THE QUARANTINE OF 2020

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Every morning, for days now, I’ve been observing the process and patience of nature. As I sit by the window sipping tea, my gaze is fixed on the Yellow-flame tree outside. A pair of great egrets had built a nest and soon I spotted three little heads popping through the branches. It was a joy to see new life. However, what interested me was how beautifully unhurried and serene the process was. They say life doesn’t come with a manual, but it does. Just look around.

2020 has been nothing short of revolutionary so far. It has brought humankind down on its knees in the most ‘unprecedented’ way. One after the other, countries have gone into lockdown owing to the dreaded Covid-19 Corona virus. This must be the first time in history that everyone is, quite literally, in the same boat and speaking the same language.  Status, hierarchy, political differences, religious differences, everything has melted away, at least for now. People are more compassionate and empathetic towards each other.

When the lockdown was announced in India, the collective panic of the nation was felt like a tangible thing. I felt it too, but only for a few minutes. It is important that fear, sooner than later, gives way to acceptance. Back in school, I remember painting a motivation card and placing it on the television set. It read: Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst. This quote had a profound effect on me. People might see me as an idealist, but for the longest time, I’ve built myself on the idea of acceptance. When faced with a dire situation, my first question is: “What is the worst that can happen and how will I handle that?” It instantly calms me down, because I realise that life doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. In any difficult situation, allow yourself to feel the fear and panic fully, let it rattle you, then take a deep breath and think about how you can best handle it.

A friend recently asked me how we can maintain hope and optimism in the midst of such tremendous panic. The quarantine of 2020 has given us a lot to reconsider: how we live our lives, how we must conduct ourselves, what is really important, what are our strengths and weaknesses, how we can rearrange ourselves and how we must use technology to our advantage. The onslaught of conflicting information is overwhelming. The loss of life is disturbing. So, my first step was to cut out the unnecessary information and focus on things that sustained me. That done, it has been heartening to see how human spirits shine during a crisis. There is so much to learn. If we eschew the victim mentality and adopt a warrior mindset, we are bound to win.

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Lent, for the past couple of years has been a significant time for me. This year, once churches closed down, schedules got disrupted. But the season, that ends today, has turned out to be more profound than usual. We have realised so much in this short time. People who matter, the ones who care about you and the ones you worry about. The frivolity of titles and luxuries that don’t seem important, because all we need to survive right now are essentials. Above all, there is deep gratitude for all that we have received in abundance. Nature has provided us with so much, but it is only when our breath is threatened by a virus that we recognise the blessings we have taken for granted.

Let us not blame anyone or demand proof of a God that we can relate to only by faith. We are called human ‘beings’, so all we essentially need to do is learn how to ‘be’. Let us stop running around and slow down. After all the signs, do we, who call ourselves educated and thinking people, need more proof?

It’s Easter Sunday tomorrow and what better day to send out a message of hope and renewal to a world that is desperately looking for a ray of light. Nothing lasts forever. This too shall pass. However, and this is important, let us not lose faith. Let us allow the experience to heal and redeem us.

 

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SAVED BY A SONG

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It was one of those rare occasions when I had wandered into a church. As my knees hit the floor, the strains of ‘Old Rugged Cross’ filled the air; hundreds of voices rose in crescendo and the tears came rolling down. After two years of Marie’s passing, the floodgates had finally opened and cleansed me. That celestial moment became my testament to the undeniable healing power of music.

Being a loner all through my teen years, the only true connection I had was with music and words. On long afternoons, I was almost always found huddled in a corner with a book and in the evenings with my tiny cassette player in a darkened room. Although I never stopped listening to music, the bedtime tradition that had waned over time, is now revived and made sacred. Once the telly is off and I’m alone in my room, the windows are thrown open and the music comes on. Embellished by moonlight and kissed by the gentle breeze, the sounds seem ethereal. It is, without a doubt, the most magical part of my day.

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Years ago, when I had signed up for piano classes, my music teacher had encouraged me to look for life lessons in music. If you let it all the way in, music can bring about a real catharsis, she had said. It’s true. Music can foster unity with another mind, another culture, and life itself, like nothing else can. And all of that comes right back as an insight into your own mind. That’s how the purgation takes place. Some days it’s jazz that moves me, on other days it could be rock or forgotten Bollywood oldies. The music we choose is never random, it reflects our emotional/mental state at the time. That’s exactly why we get obsessed with certain songs; it’s because they speak to our deeper selves.

I have an inherent need to understand a song (and everything else) in all its entirety. So recently when a friend sent me a Bangla song, it upset me that I couldn’t find a proper translation of the lyrics. “You would have enjoyed it more”, he said wryly, “if you just listened to it.” That, right there, was another analogy for life.

The struggle to find our worth can be an ongoing battle. A broken relationship, an unfulfilling career or a lost dream can leave us feeling shoddy. Until one day someone holds a mirror to our soul and we remember love. Just like the beauty of a person is revealed by how they make you feel, so it is with music. A song that you find mediocre could be someone’s favourite just because it spoke to them when they needed it the most. It’s an idea that made me accepting of other people’s choices, in music and in life.

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Whether it’s just a car ride I want to enjoy or a dark patch I’m trying to work through, what has, and always will help me, is a piece of music. Above all else, it teaches us that love is more than just a word. It’s our connection with the world around us. It’s what helps us make sense of the chaos that surrounds us. It shows us that no matter where we live on this planet, we are essentially the same. Sometimes when I find myself withering, I sit back and let a song wash over me, other times I write my own. Either way, it can be safely said, that I’m always saved by a song. A single lyric or melody at the right time can change everything. It can give your life direction, beauty, meaning. And the courage to live with a little more heart.

There’s a quote from One Tree Hill that I love. “Every song has a coda, a final movement. Whether it fades out or crashes away, every song ends. Is that any reason not to enjoy the music?” We’re all perpetually trying to figure out things, working our way through the rough terrain of life, wondering where it leads us. Well, with the right soundtrack, our journey can be a transcendent one.