Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Business As Usual?

Looking around as things begin to go back to normal, it appears that even while there are those who have emerged from these challenging months with a new found wisdom and appreciation for life, the pandemic has also exacerbated a cynicism and brutishness in others
Looking around, it often appears as if a whole lot of folk have emerged from the pandemic, determined to pretend it never happened and that it’s back to business – almost with a vengeance. (HT File)
Looking around, it often appears as if a whole lot of folk have emerged from the pandemic, determined to pretend it never happened and that it’s back to business – almost with a vengeance. (HT File)
Updated on Oct 15, 2021 07:40 PM IST
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ByMalavika Sangghvi

‘Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.’

How easy it is to forget: washing, scouring, scrubbing one’s hands, over and over again, ‘out, out, damn spot’; disinfecting groceries, hard won groceries, basic everyday items, sourced through the collective efforts and resources of an entire family, as if they were jewels; scrubbing and wiping vegetables over and over, until the very flavour leaches out of them, then, leaving them outside your door until they’re rendered ‘safe’ for consumption ; that horrifying shaky, footage, smuggled out of Wuhan, of a wind-battered ambulance, making its way through an empty road delivering life-saving medicines and food to the sick. Then, the inside of a tiny home in which a young husband, fortified in a PPE (personal protective equipment) suit as if he were going to battle, or an astronaut into space, trying to take care of his dying wife, who lies beneath a pile of blankets and behind a padded door; news of hospitals being overrun with patients and medical supplies running out; rumours circulating about which colony or building is now quarantined; endless queues outside provision stores; that crazy moment when we stood clanging kitchen vessels thinking it would somehow help, and then those heart-breaking endless lines of migrants dragging their tragedy across India’s landscape…. remember those days? When silence, despair and anxiety seemed to be one’s only companions and where the simple act of hugging a loved one, or meeting an ailing parent was fraught with danger and dystopian fears? Remember feeling trapped inside a long dark tunnel when there was no light in sight at the other end?

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It is only a popular meme, among the millions that daily travel the planet on social media platforms, but like others of its kind, it conveys a certain zeitgeist. This one has two swarthy men poised over a drink at a bar. “What’s up bro?” asks man number one to man number two. “Great,” he responds, adding, “I’ve just had my first shot and waiting for the second one.” “Covishield or Covaxin?” enquires the first man. “Tequila” replies the second, poker faced.

Only a popular meme, but one that appears to mirror today’s reality. Because, looking around as things are in the city, and in areas of the world that begin opening up and going back to normal – or the new normal – it appears that a collective cavalier amnesia has settled on many people about how things were not too long ago.

Indeed, looking around, it often appears as if a whole lot of folk have emerged from the pandemic, determined to pretend it never happened and that it’s back to business – almost with a vengeance.

And why not, you might say. After all, so much has been lost during those months of enforced hibernation and so much needs to be redeemed – from floundering careers and enterprises – to lost time with family and friends, and so, who will really begrudge people their opportunity to revive their fortunes and festivities? After all, only the very naïve would expect that the post-pandemic world would bring forth savants and saints, or a changed species…responsible, mature and conscientious.

But whereas survivor’s guilt is as pernicious as brassy buoyancy, and no one is required to don sackcloth and ashes, for the rest of time, it will be a shame if some of the lessons that we learnt during those long hours of our isolation were lost, lessons such as humility, gratitude, kindness and compassion and an appreciation for simplicity, inclusivity and our shared humanity.

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Last month, the world witnessed how it has taken 20 years after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks to painfully, gradually begin to come to terms with the tragedy, through the lens of distance and time.

If it took two decades to come to some semblance of processing a tragedy of that proportion, how long before people process something of the magnitude of a pandemic that took in its thrall the entire planet – rich and poor, powerful and weak, first world and the third? A phenomena that stopped planes mid-flight, left millions across the world dead, left the planet’s economy running on dire, empty tanks and disrupted life as we knew it. Perhaps it will take many lifetimes. Which could explain why barely a few months out of the second wave, it seems as if many have forgotten how low things had sunk and how far we’ve come…

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Looking around as things begin to go back to normal, it appears that even while there are those who have emerged from these challenging months with a new found wisdom and appreciation for life, the pandemic has also exacerbated a cynicism and brutishness in others, almost as though once the tidal wave of the pandemic recedes, it is taking in its wake people’s outer garments, exposing them for who and what they really are. As if those months spent in survival mode have spawned a ‘dog eats dog,’ ‘do or die,’ ‘devil-may-care’ impulse. Now, the brazen appear to be more brassy, the wily more grasping and the scheming even more Machiavellian.

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So, after months of isolation and solitude, how does one negotiate oneself in a world that is beginning to open up and often appears to have learnt nothing at all? Extremely cautiously, I would say.

Feel uneasy with the pace of things opening up? Apprehensive about certain activities? Uncomfortable with the things people say or do? Respect those feelings. Take a step back and try to figure out why you feel that way.

Because, just as the juggernaut of the pandemic appears to have heightened people’s innate characteristics, rendering some even more odious and lamentable, in many others, it has amplified their awareness and sensitivity not only to life’s beauty and bounty, but to the schisms and limitations of people. Now more than ever, it is time to be true to yourself and the hard lessons you learnt through the pandemic, the ones of strength and humanity kindness and inclusivity.

Or in the words of yet another popular meme remember, as you go back in to the swim of things: ‘Do not let the ugly in others, kill the beauty in you’…

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Sunday, November 28, 2021