Day 21: Extension & Distance


Day 21: Extension

The lockdown was to end today. It is the twenty first day since it was imposed. The PM addressed the nation this morning and extended it. He announced that we must stay home until 3rd May. He likened the citizen’s resolve and efforts with words like tapasyaa and agni pariksha. With that, life indoors will continue for another nineteen days. The diary too must continue. 

If there is an occasion to realize the real meaning of the last part of one of Baldwin’s sentences – ‘but then you read’, then it is now. In these days of severely restricted movement and work we are likely to find abundant hours to explore our own experiences, ideas and lives. This was a luxury for many during the grind of normal life. We develop narratives of incidents, events and days of our lives and then hold them up as experiences. These experiences, henceforth, are the reality and often not open for revisions. We label them and file them in the folders marked ‘past’. It is when reading steps in, when we allow ourselves the possibility of alternative views and diverse experiences that come to us through writing that we begin to put the whole, as we though,t in perspective with the whole as it might be. On his experiences, Baldwin wrote, ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’. While he mentions only pain and heartbreak, the idea holds relevance for a wider range of emotions. 

With the confirmation of extension of the lockdown, I walked around the house looking at piles of books to gather unfinished ones and those that were bought from bookstore visits to read later. Looking at Tockarzuk’s Flights I am reminded of her Nobel Lecture in which she regards a writer’s mind as ‘a synthetic mind that doggedly gathers up all the tiny pieces in an attempt to stick them together again to create a universal whole.’ These lockdown diary entries are in the same vein. I go about gathering tiny pieces from everyday as it unfolds and piece together the ‘whole’ of that day. 

Among those tiny pieces of today is an event that brings home the rawness of the threat that keeps us indoors in this lockdown. A colleague lost her mother to Covid-19. Two other members of her family are at grave risk from the infection. We fuss about words as inadequate and incapable of taking place for real emotions. Here was a text message in which I was seeing someone’s grief, worded. How else were we to communicate across this enormous physical distance between us? Words are what we were left with. I sent her a recital of Sukhmani Sahib, pulling off a link from YouTube, in the hope that the holy reading might help her hold herself together in this moment of loss and grief. There were more words coming in. We were communicating through words this overwhelming situation within which a threat of more loss also loomed. ‘You are in my thoughts’, ‘You are in my prayers’… with these we were trying to hold communion even as we stood in two different countries. 

The character of these times is marked by distance. The paradox is that keeping distance will save us from getting infected with the virus and it is the same distance that we are trying to bridge with great efforts every single day of this lockdown. 

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