‘April is the cruellest month’ wrote T. S. Eliot in his poem The Waste Land, in 1922. Almost a hundred years later, the words came back to haunt us!
As the second wave of Covid-19 hit us around April 2021, we saw our countrymen and women dying for lack of oxygen and shortage of hospital beds. As each one of us struggled to survive, unidentified bodies floated in rivers in grim disregard of an accepted civilised concept—dignity in death. Cruel indeed. Uncivilised and barbaric too.
But April ’21 was the cruellest month of the year not just because Nature vented its fury. It was cruel because the widespread misery caused was clearly borne of unpreparedness on part of an apathetic government. Mysteriously, the ‘system’ and its failure was held responsible for everything that went wrong. System? One wondered, who makes the system, what it is. And whose responsibility is it to set it right? Who is going to systemise this ‘system’?
That is a question that remains unanswered to this day. And I daresay, it is not the only one, as we wait in vain for clarity on accountability for the ‘system’, within the larger system.
It has been an unusual year in more ways than one. While the common man lived in a bleak present, prices of everyday commodities skyrocketed, jobs disappeared, not to mention the continuous increase in fuel prices that has gone on to become a recurring phenomenon. Small businesses shut down, some restaurant owners wondered where their next meal was coming from, tenants sought rent waivers, while house owners struggled to repay bank loans. And in the midst of this tumultuous reality, aggrieved farmers continued their protest— and continued to remain unheard for close to a year. With the farmers being denied the simple luxury of a sympathetic hearing of their side of the story, sadly, this became one protest where the protestors faced only losses since the agitation began. Ironically, we pray to the goddess Annapurna ensuring we never have to go without a meal, but turn a deaf ear to the real-life annadatas, knocking at our door.
Our losses have been many, and of varied kinds. One hopes that over time these shall be a thing of the past. Financial losses might be reversed, physical distance from loved ones will eventually get covered, sooner or later children will be back in school, and gyms and salons will bring back fitness and aesthetics to the fore, and make life worth living ....somewhat. But will we be able to retrieve the lost soul of this country? That is the question that begs answers.
That India, which since time immemorial has been the melting pot of geographies, cultures, communities, languages, beliefs, and faiths. The India that has always taken pride in its diversity and where films like Amar, Akbar, Anthony could not only be made, but could go on to become superhits. An India, where Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Bismillah Khan could freely indulge us with their jugalbandi of mohe panghat pe Nandlaal chhed gayo re (a traditional song where village belles are complaining about Krishna, the young Hindu god and his mischief). These maestros and many others like them could keep us mesmerised, without the listeners even once thinking about, or questioning, the identity of the artists bringing alive the scene for us through their enchanting musical rendition.
The India that understood well that art and music transcend personalities and physical boundaries. And most of all, they transcend personal beliefs. That is the soul of India. And that is the soul that is today lost. That non-tangible, yet pleasantly omnipresent quality of acceptance leading to a powerful, heady confluence—one that was overarching and all-pervading. It was also well above narrow thought processes and shallow, divisive ideologies. That is the lost soul of India that must be retrieved, reinstated, saved, and preserved for future generations.
But April ’21 was the cruellest
month of the year not just because
Nature vented its fury. It was
cruel because the widespread
misery caused was clearly borne
of unpreparedness on part of an
apathetic government. Mysteriously,
the ‘system’ and its failure was held
responsible for everything that went
Thought processes must be revisited, history must be understood correctly and retold accurately, windows of the mind must be opened to let in fresh air, the past must be cherished, not for the sake of melodramatic nostalgia but as the basis on which to build a bright promising future where the only goal is to make the world a better place. A place where equality is a given, diversity is cherished, and inclusivity is celebrated.
It might be useful to remember that cages aren’t made of iron, they’re made of thoughts. Jai Jawan!! Jai Kisan!! Jai Hind!!