I have been feeling quite Meh lately . So those of us who seek and treasure words as no less than ‘ the sightings in the wild “ will know that this word was included in the Oxford English Dictionary some three years back. ‘ Meh’, besides many other related meanings, is a feeling of disinterest, of dullness, a sort of disapproval and that’s what I have been feeling , about life in general , about the things that I do, about the goals I wish to pursue, owing to a subterranean melancholic zeitgeist unleashed by the pandemic. And then as the second wave of pandemic panned out, mere ‘ meh’ was ousted by a much stronger, and may be more debilitating emotion pinpointed by the American psychologist, Adam Grant , professor at the Wharton school of the Upenn, in his much discussed, forwarded, shared , and of course, relatable article , as “languish’ or more colloquially ,’blah’, which I feel is an in-between condition of mind — where one is neither depressed nor spirited, a sort of sadness which doesn’t necessarily emanate from a personal or intimate loss, but from the mortifying events of death and helplessness around us, leaving us with a hazy existence fraught with a loss of purpose and a mind strung by the very question of existentiality , standing like an elephant in the room. There are tears, there are plaintive cries, there is keening ,there is kvetching and there is moaning coming as a reflexive mechanism to deal with the loss of confidence in life itself —
Well, Only pervert would disagree, that each one of us is facing the proverbial ‘memento mori’ like never before , with every death that we hear, we see, we smell and we feel, we subliminally domesticate death in our hearts. We have always known that our time on earth is limited, but what has changed is that the thought of this eternal yet bitter truth has turned more pervasive than elusive in our psyche, a thought which would come fleetingly, has turned into a truth waiting to happen imminently. The perpetrator of this feeling is an invisible virus, a brainless , partially non-living deadly pathogen . A virus which is photofinishing us in the battle of survival of the fittest, by mutating to bypass vaccines , presenting with newer , scarier challenges leading to extinguishing lives in a freaky, sudden , sometimes almost fictional sort of a way . This invisible apparition floating around us as a bug nestled in a hug or berthing in our breath has made death tactile and ‘ here and now’. We seem to be tip-toeing on a razor’s edge, or on a precipice where we can come tumbling down anytime. To humour is human. So we try to make light of situation by memes,and jokes and videos, but at the end of the day, when we reflect we feel the gravity of the situation ,and when we rise in the morning ,we feel apprehensive, fearful and despondent.
And to add insult to injury, quite literally in this case, the ‘rites of passage’ have become ‘fights of passage’, the dead becoming a baggage to be dispensed with, robbing them of all dignity and decorum that their departure from this world deserved. What could be more ironical than this –first the fight to live and then the fight to die — !
I can’t help but be reminded of the great Yudhishthir , the eldest of the pandava brothers, who when asked by Yaksha as to what is the biggest wonder of the world, had wisely answered that the’ biggest wonder in the world is that we are all in a queue to die, yet we live as if we are here forever. ‘
A delusion that has served us in good stead. But with pandemic, No matter how hard we try to keep the thought the thought of death at bay, bay is filled with dead bodies ,waiting to be exhumed, buried and may be discarded. Our sense of well -being has begun to undergo rigour- mortis.
And the hubris with which we have been belting out a human — centric narrative of universe , vaulting, singing our own hosannas about our soaring achievements, about our driverless cars, our plans to tour Mars, claiming of space , our planes doing emergency landing on water, and our capacity to make lives in laboratories and much more, is biting the dust. We have been ensuring our own redundancy brought in by technology. We persevered to make our bodies our temples,doing everything to maintain fitness and health to having enigmatic diets,running marathons to chase away death itself perhaps , doing cat pose, dog pose, shaking our knees to do butterflies to achieve a sense of well-being. But virus has turned that around too. In its second wave, it is reckless, ruthless, and claiming lives which are young, happy, healthy ,fit and raring to go.
But amidst this blah and anguish , fear and frazzle, there is something which has come as a low hanging fruit. While oxygen, medicines and hospital beds play truant , we do grab that low hanging fruit. The empathy. Yes, we have been chanting ‘ Corona insaan ko maar sakta hai, insaniyat ko nahi.’ I heard the slogan. Obviously enemy is not hearing. But our inside is hearing, evoking us to keep our ‘empath side ‘up.
So now the very definition of empathy. In my doxastic point of view, empathy variously called compassion , humanity, goodness, is not mutually exclusive with selfcare. I am not able to understand society’s bias with selflessness. why?
Let me bring another Adam into context. Yes the philosopher, the economist , Adam smith who wrote his magnus opus , called the The wealth of nations, about 250 years back. He talked about invisible hand of the market and self interest. He proclaimed that all growth for society is rested in our desire to fulfill our self- interest. We share the surplus with the society. The invisible hand of the market balances everything. In that, Empathy is extension of self — interest — where you take care of not only your needs, but you consider others as part of you, where your “ self “ is extended to include your neighbours,your community, the people who are at a disadvantage, that is empathy. Empathy is a space where it acts as a nepenthe to deal with personal, grief ,loss and pain. . It is an antidote to pain.. It makes one feel whole. It makes one feel courageous, loving,accepting and above all human.
The invisible hand of Adam smith lead to capitalism and , Marxian concept of anomie and alienation. Lets see, if this invisible virus helps us salvage our humanity amidst materialistic ,consumerist and hedonist world. Will it modify the evils of a capitalistic world ? will it make us cynics or nihilists?
Will the hope arise like a phoenix from its own ashes ?
Sent from my iP