And a brand-new year is back again, with the promise of a much-anticipated COVID vaccine and the fear of a mutant virus strain looming large. Over every restrained and restrictive coffee, drink or dinner that we shared with friends over the past ten months, each conversation somehow veered towards the pandemic in less or more ways.
Yet, at the last day of the historical year of 2020, it made me think of a certain fact. Before the COVID-19 invasion, we didn’t exactly live in a very stable or secure world anyway. On the contrary, we lived in a world of hijacked lives, hostile face-offs and shattered dreams. Have you realized that in the past ten months, there has not been a single major terrorist attack, there has been no calls for jihad, there haven’t been any Syrians fleeing their homes over stormy seas, no Rohingyas seeking asylum, no mob lynching, no riots, no smashed public properties and no innocent lives blown away while they were enjoying a dinner?
Yet, millions of lives have been lost. To be precise, a staggering 19,06,770 as I post this. A terribly grim statistic, which time and again reminds me of human fallibility. However, what I see in it, is the fact that these lives weren’t lost out of searing human hatred for each other, or by savage inhumanity. And even if you credit the many conspiracy theories behind the pandemic, on the face of it, it isn’t about hatred though it might be about power and wealth. Ordinary people like you and me are always pawns in these wild un-sacred games whether it’s the arms and defence cartel or the pharmaceuticals lobby vying for their selfish avarice. Still, the epidemic brought out more humanity than communal, class and regional dogmas do.
The world in its billion-year history, hasn’t seen very many crises that affected each and every household in such a personal way. And in those moments of heightened angst, unpredictability, and enormity of its scale, it unequivocally reveals the microscopic existence of an individual. How less does any single life matter, to be precise how less do I matter in the larger picture of this world or how inconsequential is the world in this universe? Yet, I dwell so much in self-absorption, revel in self-importance, and bask in self-centredness. This realization comes in these very transient blips of time, when you are cloaked over with a cosmic halo to see all lives as equal in significance.
I might translate it into more practical terms. The month of December was a bit rough on my family, where half of them tested covid positive, excluding me. It’s a trying situation when you are personally pushed into it, until then it’s just a conversational topic. Every sickness comes with a certain stress on the caretakers too. But I think I was coping well enough until one of my house-helps contracted it as well, after three members already being under quarantine. His blood shot eyes, plummeting oxygen level and escalating pulse rate that particular morning, threw me over the edge.
In that moment of utter anxiety and helplessness, I internalized three things. I realized the significance of his life to his family as much as my family’s was to me. Secondly, never before had I felt so intensely and emotionally responsible for another life. After all, he contracted the infection while serving my family and me. Finally, as always when desperate, I asked for divine grace which I was soon granted. Its not something that I want to brag about, rather it humbles and strengthens me to know without a shadow of doubt that there is someone watching over me.
It’s a conviction, that tells me to stop defending the idea of “God” or being offended by any of its interpretations. I consider myself blessed to feel the grace, to feel even the ephemeral transcendence where the world is more than you and you are less than your own world. A feeling of unadulterated compassion living through you, the kind that Sufi mystics talk about. But even when such charged moments fleet away, a more real world awaits you with open arms if you are ready for it.
Every individual appreciates and yearns a basic human respect. And this respect isn’t a spoken thing. It’s conveyed or reaches the other in your demeanour, language and gestures. So, when my home turned into the quarantine zone, I had to pitch in extra time in the kitchen with our other help to manage the house. During those hours, he told me so many of his family stories, about his father, children, village gossip. And I had all the eagerness, patience and time to listen. It might be my misinterpretation, but I somehow feel that in those hours and days we established a human connect between us past the employer-employee status, trying to deal with the situation together. And his ever willingness and wish to help me much beyond his scope of work couldn’t go unnoticed by me.
In the course of this essay, it looks like the world came full circle unwittingly. From grasping an individual or personal irrelevance in the macrocosmic universe, it still came down to interpersonal relevance between people. The perspective of personal insignificance makes you less self-centred, at the same time the notion of personal significance gives you self-worth.
You and I might be nonentities in the larger scheme of things, yet we are at the centre or side of a lot of people’s universes and vice versa. And this is the driving force for human life on earth. Irrespective of whether we can see it or not, there is an inevitable interconnectedness between all humans. And this very interconnectedness has been used throughout history, to both raze and resurrect the world. In this very strange world of extreme dual forces, you survive the connect, strive for another day, stagger through life no matter what because at the end of the day, “He who has a why to live for, can bear almost any how” – Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.