At 9 PM Indians were asked to switch off their lights at home, light oil lamps or candles or torches to recognise key workers and express solidarity with the nation’s fight against coronavirus. In their enthusiasm some lit firecrackers too. The idea of restraint is often lost upon this massive herd of a people packed tight on a land that could have looked big enough otherwise. In this way, on twelfth day of the lockdown the fantastic spell of quiet in the neighbourhood was broken by loud sounds of the fireworks.
These expansive hours without any pressure from deadlines or expectations afford a kind of luxury that does not occur often, unless one makes a conscious effort towards it. The past week hasn’t been brutal for India. The next might be. A significant effort is being made by the government in controlling information and news. One may not get to know when the deaths move from bad to worse. However, I am hopeful of the decentralised structure of the country which makes authoritarian tendencies difficult to prevail.
To think of it, things we worried about before the lockdown are remote concerns now. Hunkered down in homes, getting from one day to the other, sanity intact and without incurring much damage to spirit is the only purpose of life for some. The bookshelves are being re looked and books are being reread with a finesse that work filled lives would have never allowed for. The money and credit that one could have made in those hours reallocated to work has ceased to be a consideration. Rereading an anthology of social theory, I am struck by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck’s formulation of contemporary society. He called it ‘risk society’.
‘In the decades ahead we will confront profound contradiction and perplexing paradoxes; and experience hope embedded in despair’, he wrote. These days exemplify ‘hope embedded in despair’ though the despair here is brought by the effects of an unexpected pandemic. The processes that can cause this despair as expected by sociologists were – globalization, individualization, gender revolution, unemployment and global risks such as global financial markets crash or ecological crisis. Either way, we see the frame of reference shifting. The models that societies created for themselves are undergoing a stress testing that they have not required to because all the shortcomings were often made good by capitalism’s promise to the individual. As long as one could add another house, another car, more appliances and continue stamping the wishlist with bought stamps, it was good. It was justified. It was validation of a good life. The good life now needs ventilators for the family. It needs more of those things that only the collective can provide. The limitation is that triage cannot be gamed.
Beck seems ahead of his time and quite relevant to the global situation under the effect of the pandemic, when in 1999 revision of his paper ‘World Risk Society’ he observed the following –
As the bipolar world fades away, we are moving from a world of enemies to one of dangers and risks. But what does “risk” mean? Risk is the modern approach to foresee and control the future consequences of human action, the various consequences of radicalized modernization. It is an (institutionalized) attempt, a cognitive map, to colonize the future. Every society has, of course, experienced dangers. But the risk regime is a function of a new order: it is not national, but global.
Tonight I would have loved to sit with my grandma who’d faced much severe versions of the limitations that the lockdown has put on my life. The odds of surviving hunger, disease and riots were far lower than the current pandemic. It changed them in ways that I am interested in knowing more about today than all these years when I could go to her and ask. Not anymore. The global is personal too, as I recollect her speak. It is this connection that should make us more altruistic than what we are. This should be an inclusion among others for the transformation that we should look forward to.