Lockdown Diary of a lonely anarchist: Who says man is a social animal?

I now watch and read ‘happy stuff ’, which makes me believe that a better world is possible. I then go back to my job and the dismal world of reality

Lockdown Diary of a lonely anarchist: Who says man is a social animal?

Ashlin Mathew

I don’t remember life before the lockdown. I don’t remem- ber the last time I went out for dinner or hugged another person; I only know that it was in March. Curiously I have been arguing for work from home for years. Even now, I want the ‘Work from home’ to continue. In fact, I began to stay at home a week before the lockdown was announced.

I stare at a life where I am not sure how long it is going to be this way. I’m not sure I like the present. Neither do I know when will it be safe to take public transport. I cannot afford to take a car to work everyday. I don’t own a car but I do not want to buy a car now either.

There is a heightened sense of exhaustion because my days are the same. I wake up, make tea, sit down to read, speak to my boss, make calls to get a story, research, speak to my friends and family, write my article, eat, maybe watch someone online or read and then go to sleep. I have never met most of the people I call these days for leads. I do not know for sure when or if I will meet them. Yet, this has not diminished their willingness to open up and tell me what is going wrong in their institutions. This is a far cry from earlier when people wanted to meet you to assess and see if you will do justice to their stories.

One of the reasons I love journalism is because no two days are the same. I have no idea who I will meet or speak to. I like having no set routine – it keeps the anarchist in me alive. I like the thrill of journalism – making calls, finding articles, feeling upset when someone else gets the story, feeling dejected when I reach a dead-end, but also feeling elated when I find a story. This keeps me going.

Now, the ground has shifted. I have to do it all from my living room. I have been writing only what people call ‘negative stories’, but I became a journalist to do these kinds of stories. The ‘pleasing-the-government’ kind of articles are not my scene. For three years, I have only written such articles. I must have written upwards of 50 articles during the lockdown alone and all of them are critical of Delhi, Central and Kerala governments.

But now I am tired. I want to write about a single instance of the government having got things right, more than one example of where the government is trying to help its people. I want to write about a case where the government is doing its job, not shirking it. I want to say that all is not lost. But it is not to be. And this reality has exhausted me. I am tired that only the setting changes, but the underlying aspect of the government’s nonchalance remains the same.

Now my days are the same. Now, everything happens in my drawing room. There is no separation between my work and personal life to be able to slip from one into the other. It is the same repetitive cycle. I cannot switch off from the articles I have written. I have to live with the anguish that though all hope is not lost, nothing exactly is going right either.

During the lockdown I have been staying alone; my flatmate went home and she ended up getting stuck there. With her having gone, the whole idea of singledom has also been added into this vexed cauldron. I am in my late thirties and have been single for a while now. It has never really bothered me. But, the hope of finding someone always lurked in my mind. Of course, I always hoped that I would first meet the person offline and not online.

Now, however, I realise there is not even a chance of it happening for at least a while. It is the fact that I cannot even fool myself with the hope that it will. I am yet to wrap my head around this one. I am missing a person that I have never met. I am missing the banter, the fights and the knowledge that someone could miss me. I want to watch movies more than ever with someone else. It is the mundanity of having a human being around that I miss. The reality is too stark to even daydream about imaginary meet-cutes. I want to know if life will get back to the old normal or the new normal, only then can I adjust the thoughts in my head.

And it is not that I don’t talk or see anyone. Almost all my calls are video calls now. I am on calls with friends and parents, who now check on me at least once a day, if not twice. And there’s more laughter and cheekiness in these calls than ever. Still, something is amiss.

Then as life went ticking along, actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide. It affected me and I am not sure why... I felt a keen sense of loss for someone despite not having watched his movies, except Dhoni and Shuddh Desi Romance. Is it because I am an outsider in my own field? Journalism is quite insular, despite maintaining a perception of not being so. Did the media coverage exacerbate my own sense of alienation?

Did I feel tenderness for him because I know what it means to work twice as hard to make my voice heard? Even then the voice may not be heard, but I have to plod along. If I had to be honest, I’d say yes. It also makes me vulnerable to say so. Despite the odds, I do realise I have done well. This makes me wish for an alternate universe where I could turn the clock back to tell Rajput to hang on. The moment of despair passes, albeit a bit slowly. And during the pandemic, time has also slowed down.

To ensure that my mind doesn’t wreak havoc on me, I only watch and read ‘happy stuff’. It is what is called fluff by most, but for me it isn’t. It helps me believe that a better world is possible. Though looking at the way we are, I don’t think we are willing to learn anything from this pandemic. This is disconcerting, to say the least.

I keep thinking about Aristotle’s famous lines – a human being is a social animal. Right now, we no longer are. The webinars don’t count.

It makes me wonder if human beings are social animals by nature or because of necessity or because of social conditioning. If this new normal continues, how will we behave a year from now? Right now, I can only hope I adjust to the new reality sooner than later.

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