I sit quietly and observe the view from the window in my room. It’s another monsoon evening in humid Indonesia and the evening light shines through almost blindingly. It’s eerily quiet and the atmosphere feels almost surreal. Since moving to London, I have grown accustomed to the hustle and bustle of modern life; underlined by a constant pressure to feel occupied with activities at all times. It then feels alarmingly strange to come back home, where the sun doesn’t seem to stop shining and everything feels as if it's occurring at a slower pace.
During this period of self-isolation, my mind keeps turning to the infamous Twilight Zone episode ‘Time Enough at Last’. In the episode, an introverted and bookish bank clerk wishes for nothing more than to have time to read his favourite books and then, accidentally survives an apocalypse. After stumbling into a library, he feels momentarily joyous over finally having the time to read all the books that he wants. However, in a dark comic turn, he breaks his glasses and realises that he will never be able to read again.
Along with other works of fiction, the Twilight Zone works in the genre of horror that absolutely terrifies its audience, as it explores the reality of human behaviour and societal pressures. Similar to the book clerk, I have constantly felt as if time is going by too fast. I longed for nothing but to make time for myself. Thus, when a period of global quarantine was announced I felt an impending sense of panic and fear but also, shamefully and selfishly, felt inspired to start personal projects. I know this inspiration is a form of privilege that many, right now, cannot have. The people bravely working on the front line or fighting more personal battles at home.
These days, I have started to adapt to this new rhythm of life. I try to do the things that I would not be able to do in my normal daily life - whether it be baking or reading - and most importantly, taking my time while doing so. It is easy to give in to the power of inertia and indulge in a sense of haziness as hours and days begin to merge. It is essential to acknowledge that humans are inherently social beings. From the period of late capitalism, the pressure of individualism began to rise, which caused more people to live on their own. It is not in the fabric of our being to be secluded from others, and perhaps, it is then when the idea of loneliness began to emerge. This pandemic is highly effective in cutting off this part of ourselves; and we are forced to momentarily become figures in Edward Hopper’s paintings, always looking out from the inside, in search of human connection.
I believe that the impact of this virus lies in its contradiction: it both unites and isolates simultaneously. All over the world, people are united by a common feeling of loneliness and existential dread. As global news sources push bleak updates, what else is there to feel but the fear of sickness, as one becomes hyper-aware of one’s own mortality. One also becomes hyper-aware of one’s government. Significantly, this virus has exposed the lack of equality and the missing foundations in our healthcare systems and society in general. I am privileged enough to be able to study remotely from the comfort of my home and write about my troubles during this period. Yet, many others who are the true heroes of society, continue to work in the frontlines and risk their lives doing so. What is truly heartbreaking is to observe how some are getting laid off due to this pandemic, while others are making profit. Some are facing rising prejudice due to their racial background, while others bask in their belief that the pandemic justifies their racism against people of East Asian descent.
Ultimately, life goes on. Although I want nothing more than for things to return back to normalcy, I believe this pandemic asks the central question: which parts of normal life are worth going back to. Thus, day by day, a new normal grows near.
Edited by Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar