The COVID-19 Friction

While announcing our call for ‘Friction’ edition, we had proposed ‘friction’ as ‘a force that acts in the opposite direction’. However, we hadn’t imagined that the force of COVID-19 pandemic would create such a deadly friction. Now, it is acting against the entire human race. We are presenting a new edition of हाकारा । hākārā as we all are going through this never before fearful world created by the frictional force of the pandemic. For now, we don’t have any say in front of the invisible COVID-19. Our outside and inside worlds are aghast with the uncertainty of who is going to be next in the clutches of the pandemic. The feeling is not individual but collective too. The harsh world of coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on our caste, class, colour or gender. So, we are all victims and we are all in quarantine. The rate and kind of change are creating a seismic upheaval in our lives. Some of us have the luxury of securing ourselves in our homes. But, sadly, some are suffering in search of food, shelter and their loved ones.

We are watching the COVID-19 force unfolding around us. Many of us are searching for stories that echo the current moment. For that, we refer to the horrors of the bubonic plague that shattered the human race in the early 20th century. Scholars unearth the archives to collect and curate accounts of how people have experienced and addressed such a sprawling public health crisis. Some are studying the writings of the masters like Albert Camus in French, Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali, Laxmibai Tilak in Marathi and Nirala in Hindi to know how the pandemic has manifested in different forms in creative writing. People across the globe are renting films, streaming recordings of live performances, and going online to showcase visual works to reflect on the crisis.

Thus, we brave the pandemic disaster. It is altering us; we are trying all possibilities of emerging stable, less harmed and safe.

The reality is uncertain. The uncertainty becomes scary as the ever-moving frictional COVID-19 is invisible in physical manifestation. We witness it by the quarantined people in our neighbourhood. The social media overwhelms it – checks off some as dead, sickened or recovered in a graphic presentation. Sadly, the helpless and economically dependent migrant workers walking miles for their survival reminds us of the severity. Frustratingly, the governments and communities have failed to support the weaker sections in our society adequately. We are amid the powerful vice of financial uncertainty and doubt.

Anxiously, we don’t have any idea of where we are in this COVID-19 narrative. We are not sure of what roles we are supposed to play other than hiding our faces with masks, applying the sanitiser or following the physical distancing. Every few days brings the new reality of the Red, Orange or Green zones of our survival.

Straightway, there are two worlds: before and after the friction with COVID-19. In the frustrating situation, we are losing our grip over the past and unable to speculate the future. In between, we grasp the current situation. Everything is being challenged and changing: how we live, how we perceive reality, and how we validate certain ways of knowing and understanding. Everyone is in a dire state and art is not an exception. Several theatre companies have cancelled their performances; festivals have switched off their lights. Books are piled up unattended in storehouses. Unfortunately, in the time of the pandemic and uncertainty, a work of art or literature may not be considered as ‘essential’ as washing hands frequently or wearing masks. At times, certain artistic practices like theatre or dance would be deemed non-essential and inadvisable as they require live co-presence and assemblies.

With this fear, hope and determination, we are presenting our ‘Friction’ edition.

Ironically, the ‘Friction’ edition doesn’t focus on the pandemic. However, it has been at the forefront of bringing out all forms of lives today. We had announced the ‘Friction’ call for submission much before the pandemic had started even to show signs of its arrival.

We believe that arts and culture would continue to lift our spirits and urge to live. Practising, teaching, theorising or just experiencing the art has been deeply embedded in the human world. That is helping us in the COVID-19 friction too. Many governments and non-government organisations, as well as individuals across the globe, have stepped up for the arts. Some of us are collecting funds for artists, streaming online performances and concerts, while we settle in and practise physical distancing.

Getting engrossed in the imaginary or real-world recreated in art and literature would help us remain sane and light up the dark world. It will ensure that we stay humane. It also reminds us again and again that we are not alone; we are all processing the coming to terms with the fearful age.

Presenting art and literature in हाकारा । hākārā’s ‘Friction’ edition is an attempt at building mutually supportive and empathetic space in the COVID-19 friction. We believe this is a way of staying healthy and finding ways to help each other in such a critical time.

Cover Image Courtesy: Arnold Birungi, Uganda
Source: World Health Organisation website.

(This write-up has been published before as an editorial in the 10th Hakara Edition: Friction.)