Humour by Rehana Munir: I know what you did last summer
‘April is the cruellest month’, wrote The Poet of Big Things, TS Eliot, launching his madly erudite The Waste Land into the literary world. I’m usually a bit more optimistic than the relentlessly real modernists tend to be, but these re-lockdown days, one has to agree. April is the cruellest month, two pandemic years in a row. There’s this Groundhog Day feeling creeping over me – an unbearable heaviness of being. And to think it all began with April Fools’ Day.
It’s that time of year when we consult the news to get the low-down on the neighbourhood. SOPs are flying thick and fast. WhatsApp forwards are peddling every flavour, from standard vanilla info to double chocolate rumours with strawberry, raisins and nuts. Last year, this time, we were collectively gasping at the clear skies, dreaming of a climate change reversal. This year, the skies are familiarly hazy, while our timelines are flooded with vaccine news. The smugness of the freshly-vaccinated. The anxiety of the not-yet-eligible. The one-upmanship over who got which vaccine. The fantasising about vaccine-enabled superpowers. (Ok, this last one is just me. And the superpower will be an ability to clear chat and email inboxes with a freakish promptness and agility.)
It’s a good crucible for testing facets of one’s character, this vaccine business. Who gets it when? Who dreams of jumping the queue? Who reacts how to its invariable side effects? Who shares a vaccine selfie, in the tradition of the inked finger on voting day, and who prefers to stay quiet till well after the second jab, for fear of jinxing it?
Era of the social scientist
A long time ago, when people went to bars and shared a bowl of masala peanuts without the fear of contributing to human extinction, I eavesdropped on a conversation. Three serious-sounding colleagues in their late twenties were discussing the state of the world – as one does on a Friday night at a retro rock pub. The most sage-looking amongst them offered this memorable nugget: “It’s the worst time to be alive, but the best time to be a social scientist.” And this was years before 2020 hit the earth like the asteroid that is believed to have wiped the dinosaurs off the planet. I can imagine this serious young man delivering pithy pronouncements on our current predicament on Zoom right now. (Another time, at the same bar, I saw a young woman working a Rubik’s Cube. She was joined by her date a few minutes later, and they introduced themselves to each other. What a fun prop to identify oneself with to a romantic interest.)
A pandemic doesn’t really have too many uses, but it’s the perfect laboratory to observe human behaviour in conditions that swing from the seriously threatening to the vaguely unsettling. Just like with the vaccine, there is so much variation among testees, to use a virile pun. How often does one test – besides when it’s obviously needed? A nasal swab, in my opinion, gives any medieval torture instrument a run for its guineas. Which is enough incentive to mask up, sanitise, distance and tell oneself all the false yet consoling stories that have made the last year bearable.
We’re now familiar with the inventory of lockdown activities we can count on. The dispirited viewing of celeb pics from Maldives. A half-hearted interest in the latest trends in sourdough bread. A pointless swiping on dating apps, where even the person next door seems infinitely distant. And a gnawing sense of guilt around the unread books, unwatched shows, unanswered messages and unattended meetings accumulating around our untidy lives.
But there’s something to look forward to, if you really, really look. An unholy interest in the sound and fury of the IPL, stitching together the scattered days. (The shrill vuvuzela recording and shriller commentators leave me screaming for the mute button.) A brief spark around the Academy Awards ceremony, traditionally held earlier in the year. (I pick Nomadland, even though I’ve seen nothing else.) An obsession with mangoes, and those endlessly engaging debates around hapus vs langda, dassehri vs chaunsa. (Alphonso is the indubitable winner.) Even a déjà-vu summer can be made light with the right tools.
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From HT Brunch, April 18, 2021
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