Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Guest column: This is us

 This is us

The basic truth is, we are operating on a twin level of new normal now. And there is a sizeable population which believes that this new normal is perfectly alright, feeds off on the  oftentimes toxic adrenaline released by this new normal,  and has slowly integrated it into the mainstream.

Covid-19 is back with us for a vicious second (or third, or fourth) round, has surged to shocking levels with the peak nowhere in sight and an infrastructure collapse in plain sight. We have been reduced – again — to hiding out in our homes, working from our computers, eschewing all societal activities while the virus prowls outside, seeking to draw as many of us as it can into its maws.

That’s for those of us who live in our bubbles; there are others amongst us who once again stare unemployment, financial crises and tremendous emotional stress   in the face. Migrant labour is on its way home again, and the more empathetic amongst us can well understand the feelings of deep despair and hopelessness such a move engenders.

Then again, virtually all of us are staring at death by virus, this time around. Because Covid 2.0 is more infectious than Covid 1.0. Because Covid is hitting younger people and hitting them hard. Because of a shortage of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. Because  ambulance drivers are on a fleecing spree. Because Remdesivir has moved into the black market. Because hospitals, cremation grounds are overwhelmed. Because plasma banks are running on empty. Because labs are swamped, so results are consecutively delayed.

This, then, is our current miserable state.

But then, we are a people who did not learn a thing from the way the pestilence locked us down, confined us, kept us from our kith and kin, made us live like rats in so many rat holes, all of 2020. The moment the fatality count went down, we were out there, jostling, shouting, celebrating, pilgrimaging, mostly unmasked, confident that the crisis had blown over.

We`d turned philosophers, earth-lovers, last year. We momentarily celebrated the return to peace and quiet, of fresh water and pure air, of animals venturing out of their habitats to give us a joyous parade,  that we immediately put up on social media. That moment soon passed and after we had convinced ourselves that the coronavirus had blown over, life went slowly back to what it had been for us.

And now that the coronavirus is back with the dreaded bang, here we are like trapped animals, frantically looking for a way out… anything but following Covid protocol, that is. Even as politicians happily politicise the pandemic, we are buying their line, touting their lies and worsening the situation.

That then is Level One. Let`s look at Level Two, shall we?

We are now a combustible mix of the gullible and the suspicious. According to our political leanings, we believe/disbelieve everything, and actual evidence to the contrary be damned. This belief/disbelief is mixed with a deep distrust of stuff we can`t understand too well.  It is always easier to see things in black or white and ignore the grey areas in between and so, that is how we are living today.

Then, we have perfected the art of taking offence. Whether it is a TV serial, a movie, a passage in a book, artwork, theatre, tolerance has flown out of the window and all we do is rage, rage, violently rage. This offensive art of taking offence reached its ridiculous peak with the late great Vijay Tendulkar’s posthumous harassment by a political outfit recently.

We have also turned incredibly vulgar. Vulgar in the way we heap abuse on anyone who doesn’t agree with our beliefs, vulgar in the way we troll people, vulgar in the way we gloat about `shutting` people down. It`s a new lexicon for a new age, and what a sorry state of affairs for both the lexicon and the new age.

We seem to need that daily fix to keep ourselves distracted from the real concerns that are hitting us with the force of a sledgehammer, to occupy ourselves in noise, invective, authoritarian oppression, physical and mental violence.

So. Can we take a long hard look at who and what we are now?

A people who are either in denial about Covid-19 or numbed by it, who still won`t follow Covid protocol, who still congregate in multitudes whenever and wherever they can. A people who refuse to hold those who govern us accountable for their unspeakable crimes and misdemeanours.

A people convinced we are eternal victims, filled with mistrust and an attendant disquiet, ready to viciously turn on anyone and everyone. Ready to be distracted by those who seek to turn our attention away from the real problems that ail us.

This then, is the twin-level new normal. And you know what, we can still do something about it. That is, if we wish to.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/voices/2021/may/02/we-didnt-learn-a-thing-from-the-way-the-pestilence-treated-us-2296547.html

This appeared in The New Sunday Express Magazine of 02 May 2021.

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Sheila Kumar • May 2, 2021


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