Can we have another lockdown please?
Congratulations on making history. Of everything that you stand for today, Momala is my favorite. It gives me a hard nudge on my rear to stop lamenting over being single at 38 and of course childless. Unbelievable, right? 2020, right? I admire you for the two key choices you made for your life- marrying when you felt it was right and becoming the mother you felt was right. Both fall outside the ‘acceptable’ and the ‘standard’. Both subject to indiscriminate scrutiny and gossip. Because you are Kamala Harris, the gossip dare not raise their hood. For me, they are sleeping partners. Although I know- we all can choose not to deter, digress, and divert. That, I am sure you will agree, requires immense courage and conviction: most of the days, I surrender. It is not the status per se that is bothersome, it is the verdict that people pass without understanding and awareness. Just yesterday they babbled with impudence, “ That happens. Marriage provides the stability, and you wouldn't feel so restless.” I almost guffawed. A married friend, a close one is contemplating divorce, another has just entered into an open marriage for the sake of children. Of course, there are the blissful ones too and rare ones like me who are enjoying the bliss of being single. HOW DOES IT MATTER? There is no bulletproofing in life. And this happened yesterday. And this is just one. And I have an inventory of ipse-dixit in my rearview which adds up to the verdict- Guilty.
Talking about alternate realities, I have a question for you. For me, it is another life-defining question, the answer to which I tend to find some days and other days the answer drowns in the garishness of life.
What is success? If the society at large does not ratify your existence, are you still successful? Should it matter if they don't? Does your work speak louder than your words? What if you are forever short of words? How does one match up to the benchmark set by society? How does one survive...thrive?
For me, success was what success found joy in until the beast of social media arrived, and with it came the narcissism of unimaginable intensity.
They have started coming again, breaking the barricades the virus firmly planted, they are coming again- on Facebook, on Whatsapp groups, and in life. The only difference- this time they have two masks.
I look at the invitation, each word beaming with delight and enthusiasm, look at the invitation, each word injecting anxiety as I chew the inside of my mouth. It starts to bleed and the metallic taste makes me stop. Why are we still not in lockdown? What was the need to open up so soon? Why are we not scared anymore? Why are we not isolating? With surety, I can say- you want to hang me right away for being so despicable and reprehensible. I am sorry. I don’t intend to see you lose your job, your kids suffer from hunger and alienation, you battle the coronavirus crisis that severely impacts your life in unimaginable ways. I see you, I hear you, and I feel your pain. When there is food insecurity, and job insecurity, and life insecurity looming large, a lockdown request is a heinous crime.
However, I have a story too and I am sure there are many like me. In the story of my life, anxiety is the protagonist, and people the antagonist. The plot is rather squiggly straightforward - I am an introvert and society wants me to talk, socialize, dress up, decorate, shine, give gifts, and click pictures that can later inundate Facebook and make each one a mini-celebrity. Unfortunately, I cannot do any of that, and while I hermit myself at home, I cannot but find myself the victim of deep envy and mind-boggling comparisons. There is just so much to compare and there is just so much judgment and there is just so much of me. Beneath the mantle of anxiety, burns a molten core of fractured self-image created over the years. It is not easy being quiet in a world that prizes the loud. It is not easy being simple in a world that celebrates glitterati. It is not easy being a plain Jane when the world seeks show-stoppers. I am that plain Jane and prefer my quietude over the cacophony of the restless world, content with my life and accomplishments, but not anymore.
