By Mitali Chakravarty
More than a century ago Tagore wrote a song:
Kothao amar hariye java nei mana, mone, mone
Translated it stands, I can get lost anywhere within the infinite of my mind (imagination).
Time has come that we put his suggestion to test.
Though we are all torn by the isolation that battling COVID-19 demands, we still have a huge thing which we did not in the past, a thing that helps us all connect — the internet. While the educated stay connected, using social media and email, there will be many under isolation who will not have the skill sets to reach out, either due to lack of internet or due to the inability to write. There are countries like Singapore, where this is not an issue — but there is still a large population out there who cannot connect, who will be told by their community leaders that they need to remain isolated. Will that be a possibility? What about the homeless? What about those who do not have a clean potable water supply? What happens to them?
One thing that the tiny virus, which we cannot see with our naked eyes, has taught us is that mankind in its suffering cannot be bordered by economic, religious, cultural or political boundaries. As we all stand, in isolation, willing or unwilling to take up cudgels against a virus that has forced us to disturb, break and destroy the tenor of our lives, perhaps the time has come to assess our blessings.
Today, the fact that you are reading this means you are connecting with the internet and can read. You are connecting with my ideas, with my thoughts. We belong to the privileged few who can soar with internet and our imaginations. We have a home and hearth. We are educated and have enough to eat. We can afford to be kind and merciful to others.
The factory smoke has largely got silenced — even if temporarily. That means the air is getting cleaner. I can see more birds fly in the sky, bluer skies and hear bird calls. Perhaps, the Earth will stretch out in languor and awake from COVID19, a healthier and greener planet.
As I see the visa exempt, borderless virus roam the world, I am reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Poison Belt (1913), where the whole of mankind loses a day as our planet passes through Ether, and then wakes up as the Earth emerges out of the sleep inducing belt of the ‘poisonous’ gas. Will such a thing happen? Will we wake up and see the corona disappear one day?
Probably not, given that we have already diagnosed the virus. But, when you think of it, mankind has been through so many pandemics and has continued to thrive.
Perhaps, the tiny virus has taken on more than it can digest. Each time, mankind emerged a winner, they had a better life. After the Great Plague that wracked Europe from 1348-1350, came a jubilant Renaissance with Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Christopher Columbus and Galileo Galilei celebrating the wealth of human development.
Then there was small pox, which was introduced among Native Indians and Mexicans in the fifteenth century by Conquistadors, and was completely eradicated after two centuries; cholera, which continues to assail some countries and many more such diseases. Mankind battled these and emerged victor into a better equipped world.
This time, the pandemic is more widespread because we are living in a more connected planet. Is that such a bad thing? We do not really want to live like the hermaphrodite humans in Isaac Asimov’s Solaria, where mankind is served by robots alone on a solitary planet and they never meet other humans. But a temporary and intelligent isolation can teach the little virus that for all its virulence, it cannot destroy mankind. This is just a temporary measure, a temporary gesture to help mankind move into a better world. We will have to reorganise our way of life, our tenor of existence. Given the climate, economic and political issues our planet faces, this may not be such a bad thing!
After all, twentieth century guru, Yuval Noah Harari in his recent article in Financial Times, concludes: “Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future. If we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.”
And I would like to agree with Harari as he says with conviction: “Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.”
Let us look forward to the dawning of that new world.
Mitali Chakravarty is a writer and the founding editor of borderlessjournal.com.