By Karan Thapar
We will emerge at the other end. We will overcome. Sadly, not everyone. Some we love deeply will fall. That’s a sad reality we cannot deny. But when we join hands again, hug and kiss, laugh and argue, we will be different people.
The first wave of the virus taught me to live with myself. I used to find being alone unsettling. I would joke that I don’t like my own company but the truth is it was comforting to have others around. Last year changed that. The prospect of long quiet evenings on my own no longer unnerves me. I have found comfort in books, solace in music, distraction in films and, yes, I am not afraid of my thoughts. I can let my mind wander and I am happy to follow where it leads me.
The second wave is teaching a very different lesson. This time I am not the only pupil. All of us are. It’s teaching us to live with fear. No, that’s too strong a term. With foreboding. With the fact that things could go terribly wrong, horribly quickly, and we don’t know when that might happen.
That thought lurks at the back of my mind. I don’t focus on it. I’m an optimist. But I know it’s there. And that’s an awareness I did not have earlier. Now I’m finding ways of adjusting my life around it.
Most of the time, I do so humorously. Actually, tongue-in-cheek. When someone admonishes me for not keeping in touch, my prompt response is tinged with black humour. “Yes, you can never tell if this is the last call!” Most of the time, it prompts an embarrassed laugh. But there’s a grim truth behind the joke. You’ll only know if it’s an accurate prediction when it turns out to have been one. The past tense is telling.
Last year, I caught the virus but it didn’t worry me. This year feels very different. First, there are a lot more people I know and care for who are afflicted. Some are not having an easy time. A few may not make it. I don’t want to think that far but I can’t stop myself. So, this year, the virus is an intimation of mortality. It feels far more real and, perhaps, a lot closer than the heart attacks and strokes 60-year-olds are only passingly aware of.
I guess what I’m really saying — and it’s taken me a while to realise it — is that we’re learning to live with the possibility of dying. Not just me. I’m pretty sure that’s true of many of us. So far it’s been a distant, if not just a theoretical, prospect. One that we all know we must eventually face. But, suddenly, that day seems uncomfortably closer. Who knows how far off it actually is? Who really knows?
And yet, and yet, and yet — we’ve all found a way to continue despite this dreadful foreboding. We’re not just living, we’re finding new ways of enjoying life. The specter that haunts us has created a new determination, a fresh sense of resolve, a single-minded focus. Consequently, each of us has found his or her own way to get through this. We’ve adapted our lives to survive, found alternative types of entertainment and learnt to cherish the little joys we once, thoughtlessly, took for granted. But we’ve also done one other thing, possibly without realizing it. We’ve adjusted our ambitions. We’ve learnt to be happy with less.
Of two things, I am now very confident. We will emerge at the other end. We will overcome. Sadly, not everyone. Some we love deeply will fall. That’s a sad reality we cannot deny. But when we join hands again, hug and kiss, laugh and argue, we will be different people. The experience we’re going through and the fear we’re living with will have changed us. That’s another outcome we have to accept.
In the last century, when the Spanish Flu ended, the relief and joy the world felt found expression in the roaring 20s. My hunch is history won’t repeat itself.
Television and social media have effectively ensured that. We’ll celebrate, no doubt, but it will be hard to forget what happened.
Karan Thapar is a Hindustan Times columnist and author of ‘Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story’