A stereotypical Bengali wedding like mine is nothing less than a game of trust. We got married in 2015. It was a clear starry night. The pheras were about to begin. The bride was precariously carried to the mandap by her brothers on top of a wooden cot or peeri.
She was made to sit with her legs folded inside the heaviest of red Banarasi saree, her face camouflaged with betel leaves as she kept swaying dangerously from one side to the other, challenging all forms of near-normal gravity. Burdened with her blind faith (she can hardly see from behind that green foliage) and her double-top weight, her brothers, had to take seven rounds of her husband before the shubho dhristi (a ceremony, which is my grandmother’s times meant seeing her husband for the first time ever) can take place.
In my case, as they carried me in circles, completely ignoring the excruciating pain in their knuckles, my cousins decided to push it a little further. After the rounds were over, they instructed me to jump, from the cot, directly into my husband’s arms, like taking a blind leap of faith.
He had to be ready, not let me fall off, hug me tight till I landed on my two feet. An ultimate test of trust, a shot in the dark, the stunt seemed impossible at first. But then, I heard the golden words being whispered in my ear, “Trust me“. At that very moment, without thinking twice, I held his hand, closed my eyes and voila! I jumped!
This story holds so much relevance today because it reminds me of a time when I knew trust differently. Its language being effortless, it was easy to understand. Conveyed through a tight warm hug, it was a muted dialogue of faith and security, translated perpetually through a simple physical touch. Impulsive yet fulfilling.
But now, for the past year, things have been quite different. Though the hugs have been quotidian, warmer, but I have felt colder, fearful and disquieted. Not of him can never be; we are connected more than before.
But of the appetite of this invisible pandemic, pacing outside my threshold, in full stride and glory, waiting for that one mistake, one slip-up, when it can easily devour me into its perpetually escalating hunger.
Similar to this, I see millions of people across the world today combating the same dilemma. Feeling touch-deprived, seldom guilty of having doubted our very own loved ones, anxious and confused about how the virus is shifting the very roots of human relationships. Hugging, kissing, shaking hands, fondling nothing seems to be normal anymore.
Especially when we are in the confines of our safe home with our family stepping out into the frontlines, unwittingly touching surfaces and objects shared between dozens, it’s a futile battle each day. With an enemy, we can’t see. A war that doesn’t leave scars on the outside but hurts deep inside, silently choking up our lungs and our minds. Leaving us paranoid, withdrawn and fearful of the person we had once trusted for life.
With this playing in my mind, every time my husband comes home from work, his sanitation routine feels like a fine tease to my trust, always making me wonder, “can I hug him today?“, “what if it came home this time?“, “when do I get to know?” In my mind, I am constantly quarantining each day for the next fifteen days. Hoping not to have let it in, hoping it’s missed me this one time, just one more time.
While we are loathing all forms of physical interaction, on one side, we are increasingly finding comfort in the virtual ones. The other day, I hosted my parents’ anniversary party on Zoom. Friends and family joined from different parts of the country. The first few minutes felt odd and tactical, as it was a first for many.
There were these long pauses in which people had forgotten to mute their microphones and could be heard shouting at their children. It was awkward in the beginning. However, as hours passed, everyone started feeling comfortable. It just became warmer and much easier.
We ended up playing Tambola, gossiping about what Mita aunty wore at last year’s party and also made some family travel plans for next year. Not only did everyone feel happy, but most importantly, they felt close and safe, both at the same time. If not for these apps, how else today would we have trusted each other enough so as to celebrate those special days?
Some things in life cannot be put off to another time, can they? This shows that, in spite of being paradoxical, the truth is that human relationships in times like today are at the mercy and behest of this invisible force- the internet.
I shudder thinking of epidemics before the era of digitization, for example, the Spanish Flu, imagine not only not being able to feel humans but also not knowing they still exist. It’s almost like being trapped on a deserted island, with no knowledge of what and when to expect rescue.
You keep drawing SOS on the sand but to no avail. You can’t decide what’s a better thought – the world has ended, and you are the only survivor, or your folks have just given up on you. The demons of loneliness end up eating us faster than the raging contagion!
This brings me to our life in the past decade about how we had been getting accustomed to living online. Now, looking back, it seems like science had always been preparing us for a catastrophe of this size. Shared workplace platforms, news consumption, vital health information, app-based grocery delivery, online payments, Skype calls with friends; we were doing it all.
Glued on to the words smart and convenient, we were slowly starting to build our trust in this parallel universe, weren’t we? It was not until now that we realized how this intangible force had become our only medium of trusting humans without being physically close to them. That’s what they are calling the new normal.
When countries across the world declared a lockdown and people shut themselves up, with little to do and more to think, we all connected over this fresh normal like never before. I remember going crazy about that perfect Dalgona coffee post just like my friend from the States, the hilarious quarantine travel challenge which all of us from five countries managed to take up together and of course ‘pass the brush’ challenge where my brush almost slipped ten times before I could master the right toss-pass. And it wasn’t only Instagram.
The internet had used its Midas touch on my relationships from all over. The WhatsApp group which I had muted for a year, the Facebook messages that I had never found time to respond to and that Snapchat account that I had promised my mother I would help her create one day, it all magically started seeing the light of the day. We started bonding over the same things, the new cuisines on our plates, the old guitars on our laps.
It was once again simple. Easy, and slowly getting impulsive. Having said that, while I am slowly getting used to this new life, at times, I still do feel nostalgic about the old ways. Things as basic as holding hands or a quick hi-five, going out for movies and fancy dinner dates, I miss all of them. More so spending time with my best friend who stays in the same town.
Sometimes, I tell my husband about how badly I miss her lipsy-lopsy bear hug. Without looking up, toying with his mask just like he previously did with his controller, he says, “There is an app; why don’t you download that? It sends virtual hugs to whoever you want.” I look at him irked, annoyed at his indifference.
“Are you serious? She is my best friend,” I protest.
“Oh, but can you trust her?” he asks slyly. I keep quiet. He looks up and smiles. I look away. In my own insensitivity, therefore, lies my answer.