Cosmic joke: Locusts outside, earthquakes inside

In our current dystopia, the fact is there’s nowhere to run.

On Friday night when I was watching the 9 pm news, which these days begins with depressing Corona statistics, the ground beneath my feet shook, so much, I actually contemplated moving outdoors. But so much for all those advisories regarding quakes warning us to run out of buildings. I did what every self-respecting educated person does in such a situation: I waited for it to pass. And it did. Soon, there was a news flash in the TV bulletin, tremors, had indeed been felt across Delhi NCR. But what importance does one attach to mere rumblings that measure 4.5 on the Richter scale, when the last couple of months have felt like the opening montage of a never-ending horror film?

In our current dystopia, the fact is there’s nowhere to run. Outside, human civilization is threatened by a deadly virus that has overwhelmed hospitals and forced the country into shutdown mode. Inside, we have adjusted to the corona imposed alienation slowly realising that for 2020 at least, the vision of life as we knew it, is over. Things feel infinitely worse and that’s not only because we’re confined to our homes. All that hopeful talk of flattening the curve we heard at the beginning of lockdown, has ended. After two months of forced introspection, it’s clear that the pandemic is a huge calamity but it’s just one part of a larger problem. The virulent outbreak has exposed fully, the faultlines in societies, West and East. Out of America, that mythical land of plenty, there are signs of desperation, marginally better than the grinding poverty we see here. (Though there is something grimly hilarious about people driving up in Pajeros and Mercedes to collect food stamps, as a story on BBC showed.)

In comparison, the symbols of corona in India are nightmare-inducing, like the video of a small child trying to wake up his dead mother, probably a victim of starvation. These scenes of unrelenting despair match those of civil war in Syria and it’s not surprising that the visuals of Shramik trains transporting people have provoked outrageous metaphor; someone commented that images of jam-packed compartments, and of their terrified occupants reminded him of scenes From the Second World War. Consumed as we are by the heartrending photographs of people trying to get home, there hasn’t been time yet to assess the damage that the pandemic has wrought on the so-called stable middle class. Dig a little and you hear the murmurs; of friends of friends laid off and depressing stories of till recently, securely employed postgraduates sending out SOS WhatsApps for ration.

In this situation, what becomes the role of the somewhat secure, at least for the immediate future? I suppose, one is still free to appreciate life’s little beauties despite the bleakness. That’s why so many people are discovering creative pursuits like cooking with renewed vigour. The wealth of free time made available by the lack of work has made us all into over thinkers transitioning from a busy past into a very slow future. Processing what one sees, illness, and a complete breakdown of law and order is a reminder, that everything can change in a flash. And we better get around to doing what we want to because who knows how much time we have, overall. If one has learned anything from the pandemic, it’s to let go of the illusion that we’re in control. And our best bet at survival is to humbly mask up and be willing to work as part of a whole.

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