A shot at redemption

Updated: Apr 18, 2020, 05:38 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Isolation can lead to life-changing ways of looking at the world, if we are open to them

Doctors prepare to enter Jijamata Nagar slum, a Coronavirus hotspot, in Worli to examine residents. Pic /Ashish Raje
Doctors prepare to enter Jijamata Nagar slum, a Coronavirus hotspot, in Worli to examine residents. Pic /Ashish Raje

picSocial distancing wasn't hard for me. I instinctively knew it wouldn't be, given that I had spent decades practising the art of being anti-social long before it was made mandatory. My mother would ask me to go outside more often when I was young, but I didn't feel the need because I liked my solitude a lot better and still do.

Friends would call daily, and I would resent the need for socialising at times when all I felt like doing was lie in bed and read. And so, this forced period of isolation suited me just fine.

It made me realise how difficult it was for most others though, given the deluge of tips and tricks that started to be published in order to help people cope. It made perfect sense, given that we are social animals and need to be around other people if we are to survive. Also, using my mother as an example, I realised that people who don't read, listen to music, or like watching movies (and you would be surprised how many of them there are) struggle with isolation because it starts to affect them physically as well as mentally.

As the days progressed, journalists, bloggers, and celebrities the world over began putting out suggestions on how we could manage to get through this. Some recommended creating schedules that would incorporate everything we wanted to accomplish but usually didn't have the time for. 'Write that book', said one influencer. 'You have waited long enough, and this is the perfect excuse.' Others dove into television series they had put off for years, caught up on books they had long abandoned, and discovered a love for origami they didn't know they possessed.

For me, the days spent in lockdown yielded a different kind of epiphany. It made me process a lot of what India had put itself through in the months before this virus assaulted us. I thought about how the year began, all the positive things we believed would happen to us, and how cruelly and quickly that dream faded. A journalist who wondered aloud what was left to be killed in a morally bankrupt nation was attacked relentlessly, simply because the question she raised was valid.

The virus will inevitably affect the lives of millions in our country, destroying livelihoods, families, and institutions in ways we may never fully understand. What it may also do, unfortunately, is compel us to forget the wounds of hate that were self-inflected in the months preceding this crisis. In a country that has a million problems, as well as a million possibilities, we chose to ignore both and focus on bigotry.

We could have begun 2020 with a look at why unemployment was on the rise, why incomes were shrinking, or why businesses were moving out to countries that offered them better prospects. We could have asked questions about why more and more women are dropping out of India's workforce each year. We could have looked at signs from around the world consistently showing how nations that vote bigots into power pay for their choices in ways that damage the rich as well as the poor. Instead, we chose to let propaganda win, allowing Indian politicians to do exactly what British ones had done to us a century ago. In doing so, we insulted the memory of those who died to give us freedom, but that didn't bother us either.

One hopes the virus will disappear, of course, the way earlier pandemics have faded into human history. I also hope it changes how we look at ourselves though, and forces us to recognise that we were quarantined together because we were attacked as one race. It didn't discriminate among us, attacking us all equally. Millions of us — scientists, doctors, healthcare workers — the world over responded to it with acts of courage, going above and beyond the call of duty, rising above prejudices to reiterate what it meant to be human.

I hope, in a foolish, naïve manner, that the aftermath of what this virus does to us will leave us battered, but not broken. I hope it will teach us that when we were all threatened with death, so many of us chose to fight for the rest of us as a nation, not as groups of people separated by caste, religion, or language. I hope our politicians remember too and choose to focus on what binds us rather than the imaginary issues they use to divide us.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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