Delhi Covid Coronavirus Wave India
The COVID-19 second wave hit India hard Image Credit: AP

For a brief period, this year there was hope. As grief, frustration, and loss embraced us we didn’t have to dig in deep to find our way back, reminding us for times to come that it is a choice we forsake.

Our spirits were crushed but our hearts were humbled as together we searched for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds in India. We lived a collective sorrow with community and civil society exemplifying what had defined us, until the recent years.

May was the longest month but just as spring, our memories were fleeting. Soon, strident nationalism blinded us so intensely that others died, but someone else was hurt. This year we were like puppets on a string, even the wise men of history or the independence struggle itself was not spared. Old boundaries were erased with impunity, majoritarianism became the hall pass.

Winston Churchill said, “In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.” Thousands of burning pyres and bodies floating in the river Ganga became the defining moments of India’s tragedy.

Death did not part us

This year death did not part us, ideology’s ever widening chasm had already torn us apart. From a decorated photographer to the country’s top General, there was no dignity for the dead. May was a borrowed month but when time was up, citizens went back into their darkness, emerging only to hear their own echoes.

And in those chambers, humour was mortgaged, no one though had the last laugh. The act had many scenes — daring and brazen, there was jail even for a show where the curtains never went up. As the script got bolder, stand-up comedians were chased from the stage, vilified, and even imprisoned but if the Mahatma himself came out battered this year, these were mere mortals.

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It was hard to steal some moments out of time, diversion was strictly a one-way street. OTT shows, satire, reality, and everything else in between was abused. The image shattered the mirror.

Our athletes though brought us some cheer at the Olympics, but the real game of thorns was played out across old streets and narrow lanes of the country where faith was not yours if it is not mine. Life in our country has always been cheap, this year it was also no longer sacred.

Lynched on a suspicion or an excuse

People were lynched on a suspicion or an excuse while facts struggled to get a day in the sun. Prices of essential commodities had a one-way trajectory but that wasn’t a priority, it continues to pay to keep people illiterate. Instead, they slowly came for all- prayers were disrupted, places of worship ransacked.

Amid all the turmoil a woman politician and farmers reminded us, that when there is a will, there will be a way. The year-long resistance by the farmers though came at a price. They lost hundreds of their men including four who were mowed down allegedly by the son of a minister at the centre.

Ignored, our children stood tall. Cinemas opened, gym training resumed but the gates of their schools remained locked. Some sat on a table at home, others under a tree in a field, their childhood lost. Proud claims of digital India thawed as online access glared with the gap.

But even the privileged children struggled. Stoically they witnessed a world change- losing teachers, grandparents and missing out on school life that was not just in the text- books. Anxiety, therapy- all became a part of young India’s lexicon. In 2022, we need to bring them out of the shadows and heed the warning- mental health is the epidemic after the pandemic.

It has also been hard to explain to our children why their global peers were vaccinated and allowed physically back to school. Without a shot at the jab, they know they are vulnerable but wonder why others don’t take them seriously.

An imaginary fear

But imaginary fear, an offshoot of nationalism’s new normal didn’t even spare a conversation on vaccination for kids without hurling abuses. For that matter, children were no longer sacrosanct either whether it was the son of India’s topmost actor or the toddler daughter of the cricket captain who was issued rape threats. Wherever the wind was made to blow, it left destruction- casually.

It was a year that tested our resilience but with such deep fissures, we only gave each other- including friends and family, deeper cuts. The month of May is already like the illusion of water on a long desert stretch. In the end, polarised we stood, a country with its soul lost.

2022 has a lot to make up for, not least giving us back the gift of hope.