Humour: Sweet solitude
The pandemic has made philosophers of us all. Or at least dubious life coaches. As we nervously attempt to break out of months of isolation, it’s fascinating how often we use the term ‘solitude’ and our relationship with it. Even those who usually shy away from chats that don’t involve football, fashion or fitness are now seeking deep conversations about the meaning of life. Thoughts of solitude are crowding our collective thinking, it appears.
I find an autorickshaw to be the perfect place to be alone with my thoughts. Open on all sides, swift and easily steered, it offers superb metaphors for unencumbered thinking. But these days, with driver and passenger both masked, a plastic sheet fluttering between them for largely psychological purposes, the mind isn’t really at ease. As I contemplate the stage of evolution of my pandemic personality, I find I’ve missed the turn I needed to take, impossible to identify in the middle of all the hectic metro construction activity around Mumbai’s groaning suburbs. I flail my arms about to communicate the mistake to the driver, while he in turn mutters something unflattering under his mask.
The same goes for a morning walk by the sea – a great opportunity for solitary reflection in the days of yore i.e., 2019. Now it’s all about stealthily clocking the mask-wearing habits of fellow walkers. I find I’m incapable of making eye contact with strollers anymore for fear of telepathically transmitting my unkind thoughts about the protective gear dangling ornamentally from their ears, hanging limply below their noses or wound playfully around their fingers. (On a not unrelated note, I find I enjoy my morning walks a lot more if I call them my kebab penance.)
One hundred styles of solitude
Solitude is sly; it invites you home and then leaves its evil twin loneliness to greet you when you arrive. So many beautiful treks and restful retreats have been ruined by the impostor loneliness. The good news is that solitude is sometimes found in the least solitary places. Years ago, a feisty friend once told me how she finds a butcher’s shop to have a Zen effect on her. I wish I had a mask on to conceal my mortification. But the meat of her argument, so to speak, was that solitude doesn’t always wear green and chant beatifically. It can greet you as you’re going about your daily routine, loading a washing machine or looking up online recipes. Counter-intuitive as it seems, I have no beef with this kind of thinking.
Another great thing about the sweet thing called solitude – it is shape-shifting, like Aladdin’s genie. So, if you once found it in the pages of Rumi but now seek it in the black-and-white posts of an Insta friend, it’s okay. It’s enough to be coping without having to worry about how woke or lit or baller our coping mechanisms are. And here I shall take a moment to appreciate my use of three millennial words in one xennial sentence, unsubtle as the attempt might be.
One thing that I’ve discovered about solitude this year is how everyone thinks it’s the right thing to want. But those who have had to go into strict hospital/home quarantine have a quite different take on the matter. The doorbell becomes the sweetest sound to deprived ears just out of confinement. As for me, the return of my cook and house help, and their many demands on my long-preserved solitude, are the high points of this year.
’Tis the season to overthink human interaction. Now that the outdoors are unlocked, our minds are finding new ways to throw us back in prison. Is an open-air café safe? Should one get back to the gym? Is a walk on the beach harmless? I’m spending an unhealthy amount of time planning a grand return to my favourite pub, where the old faithful must no doubt be listening to Billy Joel sing “and they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness/but it’s better than drinking alone.” The solitude I crave is found in the vicinity of familiar strangers. And I’m not the only one…
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From HT Brunch, November 8, 2020
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