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Uncomfortably numb in a cruel world

Updated on: 02 February,2024 06:52 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

While war rages on and the bodies of innocents pile up, we keep ourselves occupied as pausing would compel us to acknowledge the scale of our grief and the extent of our loss in terms of our humanity

Uncomfortably numb in a cruel world

If we attended one funeral a day to mourn each Palestinian life lost to brutal, unsparing Israeli air strikes, we would be attending funerals for at least 27 years. Representation Pic

Rosalyn D’MelloI’d be hard-pressed to find a truer meme than one I came across this morning, ‘We’re six months into 2024 and it’s only January.’ By the time you read this, it will be the second day of the month of February. I feel like as a civilisation, we have possibly aged by 50 years, so enormous is the intensity of our collective grief. What grief you ask, when what you see around you is saffron-hued euphoria? Collective grief is, sadly, never mainstream. Because those among us who live mainstream lives do so by cutting themselves off from the pulse of marginalised beings. Who is to blame for our inability to be solitary enough to attune ourselves to this state of mourning? The heady cocktail mix that is capitalism with a large splash of patriarchy, simmered in the fires of racial supremacy. You are unlikely to turn your attention towards the plight of those whose lives hang by a thread if your daily existence is consumed by the demands of having to commute to work, then spend more hours at the office than is technically healthy because in an oversaturated market, standing up for the cause of work-life balance means being replaced by someone who is more than eager to work the extra hours, then return home braving traffic and polluted air only to have to repeat the same grind the day after and the day after that.

I live in an environment of relative comfort. I am privileged to be able to work from home and to have access to water, clean air and indoor heating in winter. Yet, the demands of full-time motherhood protect me from having to ‘feel’ the intensity of this grief. I read a post the other day that tried to contextualise the extent of our mourning. If we attended one funeral a day to mourn each Palestinian life lost to brutal, unsparing Israeli air strikes, we would be attending funerals for at least 27 years. I don’t even know what to do with this information. I have been wondering, lately, if this is how capitalism perpetuates itself in our lifetimes, by making us believe we cannot do without it. You know there are people who suffer the loss of a loved one, and because they are too afraid to feel the enormity of that loss, they prefer to work instead or occupy themselves with other distractions, because they know the pain is too real and is ever present, and it needs only a moment of silence and solitude until it washes over them. I think this is an apt description of how we are currently living our lives, afraid to stop and pause because that would compel us to acknowledge the scale of our grief, the extent of our loss in terms of our humanity.

Another way we protect ourselves is through regular reminders that what is happening is happening at a distance from us, is removed from us. However, for those of us who dare to live feminist lives, we can never shake off the consciousness about the personal-structural nature of these catastrophes. A Palestinian curator once said at a presentation that Palestinians are the first subjects of all weapons of destruction or surveillance. This is how world powers figure out what works and what doesn’t on a mass scale. Every day, I tell myself it cannot possibly get any worse, and then it does, and the world looks on, on our smartphones and televisions, as world powers gaslight our claims that a genocide is taking place.

How do we live now? How do we love now? How do we find joy when we have been freshly exposed to new heights of human cruelty? When does neocolonialism and religious fundamentalism threaten our peace of mind?

This morning, I left the house in a hurry to hop on a bus and head to the university. Our toddler was not happy about this change in routine. I left him behind with his father, knowing he would somehow contain his grief, trusting he could manage without me. Then I walked to the bus stop and had the consciousness that I would be child-free for at least an hour or two and outside my usual place of work—our apartment. And I could already feel the tears welling up inside my soul, the saline gush I have been diligently keeping at bay in order to be functional, in order to be productive.

So much of the grief comes from knowing we can never go back. There are lives that are forever lost. Children have been maimed. Maimed children have been slaughtered. Innocent people have been targeted. Journalists have been killed. Hospitals have been bombed. Mass graves have been dug. Women are susceptible to infections because they have no choice but to use slivers of tent material as menstrual pads. Aid is being blocked. People are being left to die. Whether we like it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not, we are all being made complicit.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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