Time in a Pandemic: The Strange and Familiar

By Shivani Chunekar
Picture source: Google Images

All that is said about living amidst a pandemic calling it a pause, a jolt, a portal; all at once summoning the almost overwhelming significance of these times and better yet paradoxically serving as a reminder of the passive, still and seemingly unavailing individual everydays. The gentle hum of the clock, a background score to a guilt-ridden conscience for not ‘doing enough’ and the calendar as evidence of having relived the same four days for four months.

Wallowing in light comedy and fiction is not just appealing but feels like a demand on most days. However, more often than not, I have found myself rummaging through diaries, tv-series about people who lived during wartime, in prisons and hospitals, thinking of those in solitary confinement – places and circumstances that demand you to suspend time as you understand it and cater to each moment, as it comes. Much like a pandemic.

While articulations of these times could be a source of both familiarity and hope, they echo contradictions. A persistent attempt at trying to look inwards, when all your experiences of the world seem external to you, as I’ve heard many say, can help you know yourself better. Yet, I realize that isolation is not just felt from the absence of human contact and while there is a strangeness in being with yourself, the paradox is that the more you are left alone, the less you feel acquainted with yourself. Isn’t it funny that the purpose of looking inward, might sometimes make you realize something entirely contradictory? And while this might be just a reminder of how less we know our own self, it certainly does little to make your own company comforting. 

Emily Dickinson, in her poem, ‘We Grow Accustomed to the dark’ writes 

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –
Either the Darkness alters – 
Or something in the sight 
Adjusts itself to Midnight – 
And Life steps almost straight.’

With a little push, I find myself sometimes, frighteningly settling into hours, growing accustomed. I say frighteningly because I wonder if stillness can be heard. With so much happening in the world, a sense of panic evades like a breeze from another time, another place and I find myself exposed. Are these months blotches? Blotches that you look back at and apologize to yourself for, the kind that you can’t regret because it ‘happened’ but you almost wish it didn’t. Is stillness the same as passivity, as complacency? Can it ever be a contribution? 

All of these contradictions are disconcerting, sometimes making it impossible to look for answers. But in the absence of a ‘supposed to be’ and a seething, almost hurtful ‘what is’, human beings have willed to live, better yet, with the recognition that we are all torn between the two. While it might provide some consolation in being told that these are ‘historic’ times, unmatched and different, there is nothing more comforting than realizing, time and again, that we all ask the same questions. 

For more such musings, check out The Word.