IN BLACK AND WHITE – Jahnavi Barua
“For the first time, every person on the planet has felt the other’s pain and joy as if it were his or her own. For once, the differences in skin colour or race or religion and even, economic status had blurred until we all were one. In this new joy, at an anticipated freedom, again we feel one. Will this new bonding last? Human memory is nothing if not fragile; it is perishable, wilting at the slightest stress. Will we all remember this time ten years from now?”
Spring comes early to Bengaluru, earlier than I was used to back home in Assam. By the end of January, it starts to get warm and winter is most definitely left behind. And now, as we hit the middle of March, Spring is at its buoyant best. Summer can be felt, waiting around the corner. The air is warm and dry, while the skies are a clean-washed blue. The city’s famous trees are in flower: the pink tabebuia have already entranced us with their candy pinkness; the yellow now have burst into flame and jacarandas are awake, delighting us with their luminous blue-purples. Birds sing at all hours, flitting in and out of foliage, adding to the exuberance of the bright days. The heart is glad and naturally so, as the grey days of winter are firmly tucked away behind us.
Every year, I look forward to this time. The change of season from one to the other is always filled with anticipation; winter turning to Spring and later, the monsoon petering into winter are particularly delightful times. A sense of newness stirs a fresh wave of energy in tired souls. This year, the excitement of Spring is amplified by another event – the advent of the long-awaited vaccination for the COVID-19 virus. After months of restless watching and waiting, the vaccine has finally rolled out. The claustrophobia of months of being imprisoned in our homes now may come to an end. Yet, the eagerness to escape this captivity is tempered by trepidation. The vaccine is rumoured to have side effects; there is also no hard data about how long its conferred immunity will last. There are many who have decided not to take it when their turn comes.
I have decided not to overthink this. The vaccine will offer some, if not 100 per cent, immunity and that is better than none. Although, I am allergic to more things than I can count, the benefits of taking the vaccine outweigh any potential side-effects. My gaze is firmly fixed on the other side of the vaccine, at the possibilities that will open up. With caution exercised, of course. The most appealing of these is a chance to travel home to see my parents. It has been a long period of separation from them and if the vaccine allows me to spend time with them, I am certainly going to take that opportunity. The possibility of spending time with friends without worrying, the possibility of stepping out for meals without being anxious. All these and more are reasons to welcome the newly offered vaccine.
The other day, a friend said something that made me think. She said, over the past year she had become like me. What did she mean? She said, she began to enjoy being at home. It is true, I have always enjoyed being at home, taking pleasure in the small things it offers. The joys of spending a quiet afternoon reading a book, of time spent in the garden or a long conversation with the young son – these have always meant a lot to me. The need to be out, to roam the city and its excitements do not hold the same attraction. But this past year, being confined to home has shown me that anything in excess is just that – excessive. I find I am dreaming of hills and oceans; of meeting friends and family far away. For someone who is a natural armchair traveller, I find I am itching to pack my bags and drive away on any convenient highway.
From all over the world, I see images on television that resonate with my feelings: grandmothers finally holding their grandchildren in their arms, after a year of not seeing them; young families venturing out on a road trip; couples stepping out for a quiet meal. And I feel all our hearts beating as one. This unexpected enemy, this tiny virus has been able to do something nothing and no one had achieved before. It tied us together with bonds of invisible steel. For the first time, every person on the planet has felt the other’s pain and joy as if it were his or her own. For once, the differences in skin colour or race or religion and even, economic status had blurred until we all were one. In this new joy, at an anticipated freedom, again we feel one. Will this new bonding last? Human memory is nothing if not fragile; it is perishable, wilting at the slightest stress. Will we all remember this time ten years from now? The truth is I do not know. I cannot even guess because the human mind is nothing if not unpredictable. We may very well retreat behind our lines again; we may hide behind the fortresses of race, region and privilege as soon as this threat is over. But the human heart always hopes and I hope that we carry forward, from this darkest of times, something positive. If we can distill something enriching from all the grief and sorrow, then some meaning can be attributed to it. And I hope we never forget – all those we lost and how to do things differently, in the future.
Jahnavi Barua is a writer based in Bengaluru.