The Doomscrolling of J. Alfred Prufrock

The evening is spread out against the sky, and I am spread out on my couch. The bright, wretched gloom of the tube light is no match for my phone, whose glare forms the perpetual backlight to my life. Last night, I had decided that today would be different. But my purpose was drained out of me by morning Zoom classes. Now I lie here, stagnating in the mixture of apathy and stale hope that hangs in the air. 

Prufrock is back, then. Or rather, he never left. His quivering spirit is everywhere all the time, and now it compels me to take a walk down my Twitter timeline, as the air thickens indignantly. 

Let us go, then.  

It is a ghost town, populated only by shouting voices, and littered with opinions. “The bad-boy romance trope makes people actively desire toxic relationships. Pls make it stop”; “mixed coffee with fanta just to feel something”; “#cancelled”. I wade through the litter, wanting at once to clear it up and add some of my own. I can’t do either. For every scream, there is one in return, and the only comprehensible thing is Prufrock’s frustration over it all. It is impossible to say just what I mean.

I don’t need to be here. But my feet carry on of their own accord – exhausted, yet proceeding with a drone-like compulsion. My mind tells me it is not far from exploding, and my life awaits me. So I walk faster, hoping my desperation will find an outlet. But it only closes down on me. 

Oh, there’s a cat! A little yellow tabby, rubbing its back against a wall, stretching! I replay the video three times. Then I force myself to look up, and I am in my living room again. My window frames a dark sky, a glittering universe. It seems to spark some sort of inspiration. Then it trembles and writhes as I hold it down to stifle it. I will not fulfil its potential tonight. 

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Face glowing under the light of my phone, I am once again at a squalid street. This one is crowded – Instagram. Oh, there’s the cat again, licking its paws, rolling on its back. It’s quite popular. I am running, bumping into people – beautiful people, beautiful husks, having fun, saying things, sparkling, staring fixedly at me. I am not a part of this. They point at me with outstretched arms, and snicker and say I am just not good enough. I don’t want to be like them. I’m not like them. God, I need to be like them. 

I am formulated, sprawling on a pin.

I run quicker. I don’t care about them or what they do. But before I know it, I’ve taken a turn onto Pinterest for creative ideas to style bucket hats. I don’t care about bucket hats. I think I’d look cute in them. Maybe then I’d have more personality. I trip and fall. My crawling limbs take me back to Instagram, to browse its thrift stores for bucket hats. 

I am weighed down by questions. Primarily: why? I arrive – Instagram stores, looming above me. Their promise of ethicality and sustainability outshines the stars. But they belittle me just the same. Oh, that is exactly the kind of skirt I’d like to wear to the beach. And I have too many bags, but I’d look so nice with this specific blue and yellow one in the window. I can’t buy any of it. I’d be so fulfilled if I could! I will buy it. I deserve this! 

A hundred indecisions,

A hundred visions and revisions .

I can’t buy any of it. Is there really such a thing as ethical consumption? What about all the people working in fast-fashion factories, who need these purchases more than most thrift store owners? No matter where my money goes, it will hurt someone. I am even smaller now, pinned and wriggling on the wall. I just want to be a good person. 

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How should I begin? I can’t even buy a skirt. 

I bump into the yellow cat again – my third encounter with it today. I’ve seen enough. 

I am back in my living room, to confront the harsh tube light, to see how it shines with everything it’s got, but makes no dent in the darkness looming outside the window. Prufrock is sitting beside me. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t need to. We tend to think the same things. 

My hold on the night loosens a little, and an overdone internal monologue starts to play. It is about claustrophobia, passivity, and inaction. It takes a break to think about that beach skirt. Then it reprimands, it steals some of that stale hope and wields it like a sword. It despairs and accuses: “What are you doing?”

I listen, as I do every night, but it seems to pass through me now, because I know what will happen. Filled with nightly despair, I’ll look out the window into the expanse. I’ll be moved, and promise that the morning will be new. I’ll take the sword and swear to use it against all that stands in my way. But I know – I am not that hero. Tomorrow morning, Prufrock will show up, tired as I am after a night’s long walk. I will log into my Zoom classes and be paralysed by everyone else’s words. And I will ask myself: “Do I dare unmute?”

Should I have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

Then I will measure out my life with Instagram reels, and look at WhatsApp statuses out of boredom. And Prufrock will be there through it all, waiting for the evening to take over. And he will say, “Let us go, then.” 

The italicised lines are quotes from the poem by T.S. Eliot.

Farishta Anjirbag is a writer studying Literature at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Her writing draws from everyday experiences and seeks to highlight the novelty in the ordinary. 

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty