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Will we ever be the same again?

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They say we’ll get through it all somehow. They say it’ll all be over someday. They say a few years down it will all seem like a surreal nightmare. They ask us to stay safe. They ask us to stay positive.

Let’s say we do everything they ask us to do. Let’s say we get through it all and emerge on the other side physically unscathed. Could we really term it a victory? Can we really just go back to the way things were? Can we “un-see” some of the things we’ve seen and read? Can we “un-hear” some of the things we’ve heard?

When we meet our extended family again, will we hug them and cry tears of joy? Or will we grieve the precious time we’ve lost to fear and worry? Will an overdue night-out with friends start with a round of high-fives? Or will it dissolve into tears of remembrance for all those who didn’t make it? When we walk in to our doctor’s office, will we start with our complaints? Or will we look for the unseen scars and emotional toll this year has taken on them? Will a business meeting with colleagues really be business as usual? Or will it involve a deeper discussion on what really matters?

Something tells me, it’s never going to be the same again – at least not in the immediate future. Every deep breath will be followed by a quick thank you to an unseen force that randomly spared us. Every handshake and hug will be followed by an urge to sanitize. Every sneeze and cough will cause us to do a double take. Every visit to the theatre or mall will have us checking for the reassuring presence of a mask on our face. Every walk past a hospital will leave us with a feeling of so many stories left unsaid and unfinished. Every street corner will remind us of shattered dreams and livelihoods lost.

A year back I spent an evening watching the 1980s movie – Katha, a very unique take on the age old “tortoise vs. hare” folktale. A straight arrow Rajaram, played with sensitivity by Naseeruddin Shah, is madly in love with the girl next door, Sandhya, portrayed by a luminous Deepti Naval. Farooq Sheikh rounds off the cast as the whip smart and unscrupulous Bashu, who steals Sandhya’s heart. The story ends with a possibly pregnant Sandhya, ditched on her wedding day by Bashu, reluctantly accepting Rajaram’s marriage proposal. Leela Mishra, playing a world-weary dadi-amma, concludes the story telling her grandson “Haan beta jeet kachue ki ho gayi. Par yeh bhi kya jeet?”

Stories about war and strife, even from mythology, end with a rousing victory of good over evil which makes every sacrifice seem worthwhile. Yet, war veterans and their families have told us time and time again that no one really wins a war. Everyone loses.

There is no question of a victory in our “war against corona”. How can there be? We will definitely emerge from its dark shadow one day and limp back to normal. And while we can all look forward to that day, we must never be the same again. Let us never forget our doctors’ faces writ with desperation and sorrow, the pleas of those close to losing their loved ones, the feeling of isolation enveloping our senior citizens, the utter helplessness that takes over our being when we realize that we are not in control at all. Let us forever remember so that we can bring in the change that truly matters.

Let us never be the same again.

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