Very rarely in the course of human events there comes a time when we consider our mortality as a species instead of as individuals. While most of us study history, this year all of us have lived it. While our lives will eventually end, these are our stories and some of them might be remembered.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
In the last week of February, I was sanitizing my compartment of what I didn’t know would be the last bus I would take this year when it first occurred to me that the world may be changing forever. While Covid19 had already begun to ravage many parts of the world, it was still most rampant in Wuhan at the time, it was that period when journalists all over the world were signing up for Tinder international so we could talk to somone in Wuhan to get more information. Here in India we were still practising a panicked form of denial, I had brought my own blanket for the bus even as I told my partner there was no chance anything was really ever going to happen to me, or anyone. I don’t trust our people, our public health services, our transportation services or our government, but I was willing to believe everything would be okay.
Less than a month after I returned from that trip, everything was shut down. All work trips were cancelled, all offices were shut down, all schools were closed, my college was closed, all markets were closed, all gyms were closed and all of a sudden we were forced to accept that everything would not be okay. We watched, horrified, as the news in Italy reported ons gruesome natural atrocity after another. We rattled utensils on our balconies like idiots willing to believe the sound of copper can do more than epidemiologists and deadly viruses. We watched as Americans refused to wear masks and other Americans refused to let that happen. We read wild conspiracy theories about 5G and bioterrorism. Slowly we started to hear of people we know contracting the disease and we hoped that somehow we had gotten it asymptomatically as well. We figured out new and different methods of learning, working and socializing. Almost all of us lost someone we knew or loved, we learnt the pain of not being able to be there when we did. We ate too much and all gained weight, we made bread, we started abandoned projects. We all taught at least one disgruntled parent how to use zoom or teams. We suddenly stopped hearing from anti-vaxxers (and then they came back) and we all became experts on the plague, SARS, 1918 and Shakespeare writing King Lear (which is nowhere near his best work, just sayin).
It has been a strange year, to say the least and if there is nothing else that can be said about it with explicit clarity, I can at least say this, this was the only time in my entire life that I actually believed and saw a world where we were all experiencing something so similar that we actually understood each other. What each of us did with it was different. I used the pandemic to write my first novel, shift focus from journalism to writing and alternately gaining and losing weight. I also learnt that I can move a lot of furniture with alarming frequency. I stopped travelling for the first time since I started working. Unable to socialize with other human beings, I focused on all the animals living around me, and then had a breakdown because I cannot stand the chirping birds. My sister threw herself into art projects. My other sister dedicated herself to acting classes and skin care. My mother took knitting to a whole other level. My father experienced what it was like to stay in one country for six months.
We were the fortunate ones, but there were others whose experiences were much less pleasant. Many experienced a loss of livelihood and food security. Supply chains broke down all over the country. We realised the gaps in our public health systems and political processes. Some of us felt betrayed and let down by the governments we had elected. Others realised their marriages only worked if their homes were empty. And all of us, each one, realised we weren’t invincible, neither as people, nor as a species. It was the year of hard truths and of determining what really matters to us, and who really matters to us. Every generation expects to go down in history, but it was the year in which we learnt what it really means to live through history. Ultimately most of is turned to all that is left: god, faith and hope.
It will take years to unpack everything that has happened this year from mindless, rampant loss of life to economic impact to the nature of the very disease. It is unlikely we were learn from this any of the things we vow so fervently to learn now, and it is more likely we will gain another version of A Journal of The Plague Year that will be read only by lit students trying to clear UGC NET. A day will come when only the intelligentsia will remember us, our stories and how our lives were impacted by a disease. They will discuss us as a case study in a classroom or on news channels when comparing the crises of their day to ours like we do now to the millions of people who died of the Spanish Flu. The tally of our casualities will be the answer to one of 300 questions on an entrance exam.
We will be gone. Our masks will have decomposed. Our medicinal knowledge will be considered primitive. Our pain will be crafted into colourful sentences laden with metaphor. Our plight will be interesting instead of horrific. Our stories will be constructed by second and third generations. Our vaccines will disappear along with our bodies. If there is nothing else we have learnt, we know now at least that our mortality is real and afflicts each one of us. We know nothing can save us from the world, even if we cure the predicament of this year, we will not cure the human condition. We will die and we will be forgotten. We will become remembered only by history.
And that is okay.
We will love, cry, suffer, laugh, eat and learn today. Tomorrow it will all be forgotten. In a thousand years another generation will look at us like we do the Greeks. Tomorrow they will love, cry, suffer, laugh, eat and learn. It will be their time. Today, and only today, is ours. Sometimes a dagger at your neck is that only thing that reminds you don’t need to write your own story, sometimes all you can do is live it and hope for the best.