I don’t know whether it’s here to teach us a hard lesson in unity and universality as opposed to the vile divisiveness that had engulfed the world; or whether it’s Mother nature’s revenge on humankind for the unrelenting ravages the race has heaped on her in return for her generosity; whether it’s the 100 years cycle for tragedy which is just dutifully following its laid down trajectory or whether it’s a Chinese conspiracy of manipulating the mutation to establish a dystopian supremacy for itself. I don’t know if it’s one or all of this- as a million forwards would have you believe.
I also don’t know when this pandemic will be decisively over or what will happen once its all-encompassing shadow that looms so large and dangerously over our lives and livelihoods finally fades away.
Will we go back to our lives as before or will it have changed us forever? Will we become more tolerant, appreciative and gentler in our ways or will we become worse versions of our lockdown days, greedy to consume manifold what those months of isolation deprived us of? Will we reopen our shops, offices, factories and hearts with concern for a limping economy desperately crying for support or will we scramble only to get our own houses in order and insulate ourselves from the misery beyond our boundaries? Will we experience better relations with family and fellow human beings or will we see a rapid crumbling of the social and familial structures as people opt to making newer choices to reboot from a life they had felt trapped in- much before the pandemic tangibly trapped them?
I don’t know any of this. But what I do know is that for all its unwelcome presence, its debilitating spread and deeply tragic consequences, we are experiencing and living a slice of history that will never be erased from human memory or the tomes that record human life.
It’s the sole, unambiguous reality in a world filled otherwise with mere conjectures.
I have however also started to believe that perhaps every generation is handed out that one definitive experience in its lifetime that stops it in its tracks. One watershed occurrence that compels it to shift perspectives, question conditioning and accept the irrefutable truth about the unpredictability and fragility of existence.
The generation before my parents had the tragedy and travesty of the partition. My parents and their peers had the scare and scarcity brought about by the war – be in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict or the 1965 India-Pakistan confrontation. The rest of the world too has had their share of calamities to counter with over the years – from epidemics to world wars to massacres to natural disasters.
And now we have the Coronavirus.
Only this catastrophe is much larger and more menacing than any other, simply because it is not restricted to a few geographical locations and entities, but has grasped and imprisoned the entire world in its vice-like grip. And this lack of precedence in its extent has thrown up all these confounding questions to which no one quite has the answers.
All we can perhaps then do is accept its ineluctable presence in our lives and live this moment in history as it’s meant to be. With caution of course, but also mindfulness. Because like all custodians of historical events, we too need to carry forward the memories of this pandemic with integrity and correctness.
Innumerable stories are going to emerge from this life-altering event and be subsequently handed down to the generations after us. Like we were given the tales of the partition and the wars and the epidemics.
The bigger picture is of course being recorded- in the news and the many views. But the stories our future generations will hold closest to their hearts will be the ones they receive directly as their family legacy. Unique, individual, personal accounts of what their parents and grandparents did during the lockdown- for themselves and for others. Whether we live to tell them this or they hear it from someone else, it’s incumbent on us to create these invaluable memories and memoirs. To feel each challenge intensely, preserve every sentiment we are grappling with and consciously chronicle it all as it transpires.
Which brings us to the crucial question – are we, collectively and individually, creating the correct narratives? Have each of us got that one personal, unique tale that is not like anyone else’s? And which we will feel proud to bequeath to our children, to treasure, preserve and cherish for years to come?
History is being made and for once we have a chance to add to the script. To challenge our hitherto anonymity and, strange as it may sound in these times, make a bid for immortality. Through our words, actions and mindset. Whatever happens tomorrow will always be seen in the context of what we did today. Let’s do it right. Let’s deal with the pandemic in the manner befitting the stories we want our future generations to hear.
Sunanda Mehta is a senior journalist and former resident editor of The Indian Express, Pune. She is the author of the best-selling book, The Extraordinary Life And Death Of Sunanda Pushkar.
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