At 34, actor Sushant Singh Rajput hanged himself, apparently succumbing to mental wellness issues, aggravated by the present situation of the pandemic. It will be one of our lifelong lessons how we, that lived through these times, changed within our minds. How we felt the despair of those that walked home sometimes with their children on their shoulders, and then those that never made that walk back.
The new normal was not just a normal of masks and sanitisers and protective gear. The new normal was a new mindscape. Where on the one hand we learnt to hold our dear ones closer, while on the other, as a people we became ever more fragile, no matter how we differently dealt with our conditions of angst, loneliness and lack.
These are times when our minds have played tricks on us, and sometimes gotten the better of us. When a sudden distrust of everybody around us and the need to distance from our fellow humans brought to the fore angst, regrets and unfulfilled needs that might have lingered underneath the surface. And which might have overwhelmed us at a time when we live in an unprecedented fear of our own kind, other men and women, and when we must shun physical closeness and intimacy. Perhaps it is also a judgement that’s being passed from somewhere on our modern-day values and lifestyles.
Those of us between the ages of 20 and 70 (and that is very much the largest part of our populations) will forever be marked in our minds by these days lived in isolation, and how they changed us and the way we see others. Like those generations that lived through the great wars or tumultuous events like the country’s Partition in 1947. Those men that returned home from fighting the Second World War were never the same men. They were changed forever, not only by the horrors of war but by the dehumanisation they saw all around them.
Some were never able to speak about it, a part of their minds forever silenced. They changed in the ways that they acted or behaved, and how they would always live their lives going forward. They lost ease and a certain intimacy.
Yet, in times such as those, and then in times like our present times, intimacy becomes a matter not of indulgence but of necessity and healing. Not for nothing is the famous picture of a sailor kissing an unknown woman a testament to the end of a devastating world war. A healing that also comes from bonds forged through a mental and spiritual closeness between people, and through committing to causes and endeavours that can give a greater purpose to our lives beyond our own selves and our failings.
One may recall a scene from Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, where a man in deep angst tells Gandhi that he has wilfully and deliberately killed a child in the mayhem of the communal riots. To him Gandhi says, no matter, take another child from that same community as the dead child and raise it as your own. No wonder then that we have seen a surge in compassionate actions and companionship in the midst of the present pandemic, cutting across social divides, and real-life physical distancing.
But there will be many others that gave in. To the loss of livelihood, fatigue, distress and hunger or their unending battle against loneliness. We never will know, nor can we ever map the real extent or pervasiveness of such distress and destabilisation, at whichever level of society it occurs.
And for society at large or the collective conscience, it leaves a scar that is not so easily healed. Frequently also, a sense of anger and impotence at our inability to reach out to those that need help the most. Medical science and a vaccine will hopefully see us combat the disease more effectively in a year or two, or maybe more. But the intangible scourge of the virus will stay, always a reminder of the lives lost. Not to disease per se but to the fragility of the human condition in these unnatural times.
The author is Founder, South Asia Research Foundation (SARF)
This article was originally published in The Times of India blogs. The views expressed are personal.