The boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘me’ and ‘you’ are blurry. It is our personal capacity to contribute to the current crisis that is vital.
Kindness has never been more conspicuous as a quality; we are noticing its presence and also its absence in the emerging world order. The kindness of family and friends definitely, but the kindness of strangers above all.
And while the COVID-19 crisis continues to crest around us, it is business as usual for natural and man-made disasters. Someone in Kerala gets his wife killed by arranging for a poisonous snake to bite her, an elephant dies after accidentally eating a fruit filled with explosives, and a couple of cyclones whoosh through the country, not to mention locusts.
The scale of tragedies is only rising. Time itself has gone into an anti-clock loop. No one is exempt from the multiplying anxieties. For the first time perhaps our empathy is able to wing back to the caveman era, when survival was sole human aim.
In these long years, the point of humanity was increasingly lost on us, we had begun to grope for ‘meaning’, running around to repair soul and spirit. And now all around us lie the ruins of who we used to be; what we loved, what we hated, where we travelled... A new us to combat these strange times is under construction, even we are unaware of who we are going to be when this ends.
Even if the virus strikes at its mildest or most silent – with us only being carriers – our bodies would still be compromised hugely. Scary headlines go in-depth into long-term aftermaths. Alarm bells are already ringing for those with diabetes or weak lungs. This blood type will be hit hard, that vitamin deficiency spells doom... Is it an ageist virus? Or does it not care how young or old you are? What is happening in old-age homes, in orphanages?
The psychological toll is yet to be assessed as it is feared the emotional ramifications and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) will clarify themselves only by and by. Our mental health at the moment is up in the air.
Kindness itself can be divided into two broad categories: that comes from within, from empathy and sensitivity; and that comes from a kind of self-consciousness about who is watching. One is all heart and the other takes credit. One quietly goes about, the other tom-toms. Preachers have had to climb down their pulpit, not to save the congregation but themselves. Religious institutions are as hit economically as the rest of us.
The boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘me’ and ‘you’ are blurry. It is our personal capacity to contribute to the current crisis that is vital. Every landlord who halved rents, every granny frantically preparing food packets, all those paying their absent house-help, those who closely monitor every elderly neighbour... In these strange times, strange are the ways to establish your human credentials.
Compassion counts for everything, and yet compassion has to be cunning enough to circumvent fatal consequences. At no other time in our collective history has the human touch been so sorely needed and yet so categorically banned. Go on, earn your humanitarian stripes.Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.