Last weekend I visited my home town, Meerut. It is a small town that takes pride in being close to Delhi, part of the NCR. Despite being so close myself, I haven’t been able to visit for a while now, owing to the lockdowns being imposed after the surge in cases during the second wave.
As the cases abated and the curfews were eased, we finally set out. There is something special about going home. The journey home was filled with nostalgia. The roads that lead home are mired with sweet and sour memories reflecting parts of your life. I can’t forget being hoarded at the traffic signals by desperate hawkers, the ones trying to sell those colorful chip packets. Passing a once crooked street with potholes which during rains always ruined your polished shoes. A long stretch of lush green paddy field that now supports big buildings which are somebody’s dream Ashiana. These stories and transitions are perhaps what guide you home.
As I stepped out of the car, opened the doors of the house that had been uninhabited for about two months, I felt like it had been ages since I last visited. A friendly neighbor passing by stopped and greeted us with the same toothy pan smeared smile. While his smile was cordial, despair from the impact of corona on life and times was evident from his tenor.
An hour later my brother went out to pay condolence to another neighbor who had lost a dear one, a month ago. My brother asked him to come in and join us for tea. Attribute it to kindness towards the bereaved or the minimal human interaction we have had in the metros where we have built our permanent homes, we were more than elated to serve a guest.
Corona has wreaked havoc for one and all. It has impacted us both physically and mentally. And yet with liabilities on our head and heart, we continue to move on in our lives. A newspaper headline I read the other day said, this pandemic will take us ten years back. I admit the development of a nation takes years and these unprecedented times have slowed the rate of growth. However a silver lining to the dark cloud is our ability to adapt to technologically improving oneself to either learn or/and earn!
My concern is how easily we have emotionally distanced ourselves with friends and foes alike!
In the cities where we live and earn our livelihoods, the friendly quotient was anyway never very high. The awkwardness about meeting new people is evident when people in high rising buildings avoid interaction. Even people residing on the same floors hardly communicate. This is not to say that most of us are on our own or helpless. Phone Applications/Apps ease day to day challenges, reducing further, the need for human interaction. A messaging app keeps all numbers handy; cook, maid, driver, pest control, grocery shop, ac repair, fridge repair… you name it and they are all available at your service.
Before the corona era, those from small towns accused metro living population of being lonely and selfish. The defense has always been an unavoidable busy life to fend for the higher standard of living. In the current scenario we all stand at the same pedestal, how much interaction is too much interaction?
The same guy who was sipping tea with us back home described how only 20 people attended the funeral of his kin, while it would have been at least 200 on a regular day. The subsequent prayer meets also had limited attendance, all owing to the fear of infection. I could only sympathize with his feelings. The picture is even more dismal in the big cities where when the inmates of a society heard about a corona death next door, they decided to lock their doors to avoid giving any help lest they get exposed to the virus.
Even though I agree this isn’t the best time to judge anyone. I understand that we all are praying and trying to save our loved ones. Yet, this helplessness leading to inhumaneness saddens me.
The point is, can we not ensure human interaction while practicing social distancing. Prayer meets with social distancing is possible. A poster in Meerut in my vicinity read about a prayer meet hosted by two different families. The idea was to pay homage to the deceased by limiting the attendance of people from two separate days to one.
Create your own orbit of communication; keep in touch with your neighbors. Offer emotional support by hearing them out. Talk to each other through doors or balconies if you don’t want to go inside the house. Video calling is a boon in these times provided both the sides are comfortable. Mask up and go for that jog or walk. If nothing then at least you can wave at acquaints you meet midway.
Let us not make corona an excuse for missing out on engaging with people. When we broaden our social sphere by welcoming the world around us in a meaningful way, we can have purpose and build perspective.
I will end by citing a famous quote by an Australian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived The Holocaust and went on to create Logo therapy. Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”