I stood in the balcony watching the world go by in the late afternoon sun. The world passing by is a trickle – a car or maybe a pedestrian. The only real movement is the consistent fall of dry ‘neem’ leaves from the tree in front of the house. They fall regularly and in large numbers somewhat dissipating the solitariness of the scene!
This is part of the regular routine in these days of lockdown. Some part of the day is spent just looking out at the street in front of the house. In the initial days it was to drink in the silence and solitude. Increasingly it is to see some other people than those in my house in flesh and blood! Not on a screen.
The other day, my husband and I decided, ‘let us for at least a while not talk about the virus and all its related issues. Let us talk about different things’. After a few hiccups, when we kept going back to the virus like a vicious circle, I said ‘ let us plan something nice after all this is over – maybe travel, maybe the kid’s wedding!’ We both were blank and speechless for a while. How do you plan anything when the whole universe is uncertain.
I began to think of the two words ‘plan’ and ‘uncertain’. The Cambridge dictionary defines a plan as ” a set of decisions about how to do something in the future.” Planning is an integral part of human life. We plan our life, our work ,our day, our month and years on a regular basis. To achieve the goals or targets or objectives we desire to move towards. The concept of to-do lists, the idea of reminders in phones, the whole concept of saving – every mundane action of our lives is driven by some plan. Even the emphasis on having a routine in the lockdown period is part of our need to plan. You remove planning from human life and we become like animals – living from one meal to the next and surviving.
Uncertainty – when I typed the word in Google it threw up loads of papers and research about this phenomenon. There are mathematical models to deal with it. To weave it in our planning. Whether in the workplace or in our daily lives. Since life is uncertain we keep devising means to account for it in our planning.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines uncertainty as “the state of being uncertain” and uses a number of terms to describe what it means to be uncertain: indefinite, indeterminate, not certain to occur, problematical, not reliable, not known beyond doubt, doubtful, not clearly identified or defined, not constant, variable, and fitful. It highlights the fact that uncertainty is a state of mind, it is a cognitive experience and is different from ignorance.
What happens when everything is perceived to become uncertain. When our whole cognitive experience is flooded with uncertainty. Our plans depended on so many things outside us remaining certain to an extent. If we planned travel we took for granted that we would find means to get there somehow, find a hotel, the museums and sites we wanted to see would be accessible. If we planned our work, we assumed that the work place would be accessible, co-workers would be available, we would be able to access resources….So many things being certain ensured that plans could be made.
Suddenly most of humanity is in a way imprisoned in their homes. Other than essentials nothing else is available to live. We have to be distant physically from each other for an unspecified period of time. All the externalities that we took for granted stand withdrawn. And the worst is we don’t really know till when. Worse still, we don’t know that at the end of the road, what will work outside when we do step out. This is an unprecedented experience, and for the individual takes away the ability to plan anything.
This probably is the most dis-empowering effect of COVID-19 in our individual lives. More than staying inside locked in our own houses, while the stray dogs and birds rule the world outside, the inability to make any plans for our lives is what is most painful in this time.
Uncertainty of life – whether we will be alive to see our plans fructify is an uncertainty we have all lived with on a daily basis. That is not the change the virus has brought to us. What it has done is take away all the things that did seem certain in an uncertain life. It has robbed us of the ability to plan for our lives, even in minuscule ways.
In a way, it has brought us all to what most religious and spiritual discourses ask us to do – live in the moment, and do what we are supposed to do, without a thought to what lies ahead. And that is why it is so hard, because planning our lives is intrinsic to how we live.
When this ends, and end it will, and the history of this pandemic is written, we can probably say that it brought us all to our knees in more ways than one.