Facing a Cruel Spring

Patricia Mukhim

When TS Eliot wrote, in ‘The Wasteland’…April is the cruellest month/breeding Lilacs out of the dead land I always wondered why he would say that when April ushers in spring and the leaves show up afresh after their winter slumber. But then April is also considered an ominous month for Khasis. We don’t do anything auspicious like marriages or other observances requiring community feasting. We also don’t enter a new house (kiew iing thymmai) this month or do anything that requires major financial transactions such as purchasing property. So why am I thinking April when the Corona virus was first reported in India on January 30 this year? Perhaps it’s because the lockdown has entered its 10th day and is taking its toll on the mind and body.

Our lives have upended suddenly and since the real enemy is invisible we are vilifying its visible carriers because we are all afraid despite the pretence of bravado. For once we are denied the solace of community when we need it the most. Isolation, we are told is good for ourselves and for others. But Covid19 has hit different people differently. For the poor it’s an ordeal they never imagined. Poverty indeed is a curse especially at these trying times. Thankfully many good souls have risen to the occasion to share what they have with the less fortunate. This too is a lesson that Covid has taught us – to be humane and caring and to think beyond ourselves.

And yes, we must now accept that all the well laid plans we have made are going awry if not pulverized. As someone rightly observed, there is a humility that comes with realizing you’re not the glorious plans you made for your life. When the plans are upset, there’s a quieter and better you beneath them. This is a very sobering thought.

For those of us writing weekly columns, some of them scathingly critical of government and its incapacities, this is the time to step back and think. Why churn out countless words which we deceive ourselves are being read by people but which actually are swept aside into a gale of nothingness! In fact, for once we are seeing from close quarters how government is trying to cope with a crisis they don’t have a DIY (do it yourself) kit for and so far the Government of Meghalaya has done very well right from the officers at the field level, the deputy commissioners at the districts right up to the top of the administrative ladder. No one can accuse them of not trying their best. True, only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches and now after many years one realises that a government is as good or as bad as its human resource. Truth is we have human resource to be proud of and we need to salute them.

On Thursday the Supreme Court of India has taken a dim view of the penchant of some over-zealous self appointed newsmakers who’ve graduated from WhatsApp University to forward fake news on the Covid19 plague. The Union Government blamed the scare-mongering over social media for the exodus of lakhs of migrant workers leading to another human disaster. Truly infodemic is as dangerous as the pandemic. Hope the peddlers of fake news learn their lessons now or they will see the inside of a prison.

In the confines of home there is only the television for company. On news channels the only abiding sight these days are masked pedestrians on empty streets who all look like the survivors of a neutron bomb. Just think of this!  A pathogen about one-thousandth the width of a human hair, the spiky-crowned new Coronavirus, has thrown our lives completely out of gear. Across the world we are connected by a new fear and going through the same experiences. Yes this Virus Connection reminds us of the fundamental lesson of life – human interdependence. This Virus has the potential to sweep over humans like the plague. Before it we are all vulnerable, no matter our social or economic status.

So yes, life today is on pause mode. Most of us are self-distancing and are experiencing the same pause in normal life, undergoing deeper reflections inspired by that pause, experiencing the same anxieties and fears, reading the same memes, listening to songs that have been remixed to suit this Corona season beginning from Julie Andrew’s popular song, “Doe a deer.. ,” from the Sound of Music. The great paradox, of course, is that we had to be set apart in order to feel the loss of ‘togetherness.’ As a person who is constantly around people and with people, I miss human company. And it’s now that I realise the deeper meaning of social fabric. We are all asking one another how we are holding up, knowing very well that we miss something deeper.

At this moment of our journey, religions and philosophies can seem like cruel jokes. The only thing that matters is survival. Without the inspiration of a higher meaning, selfishness takes over. And since there’s time to read now, I went through Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning,” yet again. For someone who survived the Holocaust, Frankl is pretty much sanguine about what he writes. He says we don’t get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning, he argued, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering. The menace may be sub-human or super-human, but we all have the option of asserting our own dignity, even to the end.

This is the time to find new hobbies and mine is gardening. I suddenly have friends asking for vegetable seeds. All of us realise we also need to be self reliant and not get everything from the market because when we are locked down access to vegetables is problematic, Besides gardening is highly therapeutic and soul-cleansing and what better then to eat the fruit of one’s hard work.

There are other welcome developments. We now have time for deeper conversations and share thoughts on what we can do to help someone somewhere. There are friends who are considering stitching masks as a contribution to society. Others are busy distributing cooked food to the homeless; still others are distributing dry rations to the needy. Suddenly there is spontaneity and voluntarism that normally does not come easy.

The Rangbah Shnongs have been busy regulating the distribution of such rations, filling up names of unregistered daily labourers into government databanks so they can receive their weekly salaries into their bank accounts and meeting the needs of their constituents. Not much is heard about the MLAs and MDCs. Perhaps they are still strategising. Everyone is doing something as an act of compassion. This is what Ms Corona with her flashing lights has taught us. Looks like everyone is now asking themselves what role they can play in this crisis and how they are situated to serve.

True we are also confronting our own fears and gradually we also discover that we do have the resources to cope as we fight the fear with conversation and direct action. A stronger self emerges out of the death throes of the anxiety. Hence let us not waste this moment and its meaning because in moments like these, meaning is a great healing balm.

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