In an unfriendly space

September 13, 2020

There is always the dreadful feeling of being conscious of another deadly wave that can hit us and where a time before the Covid-19 cannot be fathomed

Many of us may not remember a life before the extremely destructive pandemic displaced our existence. While most people had to transform our routines, some of us already enjoyed the quiet, noiseless moments spent between the pages of a book, or scribbling through our journals.

Our sensibilities, fortunately or unfortunately, are shaped by capitalism and for us constant productivity characterised our days. However, the virus, for better or for worse, brought to halt our burdensome routines. It also constricted many of us within spaces which weren’t necessarily friendly.

Amidst time counted through the number of books one read in a day, or the hours spent in front of our digital screens (which in itself is leisure), a thought often crossed my mind: what does social isolation mean for people who lived in cramped-up spaces or what was the experience of social isolation for people who escaped painful domestic situations through mobility and interaction with the outside world?

Another thing that kept haunting me was the thought of women who stayed at home all their lives and what really another mechanised few months meant for them.

The virus definitely made us look closely at the otherwise mundane things in life. Lahore is a city which encompasses within it a spectrum of social classes and identities. There were tremendous economic repercussions which were felt collectively but the struggles which were community specific far outnumbered those.

When the lockdown began, a chaotic wave of uncertainty swept through the different factions of society. Where there were those who could engage in retail therapy, there were others who were risking their lives and their families’ to make both ends meet. Department stores were seen flooded by buyers who had no other place to go, and there were those who were at the mercy of some utopic miracle or reality for the bare minimum.

However, the virus didn’t just scratch the economic layer of the society in isolation. It also extended its filthy hands into the psychological and physical beings of individuals, heightening the already existing traumas. Quarantine was marred by a sense of timelessness, a recurring feeling of displacement. Fear coloured the sky red and anxiety swam like blood in our veins. Gestures as innocent as touching my mother’s hand, or giving her a hug, or an accidental shove in grocery queues shook me down to my core.

There was this sudden realisation that we were living in a dystopian world where human contact could be fatal.

Before the pandemic clawed our existence, my sister and I often went to nearby parks in hopes of blowing off some steam. Unfortunately, our harmless strolls ceased as even parks were closed. The constricted timings of the local shops left us wandering empty streets, hoping to find at least one open shop. Much to our discomfort, all we met with were tired guards sitting outside closed stores.

The city which was always out and about, and where your voice was often lost in its noisiness, sounded disturbingly quiet. Streets which otherwise shone with blinding lights were dimly lit, where even stepping on an empty crisp packet made a pestering sound.

Day after day after day, seeing women aimlessly working at home gnawed at my brain. They already measured time through the number of chores each day. Where in times before the pandemic they had had a few moments of solitude to themselves, the overcrowded houses left them with no breathers.

Now that the apparent lockdown has been lifted and, officially speaking, the virus has ceased to curb our daily activities, does that also mean that the fear we feel in our skin has subsided? I see those who have taken the lifting of the lockdown too literally and assumed that the virus has magically disappeared.

There is the same distracting noise in the city, its entitled lights blurring our visions again, the overcrowded restaurants and cluttered bazaars. But amidst all this is the internalisation of the reality of the pandemic and the fear attached to it. The protective masks seem to me an extension of my own body, the use of sanitisers comes as normally to me as the blinking of my eyes, and I unknowingly stop midway while giving a hug to anyone.

There is always the dreadful feeling of being conscious of another deadly wave that can hit us and where a time before the Covid-19 cannot be fathomed.

The writer is a liberal arts graduate

In an unfriendly space