Social Media smacked me on my face, raided my life, and demolished my structure within. The sad part- I let it plunder my well-being. There is not enough space for people like me and this awareness is a whole new beast to wrestle with. There is a disconcerting and agonizing to invisible, insignificant, and irrelevant in a crowd infested with women, successful and respected, productive and engaged, well decorated in embellished sarees, chiffon blouses, and pants, smelling of Patchouli or Lavender, and tinkling laughter, trying to enjoy a party full of banter and raillery, cross talk and repartee. I usually do not have a sparkling bonmot most of the time, a subtle force gradually shuffles me to a corner or a side and eventually to the exit. I am still okay with that. We are, after all, our own person. However, what ensues later is like rubbing salt into the wound. We live in a society and in times where we celebrate twice, once in reality and again, a day later or even hours later, virtually on Instagram. I am a NOBODY in reality and a NOBODY virtually and that makes something within me crumble. The social duos are the pressure that is insurmountable. Social Media later creates social comparisons that plague the otherwise content individual with a deep sense of dissatisfaction and unwittingly, one gets sucked into the labyrinthine maze of isolation and insecurity. I wasn’t the one to suffer from a FOMO but it became a reality and alas what a sad reality. The thalamus and hypothalamus ferment the fear and the basal ganglia and cingulate gyrus spreads it all over my body, a soft panic at the start, and then into a vortex of confusion finally giving way to hysteria. I want to be there and I don’t want to be there and later, I find myself nowhere. We as a society gyrate to the tunes of the beast. Those who have watched https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/ know how skillfully we are manipulated and monetized, divided, distracted, and controlled under the facade of CONNECT.
The lockdown had put an end to the parties, the get-togethers, and the many luncheons and congregation of all kinds. Facebook looked barren and deserted. People had nowhere to go and nothing to show. Quarantine diaries were simple, sometimes poignant exploring the vicissitudes of life and other time sedated with newfound wisdom. Society’s debauchery and the superfluousness suffered a massive blow and for many like me, we felt peaceful, more peaceful than we have felt in a long time.
You may chastise me for being careless and manufacturing my own woes, however, if you have ever cared for the number of likes, you know it is easier said than done. Social media is a deal with the devil and for the bumpkin like me, it can be an absolute catastrophe. . They don’t post my pictures. In some, I am barely visible, and on rare occasions, someone posted a comment on me- Love your simplicity. When 55 comments above and 48 comments below are strewn with adjectives like fabulous, riveting, stunning, beautiful, ravishing, whoa, and O Lalala, simplicity sounds like an insult.
The last straw came last year during New Year’s eve celebrations. I am not sure what society expects, but I dressed up well and walked in with some confidence that I had gathered. The Artisan Hut, a South Asia platform for emerging painters had sold a few of my Mithila paintings and fetched some great reviews and money too. Everything was going well, I even managed to stay around the center of the banquet hall jammed with gowns, tuxedos, and Venetian masks when she came and exploded, “Hey Hi! What happened? It’s a New Year Party. How come you are not wearing the theme dress?” The words set my teeth on the edge and she saw it coming towards her, maybe, because she quickly tried covering up, “Love your simplicity.” With a slight touch on my shoulder, she made her way to the spotlight and the mic. She truly loves the mic, I have the pictures, year after year, the mic and she are inseparable. It does not go to anyone else. Maybe she deserves to hold it. Maybe others deserve it too. Maybe I can hold the mic too. Sometimes, the definitions and categories are baffling, and sometimes it is also important for the strong and empowered to make space for the not so strong and empowered. Not everyone can make enough noise from the rooftop, some don’t even know how to climb the roof. Isn’t it important to create balance, to let the spotlight fall on those who neither know their spot nor the light? The questions continued and I shifted towards the corner. Then the lockdown happened and the world hunkered down in the face of a virus.
Fortunately, we opened up in August and people started loosening up. Slowly and steadily, children got back to school, people got back to work, and the invitations started. Convinced that fear has the potential to arrest us in strong ways, I paddled my canoe in the tranquil water of life until the invitations started and Social Media was back in action, post after post, spotlight growing bigger. This narcissism is hazardous but when all are in the hazard, it seems normal.
So, I am back to the drawing board. During the pandemic, I did my own calculations and took a look at the balance sheet of my life. Quarantine diaries were evocative, edifying and I was convinced of a social change. I was convinced of a shift from extreme materialism and avarice to minimalism and contentment. I was convinced of metamorphosis from clamor and brouhaha to placidity and quietude. However, I realize that Quiet is a disease most have inoculated against. We talk about it, we create signposts of hope, then move on silently doing what we have always done. While much of my peace and happiness, I understand, is my own construct, it is difficult to bloom quietly when society is busy watering and tending the thunder.