From my window, I see couples going for evening walks in groups and, shockingly, many without masks. Out of a sense of social responsibility, I request some to go home and not wander the streets without a mask. A gentleman, who claims to be a professor, arrogantly tells me to mind my own business. When I insist, he saunters away. There is something he, like many others, seem to not understand about the profound need to reorient our daily-life habits. We imagine ourselves free, but as long as pandemics last, we shall never be free.
For many of us, the lockdown is still here. Though not as lively and playful as the fish imprisoned in an aquarium, we are getting used to relaxing and reading, working and playing. The personal discomfort or inconvenience compels us to adapt to new situations.
I, for one, immerse myself in work till lunch and then loosen up with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt or Chopin’s nocturnes. On some days, I see Resurrection Ertugrul, a historical serial set in the 13th century, so distant that for a short while I lose myself in the world of Islamic ethics and the conflict between the Mughals, the Mongols and the Christians. Evenings, I go to Albert Camus’ The Plague or Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which bring me to the heart of the eternal human crises, engaging me emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically, bringing dark thoughts of human catastrophes from literature, of Paris or Constantinople submerged in stink, bodies piled sky-high, or the searing cry of pain filling the London smog. Characteristically, according to Camus, life ‘rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views’.
I read much of the day, and sometimes deep into the night, delighting at least in the use of language in which I can think and feel the human condition, which I am part of, and yet apart. Vulnerable and yet lost in a world of fantasy and valour, I want to visualise the human heart and be reminded how giving and resilient it is.
Looking back at the perseverance that we are presently being tested for, Nelson Mandela or Paul Geidel (the longest-serving prison inmate for over 60 years) come to mind. Mandela's example is an eye-opening incongruity to our passion for social interchange and hunger to crowd the pubs on Saturday nights. It makes us wonder how much the human spirit can endure, and for how long without a TV or anything to read. Incarcerated in a former leper colony on Robben Island for 27 years, and being struck by tuberculosis, Mandela’s cell measured barely 6’by 6’, where he writes ‘my feet and my head grazed the concrete at the other side.’ At 72 came his freedom, and along with it, the end of apartheid and the rise of a new nation. But he bore it all, emerging a more resolute man, a far cry from many who lust for change and would so easily die of isolation.
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