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The longest night

It had been a long, long year. The winter solstice, when the world has its longest night, has gone by. I look back at primitive cultures celebrating this day, signifying the discovery of warmth and hope at the end of a severe winter. I too see flickers of expectation, but the long winter nights surrounding the earth bring no relief to a besieged land. The human race, it seems, has outrun its own pace with nowhere to go but hurtle to its own decline.

The severity of the early days of the pandemic begins to knock at my door again. When I begin to dream of a holiday in the Bahamas, the mutated variant wakes me up with a jolt. Fear and unending despair overwhelms me and many more like me, reminiscent of T.S. Eliot’s doomsday words, “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,/I had not thought death had undone so many./Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,/And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.”

For many of us, the year gone by has been a sinister year — it’s had more than its share of setbacks and challenges, of great pain and struggle for many who endured the untimely loss of dear ones. The dead are gone and sadly a dear one is missing on the daily evening walks. The tragedy and its numbing solitude, the cry of “the horror, the horror” in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness resounds and foretells what is still to come.

And yet I trudge towards the comforting idea of a balmy spring that awaits me, a sustaining vision comes that some day we all shall be free. But what good can come amid such a cataclysm? What good is anything at all? A parting kick at the end of the year dampens my spirits as I begin to anticipate returning to the old order and the joyful lightness of being. Though science struggles to be the saviour, the antagonist virus dexterously mutates its skill and weaponry before which hopes dwindle and antidotes stand redundant.

Formidable assault

In this formidable assault on the human race, I see the manifestation of a bleak world allegorically reflecting the COVID-like unresponsiveness to the well-being of the multitudes. Symbolically, the plague-ridden world “rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views”, says Albert Camus in The Plague. Although people “fancied themselves free but no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences”. The virus of unemployment, deplorable social conditions, systemic racism remains as grim as the malicious pandemic.

How can I then hope to see light in this long night of desolation and despair with endless wars on humanity raging at home and abroad, with democracy becoming a hollow meaningless concept, and voracious monopolies and oligopolies crushing the disadvantaged with poverty and unemployment, insecurity and homelessness? Killer cops operate ruthlessly at the behest of anti-secular forces. Agricultural trade stands displaced by the moguls for maximum corporate profits.

In the middle of this nightmare, I can only see death, fear and pain. Like the pandemic, the virus of authoritarianism spreads its wings through the populace, mutating into a violent and resistant form of “covidocracy” from which it is difficult to recover.

The mutated form of systemic oppression is already here, while many of us stand deceived by the hegemony of the post-truth discourse with everything staged for the “good” of the people. Our liberties slowly wither.

And yet, I have faith in the human spirit and the sense of connection we find with those who suffer at the hands of the ruthless indifference of the virus of a stubborn leadership. Many within us put on our masks and come out to fight for freedom and justice. Paradoxically, COVID-19 brought us together, and through the tragedy our empathy rekindled for those long ignored and forgotten. Voices are raised that had been silent, oppression is resisted, and urgent uprisings are ignited against oppression and inequity.

From every corner of the world springs a common spirit of anxiety. Life, more than ever, begins to embody the spirit of humanity, the idea that we are one people, and keepers of each other. The world needs this spirit more than ever, working to build a future to be born not from fear and anger, but from hope and concern.

In unusually troubled times like these, it befits each of us to shed the comfort of apathy and realise that we can only grow, prosper and live in safety if we do it as a global community.

shelleywalia@gmail.com

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 10:20:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-longest-night/article33586859.ece

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