Writing in the time of Corona

by | Apr 25, 2020 | Guest Blog, Social Trends

As I talk about writing in the time of Corona, you, the reader, please do not think of Marquez and his celebrated novel! No, this is neither earth-shattering nor profound, just bits and pieces of self-deprecatory humor, laced with good, old-fashioned, maudlin sentimentality! With malice towards none. Or, as the late Khushwant Singh said, with malice towards one and all. 

It all started in January, with wisps of news, fiction, rumors, and theories floating around. The clouds became murkier as February came and, by March, the world had turned upside-down. For everyone, they said. As I write sitting in my glass house, I try to make sense of the world that was and the world that is. I am in the thinking and writing business, I am a researcher after all. And so, I think and I doubt. I think, therefore I am. I doubt, therefore I am…

We humans are social beings. We live in societies and communities. So, the term social distancing sounded strangely jarring at first; a bitter pill that had to be swallowed and tolerated, later; and finally, (surprise, surprise) unacceptable! So much so, that the World Health Organization (WHO) press briefing on March 20 suggested that the term be replaced by physical distancing. Here we are now, after finally getting used to the phenomenon, being asked not to do it anymore. And, we, creatures of habit, shall go back to learn this new term and get used to the old phenomenon re-packaged in a new bottle! And new memes will go out on social media, and we shall again share our old and new recipes, new jokes…

I have also been revisiting works that I have read before, classics in the literary canon that we were all prescribed to read, and looking at them wearing a different pair of glasses, it seems. The profundity behind Donne’s “No man is an island” is indubitable, and yet my friend’s suggestion “No one is an island” sounds so much more inclusive and truly universal. T. S. Eliot’s “In the room women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo” (Eliot, The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock). Why “women”? Why not “people”? People come and go…

People, did I not say? And, community? Yes, local communities have come together, jumped in with their meager resources, as policymakers and think-tanks have sometimes dithered, floundered, blustered, and flustered. Masks, food, medicines, and clothing are being distributed. Good Samaritans, we all are and we shall be. “Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls, /It tolls for thee” (Donne, Meditation 17, Devotions).

I sit in my little glass house, sip my coffee, and write again. I have a proposal to submit, a deadline to meet. Zoom and skype meetings go on. We white-collar workers work and sometimes complain while migrant workers and daily-wage earners huddle, walk back home, drop down, or stare. As we say, the show must go on. Life must go on.

Suparna Bose is a doctoral student and an associate instructor.

While she’s not writing, she paints, does gardening, and thinks.

Image: Sravasti Ghosh Dastidar