Sylvia Plath often described life as loneliness despite all its revelry, that the “loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering”.
During my quarantine, when sleep evaded me like a common thief, I began sieving through old photographs as a way to engage my mind.
Over time, I began noticing that much before the lockdowns and isolation came into effect, we were alone. We were always alone – in our thoughts, our dreams, stewing in memories and hopes from yesterdays and tomorrows. As I continued rummaging, the abundance of seclusion in every folder of my documented life spilt out a collective story.
I realised my want to capture images of the singular, that could sit in a quiet, alien to most around them and feign happiness if required. Around the world, people have realities sunk in this vast reserve of stillness that plagues the mind as dormant emotion. This year, India ranked 139 out of 149 countries in UN’s World Happiness Report. We could argue about sample sizes and how the fabric of our society is rooted and more traditional – but the truth is that ‘depression is the highest expression of loneliness’. It further does not help that as a society, we disregard mental wellness and the need to talk feelings in a safe space.
The thing is that loneliness takes everyone and anyone captive. You could be successful, in a group of spirited people, in a loving relationship with all the boxes ticked, and still feel solitude staring at you in a crowded room.
Chronic loneliness is as severe as the ongoing pandemic. It has a larger track record and is greedily devouring us across borders and spaces. So dire is the state of affairs that the UK recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness “to tackle the sad reality of modern life”.
Modern life with its bells and whistles is fast and technologically savvy but slow on human emotion and warmth. We are collectively and individually trying to get through each day without being too hard on ourselves battling pre-defined notions of loneliness. So many writers have given words to this feeling of isolation, solicitude if you will – as good and bad – as something we could nurture or abhor individually, and together at the same time.
French-Cuban-American writer Anais Nin wrote that she was so utterly lonely, but also had such a fear that her isolation if broken would no longer have her as the head and ruler of her universe. Was this it? Do we dwell in our silence and innermost worlds alone so we may be our kings? As an introvert myself, the recordings of my life are mostly personal for the same fear of letting anyone in and taking over and shifting the narrative of my thoughts, turning the axis of my world.
Once this pandemic is over, my life will perhaps remain the same. Loneliness will continue to be a friend, sipping coffee with me at the kitchen table, imploring me to think – some more – about myself, my world and everything in it.
Documenting these photographs at a later stage in life has allowed me to vocalise and validate this loneliness.
To not hold it responsible, but rather hold it accountable for making me question life further and address the difficult issues in my head.
To understand that being alone is not loneliness and that they are both valid feelings we all experience at one time or the other.
To not shame my need to dissect my unhappiness and dissatisfaction with how life is.
To want a little bit more.
To be happy in pieces or as one.
Smrithi Amarendran is a full-time visual designer running an ad agency (THE) in Chennai, India and moonlights as a writer + doodler. You can find her on Instagram @smrithiamarendran.