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In the age of uncertainty, nostalgia is an asset Filed on September 8, 2020

Experts have been telling us about a new normal where man will continue to be a social animal, but his social engagements will be carried out online

Dreams can take you to unimaginable places. Mine take me to New Delhi. It is my hometown, a nest that, until recently, I kept returning to. If I felt validated when a friend once remarked that I was an 'honorary' citizen, it was only because I felt a strong urge to remain connected to the life I'd left behind. My frequent travels had then become an exercise in preserving the relationships that fulfilled me. That was until Covid struck. 

Today, I often imagine what it would be like to sit in a café in Khan Market and exchange gossip with a friend, without having to worry about other unmasked faces dining close by. Would a long walk during winters in Lodhi Gardens be as carefree if one were to hear someone sneeze out of the blue? As a hypochondriac, I can confirm that no sneeze feels innocent in a post-Covid world. Dining with friends or walking in a lush garden in Delhi was an indulgence a few months ago; today, it may even feel like a minor personal triumph. Outside of its impact on health, this is the trail Covid leaves behind. With a number of cases rising staggeringly every day, leisure travel has taken a backseat. It's not even about the virus anymore, but the fear - sometimes rational, and at times, irrational - that your movement and exposure could affect your loved one. Wrestling with these thoughts quietens any excitement. In the end, the sum total of all the travel fantasies building in my head boils down to a humble Zoom call. 

Is Maa fine? I can never really tell. Parents, after all, are gifted liars when it comes to their own suffering. Even a 92-year-old grandmother, who has earned her right to complain about health, effortlessly conceals her knee pain when she talks on Zoom. Technology is great, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Experts have been telling us about a new normal where man will continue to be a social animal, but his social engagements will be carried out online. Sounds reasonable, given the challenge Covid has presented, but where does it leave human intimacy? Where will we find substitutes to reassuring gestures from a loved one? How will we spot the anxieties our families meticulously hide on laptop screens? What will friends, who have not stepped out to meet anyone, talk about after a point of time? Today, many of us are quietly coming to terms with separation anxiety. Shrinking conversations, and the uncertainty over when you will see your loved ones only makes you realise how concentrated your world has become. 

Reams have been written about this, and yet the feeling becomes real when one experiences it first-hand. A month ago, a friend lost her mother unexpectedly. That the parent had been otherwise hale and hearty, died due to a bad fall, only made it difficult for her to accept the loss. There was no time to witness the last rites in person, and so she saw the rituals being performed on Zoom. The usual platitudes of 'heartfelt condolences' and 'I am sorry to hear that' seemed inadequate, give her emotional urgency to be by her grieving father's side at that moment. I wondered what closure would mean to such a person. She will move on - we all do - but at that precise moment, she could have done with a reassuring embrace and familiar faces. At that moment, I realised that Covid has not only changed our lives but also altered the way we saw deaths.  

In the age of uncertainty, nostalgia is an asset. That's where the dreams come in handy. 


Anamika Chatterjee

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