As isolation carries on, the weeks have quietly converted into months. It’s a new season. The air is cooler and the darkening days a comforting reminder that the forces of nature remain steadfast despite the disruptions of 2020. Significantly, the worst of the summer is over. This transition to autumn should not be without gratitude if, by some miracle, one has been spared a health debacle. Recently, I was trying to recall what I might have been doing last September. Tearing around in a mad hurry no doubt, caught between chores and responsibilities — a two-decade routine over in a flash.
I have no complaints but no major missing either. The heightened anxiety of early lockdown has given way to a philosophical acceptance. This is that rare year in adulthood reminiscent of lazy postpartum days, when all you can do is to sit back, housebound, and observe the mundane.
It’s been six months since the pandemic discombobulated our lives. A full half year of the dismantling of work rhythms and festivals, so crucial to mark special days from ordinary ones. Birthdays and anniversaries have come and gone, only a gnawing restlessness remains. Mandated solitude can be terrifying for a generation that thrives on social stimuli. This time alone has forced everyone to re-evaluate, not merely at a professional level, what being atmanirbhar actually means. Learning to enjoy one’s own company? Finding new ways to stay relevant? Or simply, maintaining a facade of sanity. Webster defines the term Waiting Game first used in the 1850s as a strategy when participants withhold action in the hope of having a more favourable opportunity later. It’s clear that for now the world is suspended in an endless present. During the Waiting Game the wisest move is to do nothing at all. Things are happening all around, all one can do is let them happen.
Considering how much of our lives we spend waiting — for a red light to change, exams to be over or a weekend — one would imagine mankind would be better at it. Making sense of an obscene wealth of free time is, at worst, a peculiar gift. The challenge being not to give in to endless rumination, or dwell on the constricting effect of past decisions. These urgent quandaries of what a wide swathe of humanity is emotionally experiencing can be seen in the deeply moving YouTube film Bolero Juilliard, set to Ravel’s musical masterpiece. Students from the performing arts school wordlessly execute the wildly inconsistent moodswings of a typical pandemic day. A frustrated young woman buries herself in a sofa. Another wears lipstick and waits all day to take her dogs for a walk. An artist breaks through a door, the blue sky evoking the suffocation of restriction. Despair, fear and joy collide seamlessly in this poignant ode to loneliness, driving the viewer further into nostalgia.
Important changes are happening too. For the first time I hear people question the way we lived, whether it was buying stuff we didn’t need, or the crazy pace of city life. The pressure to be productive has vanished, replaced by the startling recognition that not everything has to be a side hustle. It’s okay to spend time doing things for pleasure and not only because you gain from it. There is a tendency these days to look back on other horrors, the Plague, the Spanish Flu, famines and world wars, perhaps as a source of reassurance that the human race has survived so much worse. It explains why our ancient epics always end with a great return to form; whether it was Odysseus sighting his island after years of wandering or Lord Ram returning victorious after a banishment of 14 years. Indeed, history insists that after painstaking hardship, there is inevitably, renewal.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 20, 2020 under the title ‘Life in a slower world’. The writer is director, Hutkay Films. Her column appears every fortnight
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