by Srajana Kaikini.

We are curious about our social behavior in a post COVID-19 future. A future where the social can’t be taken for granted; a future where we humans hope to reclaim some sense of control over the world currently ruled by a virus. 

Now we find that we must check in with ourselves continuously, fervently to see if we exist. As we trudge through COVID-19, the experiences of this pandemic are absurdly disconnected from all its statistics. Numbers are good for research and innovation. But what must be done with the unending experiences of suffering around us? These are times with a propensity to reduce every life to a number – makes mapping easy, helps us make sense from chaos, helps us keep up with the race of information transmission, content generation. But what of the unmappable? And what of all those things that have fallen off the map? 

Come to think of it, the world seems to have turned into a museum of objects – each of us – an object, encased, enshrined in our own home vitrines, with ‘do not touch’ signs. This COVID-19 museum of humans, appears to be unapologetically partial, helplessly exclusive. Researchers and collectors seem to be collecting more and more of these objects for the sake of their study. Soon the penguins, the orangutans, the flying squirrels will stand in long queues for this blockbuster show. 

In this ‘us versus it’ situation, the vulnerability brought upon us humans because of a tiny invisible virus, should have made our priorities clear, should have made recognizable the common condition that unifies us. Instead, this COVID-19 museum declares it is full, it still keeps out unclaimed, unidentified objects because sources tell them, these objects are not of any value. Without this sea of excluded, unchosen objects, the objects in the museum will lose their worth. The museum chief will lose his job. 

This ‘us versus it’ situation should have made possible some silent enlightenments – the realization that, stuck alone in our little vitrines, our old hate, our past evil, our future hurt will only shroud our vitrines dark – obstruct the view of that pretty landscape outside. Instead, what do we do? We exoticize our hate, turn it into a specialty of ours, incubate it for future unleashing. But will a future even arrive without a place for it in the present? 

What are our experiences of this pandemic, outside of our self-obsessed, self-reliant perceptions? 

There seems to be little room for change, given that we take up every last inch of space allotted us in this museum. We are very important. We have declared ourselves so. 

And now we may talk of an ethics – to moderate this confounded experience of this COVID-19 museum. There may be some ways to clear the vitrines of that shroud of self-importance, so that we may access our allotted windows of freedom. I give myself a tip, “Stay with it. Safeguard, hold, observe, engage, articulate, communicate your experience from where you are.” Easier said than done – I have a hunch, our sufferings are mostly difficult to talk about, dreading a breach of dignity every time suffering is talked about. 

We need now, as always, a reasoned seasoning for our perceptions.

The future of social behavior, I hope, will bring back focus on speaking about, responding to, being with experiences. The present keeps crumbling in the absence of an ethics of being. Everything, in the end, risks being only a thing of the past or the future. So, do something so we may safeguard our presentness – be with our experiences and help our friends to be with it. In this complex of sufferings – it is not the actual disease but the collateral experiences of it that seem to pervade our lives, provoke it – all our little and grand miseries. 

Death is a topic that easily eclipses life. All of life and thereby all of life’s experiences are eclipsed in the wake of death. But what of our boredom, our triumphs, our chuckles, our tyrannies, our intimacies, our reliefs, our reveries? What of all those things that we have been locked down with, under the lock and key of death and its fear. The risk is enormous. Not to life, but to our sense of life. For we can be alive and inhuman. We can be dead, yet remain human. What is better? Someone advises you, “Best to avoid troubling questions in troubling times.” Dust it under the carpet, vacuum it, disinfect it, sterilize the mind and be clean of questions.  

PS: The first-aid kit for this museum looks like this. Friends. Compassion. A moral compass to help us walk out of this museum and not lose direction. A map and key to decipher which is the right portal through this pandemic.    


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