Knock, knock. Who's there? Covid?
I have been struck by an awful sense of déjà vu ever since China took the lid off what was to become a pandemic and result in the death of thousands as well as the lockdown of one-third of humanity. The SARS nightmare of 2002-04, which I experienced in Southeast Asia, has been dwarfed by the novel coronavirus. It has wiped out a generation in over two weeks in the Italian province of Bergamo, the second epicentre of the disease after Wuhan. It's heart-breaking to read how corpses of those who died at home are being kept in sealed-off rooms and coffins awaiting burial in churches. Tens of thousands, or even millions, are predicted to die from the pandemic in the coming months.
Cities, and even countries, are in lockdown. Fearing an apocalyptic scenario, people swoop down on hypermarkets in developed countries to empty shelves and even trade blows over toilet rolls. Social media posts, memes, messages and medical advisories are in abundance. Social distancing is the new normal. 'Stay home, stay safe' is the new mantra. Governments and celebrities tweet, asking you to wash hands and use santisers. People fret about their confinements and social immobility and rush to find ways to battle a surge of anxiety, panic and claustrophobia. They even indulge in throwing racial innuendos at China.
While I appreciate every effort to make the world infection-free and pray for a speedy economic recovery, nothing has changed in my life, except my morning constitutional. It's business as usual in my enclave, a precursor to the Covid-19 confines. I never posted a to-do checklist, wrenched from magazines, on my fridge. I never decluttered my wardrobe. Nor did I create a must-read pyramid of books to make the most of this time. I did not scrub the toilet, nor did I pull down the draperies to wash. I saw over 250 friend requests on FB and let them rot there. I never bothered to visit online museums and galleries to reboot my spirits. Nor did I attend online celebrity concerts to soothe my soul - let alone Katrina Kaif's kitchen talk.
Because I am in love with my confines. I'm not born an introvert. It's an acquired condition of solitude. I have built this Republic of Privacy over the last 10 years, brick by brick, and camouflaged it in a forest of artificial urban mannerisms. I smiled at the world through the window of my hermitage, which old pals call an inglorious bolthole and I call a little paradise.
I didn't do it to prove a point. My metamorphosis from a party animal who gulped down, or smoked away, his youthful days to, as my daughter says, "a romantic recluse" is my own choice. It's a transition that has done more good than harm. I now have time to read and write. I have time to romance the littleness of life. I am able to stand by the window in awe of humanity. I have regained my humanness and dignity. I have won back myself. The nights I whiled away at parties now belong to me. Am I following the teachings of Indian philosopher Sri Ramakrishna who said, "The last part of life's road has to be walked in a single file"? I am not sure, as I am still able to wear my heart on my sleeve.
Today, when the world crows over the misery of corona-induced confinement, I am able to sit zazen in the eerie vacuum that has enveloped planet Earth. When a plethora of slurs and tantrums swirl around me, I #StayHome as usual, guided by the teachings of the SARS epidemic and armoured by years of social distancing skills. For a decade, I haven't visited anybody. Nor have I hosted anybody. Not because I hate the hustle and bustle of urban life, but I can't put up with the societal pretensions that define it.
I am not ready to go out into the wilderness of life wearing a mask of hypocrisy. Let me sit here, shackled by my own little thoughts and dreams. Virus or not, I don't long to be emancipated from my self-quarantine.
I count my days on a rosary of broken pebbles. I have hoarded enough lessons from my life that would last me. And I am well aware my philosophical sanitisers offer no guarantee.
"Who's there? Covid?"
"No, a braveheart who cared to drop by."
"Come on in. Don't trip over the carcasses of memories."
The prayer beads roll faster as the jiggling sounds of anklets fill the vacuum.
The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door.