In search for the Silver Lining by Jay Laddha
By Volunteer Jay Laddha, FHI Ahmedabad
Two years of mayhem and adapting to new normalcies have left their mark on one of the fundamental activities of society – conversations. In fact, many of our talks have been reduced to faint pleasantries of ‘wear mask,’ ‘take care,’ ‘wash hands,’ and so on. Within the closed walls of their homes, where their families can listen to their chat with friends, many Gen Z folks are unable to talk freely. A couple of centuries ago, there might not have been a lot of difference between the lifestyles, career choices, hobbies, and general ideologies of two consecutive generations. Things moved at a slow pace. But not anymore. The world has changed for these kids faster than we thought. And, with the onset of the pandemic, they are ordained with a sense of apathy; they want to learn but are not excited about classes. My 11-year-old cousin, Shaurya, uses MS Teams better than I but is unable to grasp basic Origami taught in virtual classes. My neighbor’s kid, Hemali, remarks several times, ‘online classes mein maja nahi aata.‘ My other teenage cousin, Rachit, is a self-proclaimed meme expert but gets socially awkward when we meet. Another parent frets about his kid, Adiraj, who doesn’t want to go to school. He has become accustomed to having aloo paratha while watching mathematics class.
I wonder whether these will become the stories of their crises. Their conversation impairment and loss of learning are difficult to measure and more difficult to recuperate. The world may be paralyzed, but time is not. Excruciating waves will be analyzed. It will be mourned and storified. Its people will be studied, and its leaders scrutinized. But the brutal truth was that nobody knew how to feel. Maybe because we don’t talk about our sadness, our depression, our traumas, and our tragedies, as openly as we celebrate life as a culture.
The pandemic had not been too bad for me personally. I have had reasonable success, my portfolio is greener, and none of my close family or friends have suffered irretrievable losses. But, I’ve spent my time struggling to put voice over emotion. In the endless present, when the future itself was a question, I’ve looked for answers in the past. I’ve struggled to let go, and I’ve struggled to fathom the uncertainty of Sisyphean efforts. With the companionship of redundant peace, I’ve spent days accumulating the hunger to be understood. While the tragedy of COVID-19 will be measured by the finality of loss, its legacy will be rooted in the psychological tariff of survival.
Incidentally, my association with FHI began just before the pandemic began to take its toll. Though I have not attended many FHI events, I have gradually become inclined to observe children’s behavior. To a generation that has never experienced any great war or recession, the pandemic has given a perception of crisis on their own terms. It had precious realizations too. While there are countless avenues for comfort, there’s discovery in isolation and epiphany in routine. While there are fortuitous routes to emancipation, all things in life come with an enormous asterisk.
For sure, history has been made, and individual realities have become a cumulative truth. With the hopeful subsiding of the pandemic, schools & colleges are ready to make up for the lost time, and the playgrounds have been brimming with the clangor of camaraderie. Hemali has learned dance from YouTube and befriended other kids. Shaurya has engrossed himself in cycling and playing Hide & Seek with his ‘bros.’ Rachit has dabbled in investing and showcased a tremendous interest in discussing Shark Tank India. Adiraj now teases me for beating me in badminton. Even their selfishness is endearing and their innocence entertaining. As they evolve and accept the burden of change, each of them manages to retain their core – Adiraj’s jocular attitude, Hemali’s effusive playfulness, Rachit’s sentimental aggressiveness, and Shaurya’s blissful ignorance. There’s moving humanity in them that belies the darkness of the premise. Most of us have felt out of depth during this pandemic. What these kids remind us through their modest feats and behavioral quirks is that to be pushed back is also to be given an opportunity to move forward, maybe via a different route: perhaps with more poise, perhaps with greater thought. Perhaps, to save the best of ourselves for a destiny yet to arrive.