Everyone wants to live in an exciting, epoch-making era—until they do. Historic times, after all, are hardly as adventurous and exciting to experience as a perusal of history might later suggest. The pursuit of adventure—that fickle enchantress—is what drives and sustains life. I recall countless instances growing up and even later while at university, of sitting sedately around with friends with nothing to worry about aside from an upcoming test, and someone observing wistfully that the times we lived in were too “ordinary", or normal. That 2020 foresight, pun fully intended, sure was elusive. Fast-forward to the present day, where we’re over two months into the Great Lockdown, waking up to a spiking covid death count every morning, desperate for life to get back to the mundane old normal.
The funny feeling of wanting our times to be more consequential or remarkable must be familiar to many of us, millennials in particular. We grew up during the tech boom, a time when the world was a far cry from the one we live in today. Despite the tech boom, the 1990s were a motley mix of the simplicity of a bygone era and the promise of the fast-paced excitement of a new millennium. Economic liberalization and a hitherto unwitnessed rate of growth of technology meant that disposable incomes had increased, snazzy import goods had become available at kirana stores, consumption was growing, job creation had accelerated, and life had got prosperous. We played outdoor games and the prototype MS-DOS-based computer games in equal measure. Modest Marie biscuits co-existed with the more elegant Danish cookies in our snack boxes. Traditional TV shows like Bharat Ek Khoj and Malgudi Days were essential viewing, but our loyalties began to splinter as cable TV introduced us to the new glamour of Seinfeld and Friends. Growing up in an austere time with just enough exposure to technology and the finer things in life left a generation with an unmistakable keeda (itch) for adventure.
Millennial aspirations were shaped in a defining way by a liberalizing and globalizing world. Ambitions of globetrotting, launching innovative startups, acquiring a foreign education, a burning desire for productivity, and so on, can all be traced back to that itch. And yet, today, as a life-altering pandemic has thrust unexpectedly upon us the mantle of shaping history, all that we know and aspire to has turned upside down. There are sudden fears associated with travel. Increased protectionism is quelling hankerings for imported possessions. And the idée fixe of productivity is now at odds with the need to avoid workplaces for social distancing and the drudgery of work-from-home routines to boot. So then, how do we step up and prove worthy of the mantle?
Here’s a list of five fundamental but micro-changes that will be key, a list of corona commandments, if you will.
Mental health matters: The United Nations warned of an impending mental health crisis amid isolation, surging domestic violence and income losses. At an individual level, it is crucial to focus on mental health. Counselling is your best friend. The Centre has set up helplines for people suffering from covid anxiety. Many private counsellors are also offering their services free of charge.
Solitary reaper: Isolation has forced us to be in our own company. But few are used to it, much less while feeling at peace. Take the time to understand the delicate distinction between loneliness and solitude. You can be in solitude but not necessarily feel lonely. Appreciating your own company and being comfortable in your own space are indispensable tools for self-growth.
Busy is a blessing: Pick up that hobby you’ve had on your bucket list for ages, but not for the sake of being productive. Humanity is going through a collective trauma, and being productive cannot be the top focus right now. Pursuing a hobby just to unwind and stay occupied will provide the mind the right fodder during free time but without the stress.
Back to basics: Savour running your errands. Parted from our house helps, we’re now forced to tackle the cooking, cleaning, laundry and other tasks ourselves. These are basic survival skills that are never too outdated to acquire. Aside from being humbling, the chores can also be the source of a quiet joy that comes from the dependability of a routine, especially at an uncertain time.
Stayin’ alive: Life in times of a pandemic really boils down to survival; that’s the golden word. So make your Instagram-trending Dalgona coffee and your banana bread and make your apocalypse 2020 memes. Whatever it takes to survive and get by, right? But you can do more. No matter how aatmanirbhar one is, we can’t survive in silos. We need each other to rebuild the post-pandemic world. This transcends borders and religions and politics. Extraordinary times bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Let’s prove capable of leaving behind any divisiveness and being consciously more humane: herein lies our true adventure. This will determine how well we wear that mantle of shaping history. Hindsight is definitely 20/20.
Prerana Deshpande is a Mumbai-based journalist