By Saranya Subramanian
“Feels weirdly refreshing for the world to have a pandemic”
“IKR! Because it’s such a non-polarising problem”
That was a conversation I had two days ago with a close friend. By the texting lingo and content itself, you can guess we’re in our early twenties, invested in politics, and privileged enough to even have conversations about the world without being directly affected by it. Call us what you want — millennial, gen Z/Y/X, terribly apathetic — we form a voice that’s loud and boisterous. And we use it to scream through Tweets, Instagram stories, Facebook statuses,
Snapchat filters, and at every protest/rally/sitting against the government . We’re fresh out of college and filled with an idealism that is still burning with the flame of literary theories on structures of power. And it is a flame that is aggravated by anything seemingly unjust.
Everything, everything , seems wrong in the real world: the blatant misogyny, radicalisation, religious pogroms, corrupt bureaucracy, MLAs being bought and sold from one party to another… This is not how it’s supposed to be. We spent four years unlearning everything we knew about social institutions, analysed different political ideologies to learn the best from each of them, conducted surveys on healthcare, education, legal justice, and corruption affecting the lowest classes and castes. We have ideas on how the world should be; all legitimate ideas
because we studied them carefully. Studied them, of course, in air-conditioned classrooms on our MacBook laptops, in glass buildings tucked away safely two hours from the National Capital.
Now, we find ourselves totally lost. It was this shattering realisation that woke us up from our bubble of idealism: people don’t need to be saved , and we are the last ones who can do any kind of saving. Daily life is a struggle in itself, and laughing at a politically incorrect joke, prioritizing oneself before society, or paying the cops two hundred bucks to let you off the hook, wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Which brings us to two questions: what the hell is our purpose now? And what’s the point, if we’re all going to die anyway?
We turn to the internet for help, as we always have. The memes are as morbid as they are hilarious — a reflection of our generation’s thinking. We constantly say we want to die, or expect to die, by climate change, economic strife, terrorism (both state sponsored and not), depression/other mental health crises, and now, the Coronavirus.
I’m not going to lie, my peers and I lives rather contradictory lives. On the one hand, we refuse to bring children into cities that will be submerged underwater, while on the other, we run from fitness class to yoga and eat strictly organic food. We churn out memes on how “we need another holocaust,” “there’s way too many people in the world,” and yet we compulsively WebMD even the slightest cold. We click pictures everywhere we go so that memories last ‘forever’, only to upload them as ‘stories’ that die within 24 hours. We’re constantly jostling the desire to retain
memories against technological amnesia, blaming ourselves against blaming older generations, and the looming fear of death against the wilful anticipation of it.
Because the stakes of living feel super high. If we don’t get good marks, how will we clear CAT/NEET/UPSC? What will we be if we don’t? If we pursue Humanities, how will we maintain a certain standard of living that STEM students get with their careers? If we don’t ‘make it,’ how will we survive in the ‘real world’? We’re constantly oscillating from one interest to the other, exposed to a hundred facts and books and movies and drugs, compared with millions of other people our age — all of whom seem to be catapulting to fame and success with ease. Someone, somewhere, has invented what you planned to invent, wrote the same book you were trying to write, made the film you were going to make, and has been branded as THE person for THAT thing. Sure, things and fads are increasingly ephemeral, but the brand lasts forever.
We deal with this pressure through humour; through memes and TikToks that we forget as soon as we snort at them, already scrolling further down to the next one. They act as cracks in the middle of thick, stressful days, providing comic relief; ‘relief’ being the key word. The pressure to make it is mercurial — it is exhausting and motivating and, of course, we want to reach our maximum potential.
Until we burn out.
The burn-outs are extensive periods, events in themselves, ridden with depression and guilt. Depression from being nothing, feeling worthless, and guilt from having the privilege to burn out in the first place, to press pause on life. Politics aggravates this even more. We visit riot-hit areas, interview minorities, attend rallies, write lengthy social media posts, boycott classes, only to have disheartening responses from people in power. How can this be the case? How is it okay that we’re removed from the first degree burns just because of our class? We were educated for
years so we could join civil society by contributing something to it, so why are we helpless when help is needed the most?
Ever since the Coronavirus hit the world as a global pandemic, it has been oddly refreshing. Our saviour complex has been comforted — there is nothing we can do. Derrida and Spivak haven’t written about this. Communal clashes are no longer priority when imminent death by virus is around the corner. It doesn’t matter what Zee News spits out as propaganda bullshit on jihad, or explicit hate speech amplified at Yogi Adityanath’s rallies. Because it might just be the end of the world. And it’s something that humans didn’t cause (notwithstanding those conspiracy theories) for once. We didn’t fuck up this time! It wasn’t climate change, genocide, or mass extinction/migration. This is on evolution. It’s beyond our control.
And maybe, we can all stretch our legs and sit under the sun now.
See, if everything is ending, then nothing means anything. The stock market crashes, movies stop being made, schools and colleges close, pharmaceutical companies reap money, entire cities are on lockdown…to us, this means two things:
1. Yes, only the rich and privileged can afford to live in hygienic, large homes to self-quarantine, avoid public transport, work without pay for awhile, and even have the luxury of WiFi (ahem BJP ahem).
2. But…what a fucking relief. Maybe I can finally read that book I’ve been meaning to. Learn Russian. Sleep. Smile at my family. Write. Play games. Live. Without the pressure of surviving.
Yes, it sounds super selfish. And privileged. And while the memes have been endless and funny, they can come off as steeped in indifference. But they also help us get by.
Here’s the truth: there is a calmness that comes with the fear of the inevitable. If there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing to do. The skies in Bombay have never been bluer, and the sun has never been warmer. Kalyug ka zamaana hai, qayamat ka din aane wala hai, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and so I can blow off my self-righteous need to be a somebody among nobodies.
And though I’ve been planning my future at university, washing my hands often, and (still) trying to write that book, I’ve been fully living up every minute into the apocalypse.
About the Author: Saranya is a 22 year old literature aficionado, based in Bombay. She spends her time singing to herself and watching Madhubala videos (sigh). And she writes because, well, it’s all that she can really do.