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Vol. XXX No. 4, June 1-15, 2020

Musings in Lockdown

by Ranjitha Ashok

You have a roof over your head. Food on your table. So – no victimhood, yes? There’s a growing list of terms to describe The Virus. ‘The Indiscriminator’ should probably be somewhere on top, given the way it has brushed aside any human-imagined ring of protection. The maniacal cackle, “You were taught again and again – no one is beyond reach,” is resounding around the world. “You didn’t listen. So now you know…thanks to me.”

Shared humanity is shared vulnerability, shared learning. As is admitting that your mind is a very strange creature, simultaneously capable of intense concern over cooking oil and utter despair over the epic suffering evident all over the world. It is devastating. You ask yourself, how did we allow all this to happen?

Then – hullo! Someone just ate the last apple. They didn’t even think to ask you if you wanted a piece, knowing full well that no one is making grocery lists any time soon. It’s a pattern. Earlier, no one noticed if you skipped a helping because there was just enough for the others around the table, all with their beaks open, while you…

Stop. No. Wrong path to take.

There’s a constant battle within, a white wolf/black wolf emotional seesaw. When the near and dear are always close by, words and phrases like ‘berserk’, ‘running amok’, and ‘losing it’ suddenly loom large and menacing. And just as you are counting your stars thinking that at least you don’t have to deal with the young and the fractious in your house, the following dialogue takes place:

“That’s my charger.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Why can’t you use the old one?”

“Why don’t you?”

“Because you ate the last apple.”

Okay, you have to assume that some kind of reasoning is happening here and accept that second childhood can crop up suddenly, even in those who can still remember who partnered whom in Amar Akbar Anthony. Crazy times. You’ve been drowning in a sea of forwards on your phone for weeks now, and you remember the words in one of them. (Was it yesterday, the day before, or last week? It’s becoming hard to tell.) Anyway, it said that it felt like you had gone to sleep in one world and woken up in another – a completely different one. True.

There’s a new era notation in town. BC – Before Corona, as opposed to the bleakly hopeful AC – After Corona. Has it sunk in, how much life has changed, and will change from now on?

So many everyday elements taken for granted are now forever suspect. Milk packets, parcels, gates, handles, doorknobs, switches, spoons, ladles, table-tops, remotes, banisters, lift buttons, escalator handrails, familiar everyday supplies and comforts. The new normal is the question, ‘Who touched this item last?’ In a world where brown-paper packages tied up with string have lost their innocence, will we view even those who are an integral part of our everyday lives with suspicion? No more ‘hands touching, hands reaching out…’ as the man once sang?

Will even the simplest invitation require the recent travel history of everyone involved? Will you pause before the doorbell at a friend’s house, wondering if it’s safe to touch?

Will you find yourself taking a hasty step back when even someone you see every day, sneezes?

Weddings are being conducted over video calls; ­funerals are being witnessed over them. Will this teach us that we don’t need to gather together ­anymore?

On the other hand, in a matter of weeks, people are able to see mountain ranges 200 km away, while statues and monuments stand clearly etched against a brilliantly blue and very clear sky. People are breathing fresher air; rivers run free, no longer choked with toxic foam. Deer stroll down people-less roads, peacocks land on roofs and the air is full of birdsong. Will we remember these lessons learned under such horrific, tragic circumstances?

As you stare at a little mound of potatoes, wondering how many different ways you can stretch it, your eyes are drawn to a photograph of a huddle of desperate travellers. In the center, a little boy sits on his father’s shoulders. The child’s eyes look straight into the camera. At you. Your blood freezes. Those huge, steady eyes are filled with questions – questions we adults no longer have answers to. So, being human means sharing failure as well. We have collectively betrayed him…and all children everywhere.

Perhaps it’s not so much about waking up to a different world, as it is about humankind crawling through a long dark tunnel towards a new dawn and a whole new way of living.

I need to make lists again. Maybe this time around, they should be about what we need to do when (yes, let’s say ‘when’, not ‘if’…) the New Age of AC arrives.

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