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Quarantine Musings: On loneliness in the 21st century

Ankita Rose Subba

Lately, I can say that I am closer to being a vampire than I have ever been all my life. I wake up at around 12 pm in the afternoon, break my “nightly” fast by having lunch, then sleep again till late evening. Then I am fully awake at night, equipped with fast net speed and ready to watch countless videos on a plethora of topics. I jump from one thumbnail to another, from close sources revealing ludicrous details about celebrities to how astronauts pee in space. Then if YouTube reminds me that I should take a quick break for the fourth time, I open another app, most preferably Quora, to read about conspiracy theories and outrageous tweets.

I can't say that I am proud of what I am doing. I am hardly in touch with anyone. It is a strange bubble I am in, a peculiar space that is familiar. With the lockdown that had been imposed across the entire country, the social distancing is the call of the hour. However, I feel distant, and not just socially, with people I know and myself. I am detached as though with everyone around me and also, with my own self. A part of me that always existed, but was masked by camaraderie, interactions and in trying to be productive in a collective sense, has now taken a life of its own.

My thoughts are not pretty at some point I think of buying a beautiful Chateau in the future and then, the train of thought derails and I find myself surrounded by visions of failure and self-doubt. There are questions that I would want to ask but am afraid of knowing the answers to. Any other day, I would distract myself from my own brooding by talking to people, listening to them and engaging in a conversation. I would say I was happier then. However, nowadays I feel lost in a haze of musings that are but my own.

I hardly use social media these days, I never used it so actively before but now it has been reduced to nil. I find my situation ironic, I have always preferred staying at home to going out. People who knew me would tell you that I am not the most socially outgoing individual, rather the opposite; an individual with a small circle of friends who relishes the comfort of the four walls. However, now I am not even sure if comfort is what I am feeling.

At present, there are millions of individuals who are quarantined in their homes. There are thousands of videos and posts on how to be productive during this time. You can either improve your culinary skills or learn a new language. I will be honest that I did try my hand at one or two. During the first few days, I was waking up early and doing an abs challenge (planks and crunches, mostly). Then I had planned to watch a movie every day, read a book every week, all the while also writing a novella. However, similar to what happens on uncapping a bottled coke, the fizz of the initial excitement died as fast as it had appeared. Soon I found myself doing nothing.

The World Health Organisation(WHO) declared the COVID-19 viral outbreak as a pandemic. At my time of writing, there are more than 2.3 million cases worldwide. Since the causative agent can be spread by air, public interactions are to be kept to a minimum. There has been mass hysteria and a generalized public panic; people hoarding masks, sanitisers and toilet papers. A continual fear of the disease, rooted in the conscience of our society. While the heroes in white and unsung warriors fight the common nemesis in the front line, awareness campaigns preach that our bravery lies in staying at home. Amidst all this farrago of unfortunate happenings, I found myself in what I would previously call a happy predicament. However, now it is only a situation that I do not exactly enjoy but will surely endure.

The 21st century is a strange time to be alive. Technology has improved our lives to such an extent that living without it seems improbable. Our cell phones are as essential to our lives as our self-worth. Our generation is different from the previous ones because while the latter chased after material possessions, our sense of fulfilment comes from online validation. The frustrations of the last century can be summarized in a quote: “advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need.” The words are said of course by Tyler Durden in Fight Club, a fictional character in both real and (spoilers?) reel life. In 2020, we can add a conglomeration of words: followers, likes, hearts, views, comments, notifications et cetera after “cars and clothes” and still find the quote credible. The irony of social media is fascinating because it was made to connect people and yet, we know firsthand, that we would rather have our heads turned down to the mobile screens, staring at photographs than look at the person in front of us. It is amusing because we know more about the people we may never meet, who exist in pixels stored as bytes in our gallery than humans of flesh and bones who live with us. The sense of alienation has only strengthened in times of solitude.

Loneliness in the modern world is almost paradoxical; when the world is so connected, being by oneself should bring peace and yet, the feeling is as abominable as it has always been through the ages. Everyone likes taking a break, indulging in “me” time but the non-exposure to our similar kind for a long time has been proven disastrous. It would be fitting to say that loneliness is a silent epidemic, perpetually present and affecting almost everyone. It is not a disease in the strictest sense but like any illness, it disturbs our well being and harms our health in all the spheres that WHO defines it, 'physically, mentally and socially.'

It is the dawn already and I can hear the birds chirping outside the window. Another night in quarantine is spent in front of my laptop. My back is hurting and honestly, I am a bit hungry. Perhaps, today I will find those five seconds of insane courage to do something normal like, call up a friend. Perhaps in all my pondering, I have understood only a small, trivial truth; that the world is beyond my comprehension and nothing really matters anyway. The nihilist in me has won for the night but my optimist self will continue to fight for co-existence. By making me hope for better days. Or making me text a friend. And perhaps, in these little acts of rebellion against the despair that plagues my mind, I can brave the loneliness that has come as an uninvited guest with the quarantine.


About the author:

Ankita Rose Subba is a medical student who likes writing her thoughts and sometimes expressing her feelings. She writes poems but they are hardly happy because unrequited love has been hard on her. However, these days, if you can judge a person by their Instagram feeds, she's very happy. She’ll tell you herself so. She has a multitude of interests but poetry and anatomy never cease to amaze her. Though a chirologist once told her that a short lifeline in her palm only means trouble, she, an ardent history reader, concluded that she will draw her own lines of destiny, like the great Bonaparte. That has sadly not always been as she hoped because learning about symptoms of various diseases has awakened the hypochondriac who doesn't let her live in peace. That's all there's to know for now.


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