By Manju Chellani
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic entered into our lives like a tsunami in late 2019 and destroyed parts of our lives, forcing us to survive without them. It crashed into the basic structures of all human lives: financial security, healthcare systems, family relationships, studies, self-development. Stability of these structures is imperative for our physical and mental well-being. It allows us to delve into matters other than which assure the survival of the physical body. This is the reason that monumental upheavals such as natural disasters, wars, pandemics, global recession, nuclear accidents etc. can have a far-reaching effect across generations. If the earth is suddenly taken away from under the feet, the flights of all human potential may fall into morass and drown. Of course, each nook of the planet has different geographical, cultural, economic and political realities. It follows that not everyone has been affected personally by the pandemic in the same way or intensity. Nevertheless each of us differently placed persons have one thing in common: we are all humans. And the more humane humans we are, the more sensitive we are to the experiences of other humans all across the globe,, whether we know them or not. Vibrations from one corner of the globe create disturbances in another corner – whether perceived or unperceived – much like an earthquake. No wonder then that this pandemic is often called “war with an invisible enemy”. This term really hits home as we experience its ongoing and repeated assaults. The calm before the storm and then the strike where we are most vulnerable and secure. And all across the world, we have all been forced to turn warriors. After all, the war is not only at the frontline. It has landed into our homes. This is my ode to all that this catastrophe has taken away: lives of beloved people; our assurance of life being at least predictable even if tough; warmth of physical contacts with animate and inanimate entities and a familiar routine involving both the home and the external world. This is also my toast to what has survived and will continue to live – through and after this.
In our collective minds, a normal life has become “before the pandemic”; the life of today has become “and now…” and we envisage our lives after the pandemic as “whenever all this is over…”. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are standing today in a no-man’s land, between two eras of pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. For those of us living in India, the past few months’ fault-line between yesterday’s normal and today’s apocalyptic is even blacker and grimmer. And it frames so many imprints of the past 15-16 months. The tension which hung in the very air during the first national lockdown. Religious institutions initiating free food and oxygen at critical junctures. Road-sweepers carrying on their work with a song on lips hidden by masks far more encompassing than they had worn for years. Police-personnel advising pedestrians kindly on the imperative necessity of wearing a mask at all times. Development of new vaccines at record speed which eventually turned out to have the additional potential of addressing some other illnesses too. People dying in car-parks while relatives waited in queues for admission to overflowing hospitals. Nurses dancing in PPEs to cheer up patients in Covid wards. Pictures of queues at crematoriums which pound on hearts aching with despair and fear as loved ones fight for their lives in ICUs. How will we ever stop these images from floating into our daily thoughts or sleep at night? It would be our tribute to the extreme-ness of this era that we don’t try to shut them off like a television-switch.
Any extreme period or a crisis brings out all that was hitherto hidden inside our psyches. The fears, the heroism, the insecurities, the need to touch the hands and hearts of all humanity desperate together: all lie untapped during the humdrum of a normal comfortable life. Well this pandemic has certainly torn apart that pall and brought out all that humanity is made up of. On one hand, fears have led many of us to stay behind closed doors to protect ourselves even to the point of anguished monotony. On the other hand, bravehearts have been risking their health daily to drive Covid patients in volunteer ambulances. If greed has made dealers disappear after pocketing inflated amounts for life-saving medical necessities, our heads bow to older people giving up hospital beds to younger ones for a better chance at treatment since they have more responsibilities to fulfill. If we have been shocked by news of young children crying alone at home with all adults having succumbed to the disease, we feel overwhelming gratitude hearing of doctors tearing off their face-shields to intubate a critical patient faster. Yes we have seen our mettle. We have been both horrified and glorified.
When (and not if) this pandemic is over, it is these nethers and the zeniths of humanity which we will carry forward in the coming era. We will also carry on our shoulders the burden of choosing which road to take. Should we take the road back to our earlier lives; and to the selves that we were? That would be really tempting. Or should we take the other road towards a more evolved version of ourselves which we have witnessed during these desperate times? Having lived through fire and leaving parts of our own hearts with those who have gone away in it, surely it is not too much to ask that we choose to rise from the ashes as our better selves?
So here is a toast to all of us. To our resilience; our cussed determination to be happy; our power of collective; our memories and our nightmares; and our instinct for normalcy. And to the candle of hope that we have all kept flickering in our hearts throughout the tornadoes, waiting for a clear and still dawn. Cheers!