I remember the hurt, pain, anger and the high-pitched voice. Traveling over the water to a pair of puny, giggling schoolboys. The setting was unusual. Although I was a spectator that scene has not left me for over 25 years.
It all started with a simple swimming class. An old-fashioned cork float with heavy ropes wrapped itself around my waist as I pulled myself into the cool waters. Mentally struggling with the fear of moving into the deep end of the pool, my stamina began faltering. And then I heard a high-pitched voice. Taking the support of the pool’s edge, I turned around. A fair-skinned lady who was amply endowed was scolding two boys over the use of foul language. They seemed to be pre-teens, like me and laughed rudely as she lectured them on etiquette. The boys, it seemed, had dropped an F-word, if memory serves me well. She did look comical – her swimming cap struggling to contain her gold locks, her face all frowning. Suddenly she said: “You have not seen the Vietnam war. You all have not endured what we have. Where will you learn honor?”
The swimming coach rescued the situation as curious passerbys – in water and on land – began to gather. The boys swam away, chuckling. They didn’t seem to get her angst. The coach was congratulated on diffusing a volatile situation. Perhaps she was a guest. And I was left truly puzzled. I didn’t understand her then, and not for a moment fathom the connection to the war. But her pain screamed through her every pore. Perhaps that’s what stayed with me. A stranger’s unknown angst.
Crisis shapes each one differently. When a generation goes through a crisis together, they think differently. People who’ve lived through World War II seem to have a different appreciation of life. Elders who’ve witnessed the struggle for India’s independence have a unique sense of national pride and fervor. A different set of ideals, almost. It’s not like one generation is superior to the other. We’re all being crafted by the unique hand of circumstances.
In a way, those were geographically isolated incidences. COVID-19 has broken those boundaries and barriers – prince, prime minister and pauper. Humanity – together with its flavors of religion, age, backgrounds, orientation – is witnessing a brutal phenomenon together. How will we be shaped by it?
Will it make us more appreciative of what we have? Perhaps covet less, share more, and be more giving? Perhaps that’s very idealistic.
The greed and insecurities in us could be unleashed as well. A sense of grabbing more and securing the self and family.
A degradation of trust in systems as powerful administrations around the world are falling prey. A sense of failure where governments are unable to offer hope and security to its people.
Uncovering the ugly side of misplaced arrogance – nothing can happen to us,
Relinquishing to the terrible consequences of acting too late,
Your neighbor’s suspecting eyes,
Desperate minds that long for the sun and movement,
A positive voice that lends cheer,
Sunny smiles and comforting hands,
Belief in humanity,
Eyes hollowed with long hours of Netflix binging…
… everything seeks to find comfort in something.
I’m an optimist at heart. I like to think that we all will meet each other on the other side of this period – happily, cheerfully. Perhaps we’ll forget about this time in 10 years. I also know there are others for whom this time might not matter at all. Life will go on as usual post the CV phase as it did earlier. Perhaps we’re tapping into our inner spaces of courage and will value freedom every more. Perhaps our social media feeds will celebrate #firsttime to mark our ventures once the lockdown orders lifts.
Yet, change is inevitable. It might creep on us unexpectedly one day – just as it did to an old lady who struggled to articulate her pain about a war she had seen.