I have a list of about 50 people that I know who died in the last 18 months or so. I also know I’m not the only one with such a list.
I didn’t know everyone on my list intimately – some I had never spoken to, some I had only greeted at family events because my parents expected me to. There were some who I only remember in fleeting moments and passing glances in big crowds of days that my parents or friends try to remind me of as they tell me about the news of yet another demise, and some I had only watched with a television screen between them and me.
But I have a list. And it’s not an exhaustive list. It’s growing, and my world is growing in reverse with it.
I remember my mother telling me about the gruesome death – or should I say disguised murder – of a woman who used to work at our home when I was a little girl of four, or five. She moved to a different city, but I remember her face well. I don’t have any specific memories of her, but I know she was a part of my life once. And I remember feeling a pit in my stomach the day my mother broke the news. It’s the kind of feeling you get when you’re scared, thinking that you’re living in an empty world, or that you’re alone in a strange land. I had the feeling because that is what death was all those years ago – a fear I had only heard adults talk about, a land that I never thought I would have to visit.
I saw my parents and relatives feel the same way when a family member died a few years ago. We had seen it coming, but we hadn’t seen it through.
I think of those moments now, and how extraordinary they were. As I try to juxtapose the stomach churning and sorrowful faces with the tired but practiced sighs that come after hearing about someone’s death now, I’m surprised, hurt, guilty, and in wonder.
I’m surprised by the power of consumption; how our increased consumption of something – even death – makes it so astonishingly normal to us. Even the most absurd things become normal because we’ve seen too much of them to be taken back by their absurdity anymore.
I’m hurt by the world’s way with adulting – how no one cared to walk up to me, knock at my door and drop a word of caution before I was nudged into this world of adults talking about sullen landscapes with no sullenness in their eyes.
I’m guilty because of my hypocrisy as I write this – I’m blaming the world for making me the person who is disconnected now, and refuses to feel death the way her innocence once did, but isn’t that half the fault of the world, and half a silent choice I made?
Most of all, I wonder.
I wonder if this is going to continue. I wonder if there are more names awaiting my list. I wonder if this ordinary will ever cease to be ordinary. And I wonder, in anticipation, when the pit will return.
I think it’s at a time like this when Avni Doshi’s words come alive to me. As her mind-blowing Antara from Girl in White Cotton says at the end of one of her many eloquent expressions of the mother’s state and hers own entangled in it, “I disown so I cannot be disowned.”
I disown every sentiment I’ve ever known of.
In my attempt to jot down the many repercussions of this shaking pandemic, I realise the one that kept lingering in the shadows, never letting itself be taken within the ambit of the too-often called “new normal”.
It’s my refusal, resignation and rendition of this new world.
Aditi Jain is a first-year undergraduate student of English Literature at Indraprastha College For Women, Delhi University. An avid reader, she finds her time to write at any hour and more often than she’d like to admit, struggles her way through it. In March 2021, she published her debut collection of poetry ‘Chaotic Cosmos Volume 1’ with Olympia Publishers, London.