Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/30/21 5:46 AM

Guest column: The grim and the whimsical

The grim and the whimsical exist side by side today

To misquote Dickens, it certainly is the worst of times and not so much the best of times. The seemingly interminable banks of dark clouds haven’t drifted off yet, they continue to darken our skies and our lives. Anxiety levels are still peaking, optimism is still in the trough, and each day we hear of more kith and kin falling victim to the virus` fatal chokehold. Grief, anger and frustration have all  lodged deep inside us and look set to stay.

But here`s the thing about grief. Though we like to fall back on terms like endless/ bottomless/ ceaseless, the truth is, grief actually moves in a manner parallel to the microbe currently attacking us. It starts off as an emotion of  pandemic magnitude, churning up a cytokine storm of emotions in its wake. Then it devolves into an emotion of endemic strength, always present as a dull leaden weight but not carrying those jagged edges you cut your heart on just a short while ago. While all of our grief never really evaporates, the human mind devices methods to keep us from drowning in those tumultuous  waters.

Grief usually goes two ways:  there`s just that much bad news the mind can take before it either sinks into this slough of despond or else, flees the coop. Throw a non-swimmer into deep waters, and they initially sink heavily to the bottom, remain stay there for a brief while,  then start  to kick their way up to the surface, where the light is pouring in. Or they stay put at the bottom, inert, having totally surrendered to circumstances.

Doom-scrolling has now become a compulsive need but there is a frontier against which our grief, in its concentrated or  scattered form, crashes and breaks. Sometimes the way we cope with the death and devastation around us   is to turn to something routine, to continue mechanically doing what we were  doing before the contagion hit, deriving comfort from the quotidian. Sometimes, we act out, do something very out of the ordinary, wildly over the top.

You would have noticed that this time around, no Cordon Bleu home cooking tips are being posted, and more film stars are sadly falling prey to Covid rather than posting videos of  sweeping, mopping,  cooking or cleaning  vessels.

We aren’t seeing reports of great whale sightings, peacocks dancing (except perhaps in the gardens of 7, Lok Kalyan Marg), stallions  running down  cobbled streets. We aren’t seeing photos of magnificent snow- clad peaks being glimpsed from towns in the plains; instead, we are hearing of climbers falling sick with Covid while attempting to summit Mount Everest.

So much for what we are not seeing. What we are seeing, though, are some farcical reports that would have evoked surprise in normal times and now evoke a surreal feeling.

Let`s begin with the mildly funny, shall we? I`m a happy if not entirely believing reader of any and every horoscope I set my eyes on. Of late, I`m  noticing the overseas travel motif cropping  up virtually every day in my horoscope. I`m told I have to prepare for a business trip abroad, I have a pleasure trip coming up very soon, will embark on a religious trip in the near future. And in one prescient reading, I`m  told to put off my adventure trip.

It`s not only horoscopes. Trip Advisor has been sending me a slew of messages that urge me to  wrap up those Paris plans… which I will. In muslin. For the foreseeable future.

I read of minor celebrities telling us we shouldn’t succumb to Covid-induced panic. In the very next breath,  the aforementioned celebrities also aver that Covid is not the rosy picture that people paint it out to be. At which the imagination starts to boggle: people, aside from that Manali-based actress,  are actually painting rosy pics of Covid?

In Patna, a wedding crowd of 500 assault cops who try to disperse them. That BJP MP from Bhopal reiterates the benefits of cow urine, now probably from her sickbed. People in Gujarat are happily smearing cow dung all over themselves, and equally happily ignoring the link found between cow dung and the black fungus.

I read of how I can create a home spa. Or apply multi-coloured eyeshadow on my eyelids because apparently we are crushing on rainbow eyes this season. And here I was under the impression that all the seasons had blurred into Surge Season and Wane Season.

Elsewhere, a Basquiat artwork sells for 93 million USD, and a Picasso goes for 103 million USD. A pet Bengal tiger roams Texas streets, and you wonder at its daring, given that now big cats too have been found to contract Covid.

Pandemic, catastrophe or disaster, human life will continue in its erratic, eccentric, often inexplicable way. You can rail at the insensitivity or trivialisation of this dangerous beast in our midst. However, it is what it is.

This appeared in the Sunday Express Magazine of 30 May 2021.

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Sheila Kumar • May 30, 2021

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