“Before and After – Thoughts on a Pandemic”

Would you like to imagine a scene with me? In his book The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato described a condition. Picture this: a group of people have been confined in a cave all of their lives. They are chained in a way that they face the blank wall of the cave. Behind them, there is a fire. All they can see are shadows being cast on that wall from objects that pass in front of the flames. For them, the shadows are the reality.

Statue of Greek philosopher Plato

These days, this scene keeps coming back to me. Everything about it sounds eerily familiar. We are confined within the walls of a place we loved coming back to at the end of the day. When we were out typing code, teaching a class, treating patients, or trading stocks, our entire being longed to reach home. Suddenly, we have been compelled to realise a bitter truth: if we stay within our walls longer, we start noticing the cracks. Even the ones that are just shadows.

This is our tunnel.

It is dark.

There is no light at the end of it.

Our lives have been irreversibly split into ‘before’ and ‘after’. The tragedy is that we don’t even know if this moment that we live in is a part of the ‘before’ or the ‘after’. These days, every new morning keeps reminding the same lesson: if you don’t know anything else, know your truth.

I urge you, dear readers. Pick up your pens, open your diaries, pick the page of your favourite day and list down your truths.

There are a few moments that have gifted me my truth. I would like to share them with you today.

  1. Lately, my evenings have been nothing short of festivity. My loved ones peek from the little windows on my screen. We spend our hours singing melodies from the times gone by. Not only has it brought back older memories, but it has also laid the ground for new ones that would stay around for years to come.

  1. Sunsets have also been a steady source of solace. I spend the dusk capturing the iridescent sky through the lens. As the night sets in, my friends and I share the pictures of the view from our terrace. The sky reminds us of the vast endlessness we have in common, no matter the distance. In turn, the sky keeps loving us back – have you seen how bright the stars are at night?

  1. Apart from the dusk-strewn skies, our phone galleries are flooded with another kind of pictures, too – slightly burnt, a little off-colour, hastily plated dishes of food. We have donned our ill-fitting aprons to embark on a series of experiments behind the kitchen counter. Sometimes our proportions get messed up midway, sometimes the gas burns too hot. Maybe one can also imagine the number of times our parents would have sighed (be it in relief or in disappointment) in the making of the dish. But in a time when we find it puzzling to express our emotional support – not knowing what to say and how – it is fun to find our camaraderie through our tastebuds.
  1. Like the people in Plato’s cave, I also have my blank walls. The only difference that a few hundred years have made is that my walls light up when I press the power key. These days, some horrific shadows dance on the black walls of my smartphone, my laptop and the TV screen. They take the form of statistics showing the death rates across the world; the heartbreaking plight of the ones who risk their lives to save ours in these troubling times; the hauntingly deserted roads and bridges. The end of a life that shatters hundreds of others ends up being a flimsy addition on the death curve that I keep looking at blankly on my screens. In such moments, a seemingly regular word that I overlook every day has helped me immensely: context. It is a painful process, I would not deny. At times, the picture that contextual reading paints is far scarier than the one that I expect. But there is something about gaining absolute context that helps me discern the fine line between truth and sensationalism. The forms of tragedy are endless, but our resilience to stand tall against them is in no way minimal.

  1. Ever since the world went into total lockdown, I have been thinking about silences. The bus conductor’s bell, chalk on the blackboard, the coffee machine at the canteen of my college – my ears were shut to thousands of sounds that drove my life every day. I didn’t notice their absence until the endless ring of silence was all that there was. That is what I am fascinated by – the quietude of it all. The gravity of our times has rendered us almost incapable of expressing any emotion, inwards and outwards. But I find my solace in believing that this is a shared silence, a people’s silence. These days have helped me realise that my life is not restricted to the metallic clang of machines. Waking up to a quiet street and the chirping of mynahs is fulfilling enough to uplift the beauty of human silences.

Take heart, dear readers. When we come out of the cave, all of us will be singing.

  • Nivid Desai
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