A WhatsApp forward that did the rounds a few days ago said that if Mumbai started observing social distancing strictly, half of it would end up in Pune. Its ineffectiveness as a joke aside, the forward did have a point to make about how space constraints neuter any social-distancing mandate for a majority of India’s urban population. I belong to the other lot, the segment that doesn’t have these space constraints. I live in a large flat in Gurugram. I can pontificate about personal space. I can afford a stylish desk and a cushy chair that even reclines to an absurd angle, an angle at which my feet have to be suspended in the air by at least three inches. I can place the desk and the chair in a large room and add a lavish bookshelf next to them. I can call the square yards covered by all this furniture as my writing space. I can actually use my writing space to write.
I can even go further than that. I can actually start complaining. I can complain about the fact that ever since the virus forced people like me to work from home, my writing space has become my workspace. I work in insurance, you see, and it is insurance work that pays my bills. Writing is what I do (or, I did) on late nights or on weekends, which is also why having my own writing space was gratifying — as a signifier of having more than bare necessities, of having time and space for fostering the possibility of leaving a mark on the world with what I did on weekends.
So, yes, I can complain about the fact that the infiltration of insurance work into my writing space has left it unusable for its core purpose during weekends. Now the work laptop has more prominence on the desk than my personal laptop, which often finds itself folded inside a drawer. The reverberations of work-related Zoom calls spill long into the weekend, making the creation of fresh stories impossible. The truth is, I haven’t written a word of fiction (which is what I normally write) since the lockdown began.
In short, I can complain that the order that I had somehow managed to bring into my life, and which had made me feel like a man of some consequence, has been upended.
But what sort of complaint would that be in times of emergency, especially in a nation where millions of people are forced to stay put in spaces they can’t call home, where the distribution mechanism for essentials is failing many, where mass hunger is a clear possibility, if not already a reality?
It would be a silly complaint. In a different era in a different country, it would be grounds enough to bring me to the guillotine.
So I won’t complain. I’ll just acknowledge that I’m lucky to be in a position in which I can observe distancing norms and fill my belly. Or I’ll just shut up.
Tanuj Solanki is the author of three books of fiction, the latest being the novel The Machine is Learning
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