Preparing for a new world
The pandemic that has crippled us for much of this year will one day relinquish its grip. What do we do when that happens?
I intend to visit a bookshop. That's a thought that has occupied my mind for the past couple of weeks, in much the same way some people have dreamed of movie theatres and others have salivated over memories of fast food. I am pretty sure not having access to pizza and fries has been good for my body, if not my soul, but I realised early on that not being able to touch books at random was starting to depress me.
We have an opportunity to right a few wrongs if those with the means try and work with the greater good in mind. This is harder than it sounds though if news trickling in from Delhi's Khan Market is an indication. According to reports, that swish corner of our nation's capital had to bid goodbye to a bookshop that had made a lot of people happy for decades. It was forced to do this not because customers had stopped visiting, but because its landlords had other plans.
I can't comment on what people choose to do with their money, of course. I can't comment on those who choose to waive rents or offer discounts either because none of us has a right to say how someone else's money or property ought to be used. I can't help but think about how that part of Delhi will be changed for thousands of people forever though, all because a couple of them couldn't come to a financial agreement.
There are some places that leave an ache when they disappear, taking the collective memories of a city with them. Samovar in Kala Ghoda comes to mind, as does Rhythm House. One can almost feel the sigh that escapes from a few lips when those names are mentioned in public, because of what they evoke. The dates we went on, the cassettes we bought, the meetings with friends long gone — these are all woven into our own versions of the past, and our personal relationships with the cities we call home. When a beloved bookshop closes, it shuts its doors on those individual testimonies as well.
We need to evaluate where we spend our money, and what we think is important not just for ourselves but for our cities. Do we need more malls? More artisanal coffee shops? More high-end retail stores? Or do we need more grocery stores, more nursing homes, more libraries? To ask ourselves these questions, and think about what the answers mean for ourselves as well as our children, can help us define not just how we spend our time and money in a post-pandemic world, but what our expectations from our government should be too.
A minister recently spoke about how a railway station somewhere in India was being renamed to celebrate the life of someone I have never heard of. I am sure the person deserves this honour, obviously, because who doesn't want a railway station named after oneself?
What struck me, unfortunately, is how that announcement was accepted without question, in much the same way that announcements about new statues are taken for granted.
We will all have individual horror stories of how COVID-19 has changed the lives of people we know. India's poor have had these stories for months, abandoned by uncaring governments as they have been forced to make their way home without support of any kind. We need to ask ourselves if the money we send diligently at the end of each financial yearis being used judiciously in ways that make our lives better. We need to ask ourselves if another 3,000-crore statue is what we need when there aren't enough hospital beds during a crisis. We need to ask ourselves why people representing us in the Rajya Sabha get to decide upon a pay hike while doctors in public hospitals are denied salaries or protective equipment for months.
To hope for common sense from our politicians is futile because we have had proof for decades now that they work for no one but themselves. What we do in private does have the power to effect change though. I intend to start with a bookshop because I believe we need more of them. I intend to ask the corporator representing my locality if funds allocated for the coming year are being diverted towards things that genuinely affect how locals live. If we don't ask, we don't receive answers. So, my idea of a post-pandemic world is one that involves a lot more questions.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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