published.

We take this opportunity to thank each and everyone who read our posts over the year — and especially those who left comments, sometimes radically disagreeing with our views. We also reiterate our pledge to frustrate those few persistent detractors who keep demanding to see our nationalistic, religious or other credentials…

May the cacophony continue and intensify in 2010!

Welcoming the New Year of 2009 — but this too shall pass…

photo by Dhara Gunawardene

A wordsmith paints: photo by Dhara Gunawardene

Another year grew old and weary
And gave way to one new and young.
Another orbit we’ve completed
Around our local star, the Sun.

We’ve been here before,
And return here we shall.
Dare I say it, among celebrations:
This too shall pass.

I have often wondered:
Where does an old year go
Once it has been with us
And served its time
And delivered its joys and sorrows
And other assorted gifts
That Father Time packed into it?

Is there some chrono-graveyard
Up there in the blue yonder
Where aged years go,
To lie peacefully — and die?

To the New Year, I say:
Bask in your welcome and glory
And enjoy while it lasts.
Celebrations are ephemeral;
The very people who rejoice your arrival
Would loudly cheer your demise
And eagerly countdown
The arrival of the next year
In just three sixty five days.

That too shall pass.

In transit are we all,
On this Third Rock from the Sun
Waiting for our onward journeys
From Here to Eternity.

Some of us, the steady types
Stay longer in this transit,
Welcoming dozens of years
As they arrive, endure and depart.

Some leave a mark
In the ‘sands of time’ as they say
Legacies of brick or flesh
Or just fond, loving memories.

But remember this, New Year:
There are a few of us,
Precious few, as it turns out,
Who don’t measure our worth
By the number of years
Whose passage we count.

We add life to years
Not simply years to life.

– Nalaka Gunawardene
Originally written on 1 January 2006, welcoming another New Year that’s now only a memory