Diwali Resolution: Try again. Fail again. Fail better

For the last decade or so, as part of a larger personal decolonisation mission – it’s not quite IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), but the problem does lie in the colon – I have been making not New Year resolutions, but Diwali resolutions. Well, Kali Puja resolutions, to be precise. But why quibble?

Bringing my letter of intent to myself forward by some two months bears some distinct advantages. For one, November seems like an easier time to tell myself that I’ll, say, stop smoking by the start of the new year, than commit to it on the first day of the new year. In November, very few people hold you to your word.

Also, if I do stop the filthy habit in a smoky, grimy, dirty town from today on Diwali, and manage to stick to it till January 1, at least I’ll be seen as being resolute for those one-and-a-half months, rather than be seen making a promise on January 1 and succumbing within a few weeks.

The issue of making resolutions is tied up to another matter – targets. In marketing, you have something called SOM: serviceable obtainable market. A business identifies a group of customers within its market and uses its resources to win them over. One’s SOM rasa essentially resolves to win this group over.

SOMs are tricky. Once you’ve identified a target, if you meet it by the stipulated time, well and good. But what happens when you don’t? When do you decide to cut your losses? Which is why time-bound resolutions help.

As far as resolutions go, India‘s Five-Year Plans were a good example of what Samuel Beckett had set out as advice in his 1983 novella, Worstward Ho: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ By 1978, with the Janata Party government becoming the first non-Congress government at the Centre, it rejected what was the Fifth Five-Year Plan, and introduced its own Sixth Five-Year Plan. That’s somewhat like you making a resolution to lose 10 kg in six months, and then, someone taking over your body in the second month and re-resolving to put on 4 kg in the next four months. But by the time Congress returned to power in 1980, the new government scrapped the Janata Sixth Five-Year Plan and brought in its own 6 5YP. What followed was what became (euphemistically) known as Rolling Plans – with targets revised every year to the tune of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The good thing about shifting goalposts so rapidly was that failure was always averted. And if not averted, then things were seen as ‘failing better’, Beckett-style.

One problem with rolling plans/shifting targets, though, was that any policy action would become notoriously difficult to be undertaken. If you’re planning to make four sales by Friday, but then decide that you’ll push things back till Monday, and then to Wednesday, it can get difficult to figure out what the ‘right’ number of sales should be – by now, next Friday. Yes, it was as convoluted as, if not more than, it sounds.

In 2019, the ‘Five-Year Plan’ (no one called it that by then) was to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25. No one quite saw the black swan of the pandemic in the pond coming in 2020. So, by January 2023, the target, understandably, shifted to India becoming a $5 trillion by 2025-26. IMF’s World Economic Outlook thinks India will cross the $5 trillion mark in 2026-27.

Ergo, the advent of longer targets. In 2023, India aims to become a ‘developed country’ by 2047. That’s 24 years from now – if all goes hunky-dory, five general election cycles. Who’s going to hold whom accountable then if India stays a ‘developing’ country? How are these resolutions made? Who will, in 2070, say, ‘Can you please get those chaps who said that India will be net-zero by this year explain what happened?’

Which is why this Diwali, as I make a resolution to somehow have ₹20 crore in my bank account by 2061 – I’ll be 90 then, so actually make it ₹45 crore – I’m not breaking into nervous sweat.


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