Day 6: New normal, Gordimer and Writing

30/03/2020

Day 6

I am making sprouts on my own now. That is today’s reminder of the lockdown. It was easier to buy them off from a store and keep a steady flow of a variety of them. I am conscious of the soaking time now. Among other reminders of life in lockdown are new additions to bird calls in the neighbourhood. We haven’t had parakeets flying past the buildings here. 

Everyone’s talking about a new normal emerging from these lockdown days. If India suffers less, loses less, then this will at best be an interim normal, soon to be forgotten. We have a way – callous, brash and indifferent. 

Local twitter today was triggered with someone tweeting – ‘Social distancing in this country is a matter of privilege’. Probably, the intention was to communicate how small and cramped living spaces are not ideal for keeping physical distance from one another. Or perhaps it was about less privileged people finding it hard to stay off-work and spend several days inside their homes well stocked with food and essential supplies. Either way, the thought that social distancing is linked with privilege implies poor comprehension. There are obvious limitations to suggested practices. The fact that we have to work with limitations on our resources and access that our situations can get us, is definitely better known to Indians than others. Yet, it seems now is the time to fuss about the social first and emergency response later. 

It has been twenty one days since I was injured badly on my right leg and nearly immobilized for all these days. Most of my friends say that it couldn’t have been a better time to have had this injury. I cannot walk without using support. It will be weeks before the right leg can share the weight of my body. To think of it as a better time to spend time recovering from an injury is perhaps an acknowledgement to our worries about how much we might miss out in the world if we were forced to sit in and life outside went about as usual. 

I spent the rest of the day reading a thick collection of Nadine Gordimer’s writings – ‘Telling Times: Writing and Living 1950-2008’. Even as I write these notes at the end of each day of lockdown, I encounter familiar old questions that have often stalked – why do I write? For whom do I write? The stock answer I have is that writing is self-serving. In one of her essays, Gordimer addresses a similar subject, though her concerns are significantly broader. It is understandable because of her engagement with the world and with a lifetime as a writer. She writes – 

Whether we like it or not, we can be ‘read’ only by readers who share terms of reference formed in us by our education – not merely academic but in  the broadest sense of life experience: our political, economic, social and emotional concepts, and our values derived from these: our cultural background. It remains true even of those who have put great distances between themselves and the inducted values of childhood: who have changed countries, convictions, ways of life, languages. 

She examines the matter of readership and material that readers consume, affirm and hold as valid. There is a broader dynamic there and in this essay she explores this. It feels relevant to these times as much, considering the kind of opinions and news that we are all busy sharing with each other and holding as truth. 

I have often wondered if there can ever be a citizen of the world. One who is rooted in the local and yet identifies and partakes in values that transcend the local. She writes about this ‘citizenship of the world’ as this  – 

Citizenship of the world is merely another acculturation, with its set of givens which may derive from many cultures yet in combination becomes something that is not any of them. 

Her essays are a rich field of references and expositions on ideas of thinkers and personalities who were respected and valued during her times. That is partly the appeal besides offering these fascinating and helpful insights about life, living and purpose.  

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