TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY

Queen Elizabeth termed 1992 her “annus horriblis,” which when literally translated from Latin meant ‘horrible year’. It was the year three royal marriages collapsed and a very large part of Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s favorite homes, burned to a crisp, with massive damages to centuries old art and artifacts. Looking back, 2020 has been an “annus horriblis,” for all of us around the world. The year of Covid-19 will go down in history as one of the most disruptive we as a human civilization have witnessed. Millions dead, the global economy suspended, billions, if not trillions lost, unemployment, mass migration and widespread division – that sums up this year for most’ve of us.

As we enter December, things have started to get back to some form of ‘normal’. People have started traveling, there are weddings taking place, lockdowns have been lifted, air traffic has restarted and miracle upon miracle, there seems to be a vaccine in sight. For me, December was always a time to look forward to. Diwali season had just ended and with that came in the chill of winter, which we have unexpectedly gotten earlier than usual in Hyderabad. The last few weeks have been particularly eventful with my best friend’s wedding, a slew of parties to attend and friends and family coming back from their visits, both from abroad and domestically.

While there is still the fear of the virus in the air, people have learned to live with it. Many have been victims of it, some have lost near and dear ones to it. As with many, I too have had a particularly close relative succumb to the dreaded Covid-19, which brought home the fact that this is no laughing matter. My trip to pay my respects to the memory of my deceased relative was a somber one. My family couldn’t come to terms with the loss, but the person in question had lived a full and fruitful life, having achieved enough for several lifetimes, and left behind a  strong family and throngs of people who would carry on their memory for years to come.

The trip also brought me back in touch with relatives that I had not met for years. And it was in those moments of bonhomie that I realized the paradigm shift we had all experienced in these trying times – we were now emotionally naked. Gone were those giant walls we’d constructed, those fallacies that we’d built upon as pedestals to our giant egos. People suddenly valued human interaction, they yearned for the feeling of being close to others, being in the proximity of those they loved.

When Shobhaa De came out with her series of books, named Lockdown Liaisons, chronicling short stories based on fictional characters living through lockdown, she made a very astute remark on social media where she explained that in many ways we had lost our “pretentiousness”. While researching her book I came across this comment, but was unenlightened at the time to truly appreciate its significance (we held an online Insta session on the topic with the author on You&I’s Instagram, which is still available online). But month’s later I can safely say that more truer words have not been spoken, perhaps even realized in these times.

In the face of a global killer, could it be that we have reverted back to our humaneness, even if so temporarily? Have we become more open to kindness and has some part of ourselves lost the ruthlessness which was rampant in the capitalistic, materialistic utopia we were earlier trying to create? For some of us, yes! For others not so much so and then of course there are a few to whom this pandemic did little else but affect their stock portfolios. How long this tenderness remains is another thing to be seen, but for a brief moment, we did on some personal level, however small that might be, let go off all the conditioning that we have been taught and become better people.

As I stood at the altar of my best friends wedding, performing the duties of his best man, I realized that in times of Covid some people did actually manage to find love. Weddings which had been delayed were suddenly taking shape again, and for others, life partners, the love’s of their lives, had been found at a time when the world around us was metaphorically ablaze. The celebrations that continued post his wedding were watered down, nowhere as large as they would’ve been in normal times, but the fun, happiness and warmth was in no ways diminished. In fact, it couldn’t have been better.

This makes me think about my favorite quote from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” or in English, ‘What does not kill you, makes you stronger’. Covid-19, killed many of us, but for those of us who survived, perhaps somehow, somewhere, we have emerged anew, stronger, bolder, more aware of the things that truly matter and equally so aware of the things that were intrinsically useless to our happiness, nay satisfaction.

All this realization comes to a halting stop when I see certain instances – the US elections for example, and how the incumbent President is doing everything to stay in power, the upcoming elections in Hyderabad, and how politicians from both sides are busy slinging mud, having already forgotten about the hardships faced by their citizens in the past year… this breed of people hold only brute force and power as their currency, and are immune to the influences of the world around them. They’ve become desensitized, for lack of a better word.

It’s been a time when the world stood still, gave humanity a breather and challenged us collectively with something that made us question our infallibility. Either way, only weeks away from Christmas, and the New Year, it’s the time to forgive our neighbors their sins, to reassess our own priorities in life, look back at the year gone by as a great leveler and ultimately hold strong to the age-old adage ‘Tis the Season to be Jolly.’         --- Vishwaveer