The pandemic is a forewarning from nature

It is a reminder that our current practices and systems, be it political or economic, are unviable

View of mountains from Jalandhar
View of mountains from Jalandhar
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Vibha Galhotra

I am an artist living and working out of Delhi, a city I migrated to in 2005, believing at the time that I could build a permanent home here. Now, however, I have come to feel that the idea of per- manence is very transient, something I am even more acutely aware of during this pandemic we go through together.

Once again, I am revisiting the fundamental questions I have often raised through my practice, the questions of ’ ‘where do we come from?’, ‘what are we?’ and ‘where are we going?’ The lockdown has come just after the protests in the wake of the questions arising out of the national register of citizens. We had not still fully emerged from that crisis, when COVID-19 hit us. Now 45 days of lockdown is likely to shatter our economical and mental sustainability.

While observing our external environment, intro- specting our internal natures and capacities, and negotiating with time between its present scenario and future possibilities, a lot of people are speculat- ing about the future of society. Some expect the cur- rent times to lead to a birth of a new sustainable environment inspired by more local and lowered consumption models.

Others believe, based on the economic suggestions, to double shifts to produce more for the consumerist economy, that the cycle of unsustainable practices shall continue, perhaps even worsen immediately after the lockdown. I believe these times of the coronavirus pandemic are a forewarning from nature, a reminder that our current practices and systems, be it political or economic, are unviable. While the global economy is crashing, people fear for their livelihoods.

The socio-cultural effects of the pandemic are expected to give rise to an even more skewed inequal society. Even still, despite our fears, nature breathes and so do we, in fact better than ever. We are increasingly conscious of the fresh air, clean trees, chirping of birds devoid of the sound of traffic, clear sky and the starry visibility of the night sky. May is already here, but the Indian summer is still kind to us. The rivers have revived relatively and there are reports that the Ganges water is the cleanest it has been. The Himalayas are visible from Jalandhar, Punjab.

Many species of insects, that I hadn’t seen in years, have returned to my kitchen garden. Flamingos have been spotted in Maharashtra in large numbers and the endangered river dolphins have been sighted once again in Meerut. The cohabitants of our planet are walking the streets in the absence of us. And, as we remain socially isolated and distanced, news from across the world is witness to the healing of Earth. It makes me wonder when we humans claimed ownership of the planet solely for ourselves.

As I now see nature reclaiming its terrain, humans are left baffled, vulnerable and humbled in their ignorance of the mystery of the ecosystem. Awed by nature’s power, we even still remain engrossed in our personal losses and the instability of the economic, political and social structures during this time. Scientists are yet to come up with a cure three months into the lockdown. With each pass- ing day, our physical appearances become more and more ungroomed, returning to their natural state as does the environment around us, which is increasingly lush and green.

The Delhi air, which is usually considered to be the most poisonous in the world, is now clean on the index of air purifiers. Trying to absorb these changes, during the first part of the lockdown, I took time off from creating art. Rather, I focused on the basics of “roti, kapda, makaan” as they say, polishing my skills in cooking, baking, cleaning, gardening and sowing. However, in the latter part of the lockdown, I have been inspired to experiment with new skills and the material avail- able at home due to the inaccessibility of my studio.

The only time I left home in the past two months was give salaries to my staff. The experience of driving on empty roads without the chaos of horns and road rage, was like a drive in a silent paradise. However, the interaction with my studio staff revealed the dire reality of our times where they are often beaten by the landlord or police if they get out of their houses even to buy essential food items due to fear of bringing back the virus to the communities.

In this economic meltdown, where there is news of people being sacked or receiving pay cuts, the poor are bearing a higher brunt. The images of them walking empty stomach for days, giving birth on roads, during, bare-footed, often nude little kids being sprayed on by disinfectants must outrage us all.

Our privilege seems vulgar, almost, in comparison to their dismal state. Instagram and other social media platforms are flooded with cookery classes and images of people’s cooking experiments. However, food has become a privilege and good food a luxury. In comparison to the images I see on my computer, the images of the hungry haunt me, making me question my human ethics.

I wonder how long will the lockdown go on especially given the state of the suffering poor? Will people die of the virus or hunger? Since the fear of the virus is expected to last for quite some time post the complete lockdown and even a staged exit from it won’t return things back to normal.It is fascinating to think about what the future will look like, how it will affect our daily decisions and lifestyles and what kind of behaviours will it bring forward.

I would like to end my conversation with a manifesto written by one of my favourite artists Stanley Brouwn, which is even more relevant during these times. It widens one’s imagination about the future or rather future of the living planet. He had titled it 4000 AD.

4000 A.D.
WHEN SCIENCE AND ART ARE ENTIRELY
MELTED TOGETHER TO SOMETHING NEW
WHEN PEOPLE WILL HAVE LOST THEIR
REMEMBRANCE AND THUS WILL HAVE
NO PAST, ONLY FUTURE.
WHEN THEY WILL HAVE TO DISCOVER EVERYTHING EVERY MOMENT
AGAIN AND AGAIN

WHEN THEY WILL HAVE LOST THEIR NEED FOR CONTACT WITH OTHERS . . .
THEN THEY WILL LIVE IN A WORLD OF ONLY
COLOUR, LIGHT, SPACE, TIME, SOUNDS AND MOVEMENT THEN COLOUR
LIGHT SPACE TIME

SOUNDS AND MOVEMENT WILL BE FREE
NO MUSIC
NO THEATER
NO ART
NO
THERE WILL BE SOUND
COLOUR LIGHT SPACE
TIME MOVEMENT

Vibha Galhotra is an artist whose works address the world under the impact of globalisation and growth. Her works showcase the dense urbanisation and jungles of steel

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Published: 17 May 2020, 2:04 PM