Starting with a spark of controversy, I can recall what Karan Johar had recently said about this lockdown making us ‘self-sufficient’. Yes, it has. It has made the privileged lot self-sufficient and wreaked havoc on the unprivileged lives. While thinking about the new normal, the immediate future, I couldn’t figure and draw a singular line of thought. And then, it struck me how there can not be one.
While the caveat of ‘social distancing’ is hijacking us into a ‘new normal’, I’m forced to think of the multiplicity of ramifications it will have on our social lives. Will it affect us differently depending on our social positions and resources? Most probably so.
The past three months of the lockdown, I’ve stayed here in Bombay away from family, but also in the comfortable company of my flatmate. These months have been revelatory, pensive, painful and anxiety-inducing.
When Irrfan Khan died, like a lot of his fans, I was heartbroken. His craft had, over the years, become my definition of art. So, it was natural for his death to feel like a personal loss. My friend and I had always talked about how we’d try to be closer, in the vicinity of his home, to pay our respect. It, of course, couldn’t happen.
When I was just beginning to make sense of his death, a couple of weeks ago, I lost my grandfather. The next few days were spent on phone calls, crying and consoling, trying to make peace with his death, all through a device. Times were tough and it made me rethink and closely observe my existing coping mechanisms.
I’m finally going to be home after being stranded here for three months. It is killing me knowing that I won’t be able to hug my mom for fourteen days straight.
On the worse and most anxious days, or while doing a hundred endless chores for the house, I have longed to lie down in her lap and have her caress my head. As I think about it, I’m reminded how touch is an extremely powerful reminder of comfort, love and care.
To settle, grief calls for companionship. We’ve all suffered immensely, in different ways, where we’ve tried to make up for companionship in real-time but resorting to Zoom calls and e-chilling sessions.
But, a human has social needs. We’ve been a social animal for a long time and society has enabled those needs by setting up systems to cope up. Be it celebrating or grieving together, we’ve always found joy and comfort in the company of our own. ‘To chill’ literally means to go out and meet people.
In rural areas, men and women often sit at the village square, playing cards, or reading newspapers together or resting in the shade, having conversations. It doesn’t have to be bigger celebrations and sorrows, but spending time with one another makes us feel a sense of solidarity and community. The need to feel a social consciousness, a feeling of belonging to your community, accommodates all classes and strata of people. So, what will happen if there are barriers to our need to socialise? Will it strangle and suffocate the human spirit?
On another front than emotional, the practicalities of social distancing look grim. Work-life will see a massive inequality of opportunities due to lack of accessibility to resources. While the unprivileged will not be able to live in isolated spaces due to the nature of their work, even the privilege won’t be unaffected.
Our tolerance will be tested, and our social media will continue to influence us more than normal and concepts like cancel culture will creep in our discourse. Additionally, the systemic biases through the agencies of caste and gender will deepen, causing the cracks to widen more.
4 pm and 9 pm primetime announcements notifications; the sheer apathy towards migrants and minorities; changing guidelines every two days; massive infrastructure lag in public healthcare; career anxiety; being away from home; financial constraints; longing for the comfort of friends and partners; not having the time and mental health to be productive and then being anxious about not being productive; being forced to rethink your new immediate future; working and worrying alone and repeat. A lot of our coping mechanisms and temporary excursions from our troubled lives are materialistic. Even that will have to be regulated now onwards.
If there has been a time when, collectively, mental health has been in a jeopardy, it is this- the present time. How do you come out of it? Can you come out of it?
Take for instance: If I am feeling bad; I increase my nicotine consumption. It’s problematic not just because of the health factor, but because of the finance involved as everyone suddenly wants to sell cigarettes at three times its original price.
Then, I fret about spending so much money and smoking more. Mental health is a vicious, cruel cycle of dealing with bad things by indulging in worse things, sometimes.
Take another instance: We’ve always lamented over not having enough time to indulge in our hobbies or just pausing to take a break. This time off was given to us but coupled with anxiety and uncertainty, thereby rendering us unable to make use of it or be productive and efficient. The much sought after work-from-home is causing major work-life disbalances.
The triggers are endless, the situation is delicate and we are vulnerable. Having had multiple breakdowns over a sheer diversity of things has made me reach a mental and emotional space wherein I’m really left with no option but to embrace uncertainty and make my peace with it.
Will love and companionship become an archaic social concept? What does the future look like for the world’s most social animal? It might be time to accept that the ‘new normal’ might not have a place for the actions and emotions that come so naturally to us.
Celebration and weddings, and mourning someone’s loss might just have to happen in the intimacy of our homes.
In an article, Christopher Suzanne, an American teaching English in China, shares: “In the very beginning of the lockdown you start thinking, Oh, this is just a quick thing; it’s just like a hurricane; it’ll be done in a couple of days,” Suzanne continued. “And then a couple of weeks into it, you start reading into conspiracy theories and rabbit holes, and then you get past that point, and you’re talking with your group-chat buddies and they’re sharing their cooking videos, and how they’re using beer and ketchup to cook food, just to make jokes. And then it gets to this point like, okay, this is getting old … when is it going to go back” to normal?”
The future looks foggy, but I am choosing to embrace hope. Yes, we will long to meet our loved ones, but the random acts of strangers will fill the void and give us enough courage and hope to take the next step. We will learn the art of maintaining relationships all over again because the effort will be worth the people who matter to us.
We will learn to love deeply; our love will be infused with courage for being able to love someone through a phone screen. We will learn to accept the limits of technology and embrace them by rewiring our relationships and making newer rules. We will learn to love differently but love will remain. The physical separation will make us closer. We will appreciate the gift of nature more. All one can do is hope.
“That we will continue on, that “we will”, has always been the norm not only of humanity but of all life, as French philosopher Henri Bergson pondered in the early 20th century.”